ATLANTA — State officials are expanding Georgia's unemployment benefits to help residents who are not able to work because of the coronavirus pandemic. It includes extending the length of time a person can collect the benefits. 

Gov. Brian Kemp announced Thursday that he signed an executive order that allows the Georgia Department of Labor to issue two new emergency rules.

The pandemic continues to wreak havoc on the labor force, with unemployment claims continuing to rise. In numbers released Thursday, claims processed in Georgia for the week of March 15 trough March 21 increased to 12,140 initial claims, which is up 6,695 from the previous week’s 5,445 claims. 

In the first week of March, the state Department of Labor saw 59,000 users on the website. Wednesday alone, they reported 110,000 users. 

Across the nation, nearly 3.3 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week. State officials are doing what they can to help Georgians.

“As we work together as a state to combat COVID-19, Commissioner Butler and I are taking steps to ensure Georgia’s workforce is supported during this challenging time,” said Gov. Kemp in a news release. “I ask Georgians to continue to support their local businesses by getting take-out, tipping well, and ordering your favorite products online, while also observing social distancing and following the directives of state and federal public health officials.”

RELATED: How to file an unemployment claim in Georgia if your job has been affected by coronavirus

The benefits have been expanded to cover Georgians temporarily unable to work due to the COVID-19 public health emergency who plan to return to work when the emergency ceases

Here's a look at how GDOL is implementing the new emergency rules for unemployment benefits.

One rule extends the length of time a person can collect unemployment benefits -- from 14 weeks to 26 weeks. 

Another rule provides that the first $300 of wages earned in a week will not count against eligible unemployment benefits paid.  An example officials gave is if a person has been laid off and takes a part-time job, he or she can make up to $300 during the week and still receive their full unemployment amount.

Other emergency rules were issued last week which expanded unemployment eligibility for applicants, suspended work search requirements, and relieved employers of benefit charges for COVID-19-related claims.

Another rule assures that employers and non-profits will not be charged for COVID-19-related benefit claims. Their current tax rate will not be affected.

RELATED: Coronavirus stimulus checks and unemployment benefits - answering your questions

GDOL Commissioner Mark Butler also clarified that partial claims should be filed for both full-time and part-time employees. Filing of partial claims is being mandated for an employer to file on behalf of employees affected by COVID-19 and will expedite the issuance of payment. 

“We understand Georgia businesses and workers are anxious during the COVID-19 public health crisis about how to take care of themselves, their families, and their businesses,” said Butler. “We are making unprecedented modifications to policies to help all Georgians survive this economic hardship and get us all back to work.”

GDOL is implementing a new Claims Status Dashboard (an advancement not scheduled to be launched until Fall 2020) that will allow applicants to track their claim. 

As of Thursday, officials said there were over 101,000 jobs listed online. For information on how to file an unemployment claim in Georgia, click here.

At 11Alive News, our coverage of the coronavirus is rooted in Facts, not Fear. Visit 11alive.com/coronavirus-covid-19 for comprehensive coverage.

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