ATLANTA — Initial unemployment claims in Georgia fell slightly last week, but the state paid out more in jobless benefits than during the last three years combined.

For the week ending July 18, 122,313 Georgians filed initial unemployment claims, down 16,139 from the previous week, the state Department of Labor reported Thursday.

The agency paid out more than $1 billion in unemployment benefits last week, more than the $922 million paid out during the last three years.

Getting such a large volume of payments out the door in just five days was a huge accomplishment, Georgia Commissioner of Labor Mark Butler said.

“When you think that the average weekly benefit amount is $246, the sheer volume of payments we are issuing is phenomenal,” he said.

The labor department processed more than 3.2 million initial unemployment claims between March 21 and July 18, more than in the last seven years combined.

However, only about 1.1 million of those claims were deemed valid. The invalid claims could potentially be duplicate filed claims or those without enough earned wages to receive benefits, Butler said.

With initial claims still running at a high level, Butler said the agency is stepping up investigations into potential fraud.

“We are seeing suspected fraud in all shapes and sizes requiring us to split our time between valid claims and potentially fraudulent ones,” he said.

“We are working with state and federal law enforcement agencies to prosecute the bad actors who are monopolizing our time with fraudulent claims and keeping us from focusing on getting eligible Georgians paid their benefits.”

Since March 21, the accommodation and food services job sector has accounted for the most initial unemployment claims with 768,931 claims filed. The health care and social assistance sector is next with 376,269, followed closely by the 352,846 claims filed by jobless retail workers.

Today, more than 116,000 jobs are listed online at for Georgians to access. The labor department offers online resources for finding a job, building a resume, and assisting with other re-employment needs.

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