ATLANTA — First-time unemployment claims in Georgia continued to decline last week, the state Department of Labor reported Thursday.

More than 37,000 Georgians filed claims last week, down 6,442 from the week before.

The agency paid out more than $170 million in benefits during the week, bringing to $15.5 billion the total benefits paid in Georgia since the coronavirus pandemic began shutting down businesses last March, more than during the last 28 years combined.

The labor department also reported more than 25,000 Georgians are about to hit the 39-week limit for benefits provided through the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, established as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act Congress passed in March.

The program provides unemployment benefits to Americans who are not usually eligible for regular state benefits, including gig workers, independent contractors, employees of churches and non-profits, or those with limited work history who don’t qualify for regular state unemployment benefits.

“The PUA program issued benefits to many in the self-employed community allowing these individuals to recoup a portion of the wages lost when their businesses had to shut down due to the pandemic,” Georgia Commissioner of Labor Mark Butler said.

“Federal programs, like PUA and other disaster-related programs, are intended to temporarily provide support for those displaced during a crisis. Never before have we seen a federal program rolled out on a nationwide scale within such a demanding time frame to so many people.”

The job sector accounting for the most initial unemployment claims last week was accommodation and food services, with 7,869 claims. The administrative and support services sector was next with 4,194 claims, followed by health care and social assistance with 3,490.

More than 168,000 jobs are listed online at EmployGeorgia for Georgians to access, more than double last April’s listing of 73,000 jobs. The labor department offers online resources for finding careers, building a resume, and assisting with other reemployment needs.

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