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July 2020
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Schools issue statement on graduation for Class of 2020


See at bottom: What is a Virtual Ceremony? More information and top questions.



“The Pickens High School Class of 2020 deserves recognition for their hard work and effort, and we are committed to honoring this milestone in their high school career,” stated Dr. Rick Townsend, Superintendent of schools for Pickens County. PHS principal, Chris Wallace, along with school stakeholders, has been working diligently to develop a plan to celebrate PHS seniors.      


   “It is important for students and their families to have an opportunity to provide input into this decision. The final plan is a great blend of a virtual ceremony now and a traditional ceremony later, in accordance with the survey data,” shared Mr. Wallace. The virtual ceremony will be filmed over several days and will include traditional speeches by class officers, Valedictorian, and Salutatorian.


Together with the graduate receiving their diplomas and speeches, a complete high-quality graduation video will be produced by Ellijay Telephone Company (ETC), who have agreed to handle the filming process. Students will officially graduate as planned on May 22nd and the graduation ceremony will be aired on ETC Channel 3 and Channel 403 on Friday, May 29th at 7:00 p.m. The ceremony will also be available on the district’s YouTube channel (PCBOEGA) as well as on the high school and district Facebook pages. Each graduate will also be provided with a copy of the graduation video.

Read more: Schools issue statement on graduation for Class of 2020

GDOL issues more payments during pandemic than in the past four years combined


Atlanta, GA – The Georgia Department of Labor (GDOL) has received and documented 92 percent of the claims filed during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Since the middle of March (week ending March 21, 2020), GDOL has processed 1,369,421 regular initial unemployment claims.  Of these claims, 725,000 were valid with enough earned wages to set up a claim and 444,195 Georgians have already received their first payment - 62 percent of all those filing for unemployment.  Traditionally, GDOL statistics show only 40 to 50 percent of initial claims are eligible to receive an initial payment based on established criteria.


Individuals with invalid claims could potentially be eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). This includes individuals who are self-employed, gig workers, 1099 independent contractors, employees of churches, employees of non-profits, or those with limited work history who do not qualify for state unemployment benefits. Last week, the GDOL began sending emails to applicants potentially eligible for the PUA program to continue their application for federal benefits.  This week, 41,000 PUA applications were processed and approved for payment.  Payments began to be issued on Thursday, April 23, 2020. Applicants are continuing to be identified as potential PUA recipients when deemed ineligible for state benefits and directed to apply for the federal benefits. 


“Our employees are managing unprecedented numbers of claims and are getting people paid,” said Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler. “To say that we have issued more payments in the past six weeks than in the past four years combined is quite an accomplishment.”


Of the remaining unpaid claims, many are still in the claims process awaiting eligibility determination. This also includes claims where duplicate claims have been filed, identification has been requested, excessive weekly earnings have been reported, or child support stops have been issued.  These claims require additional handling and the GDOL is working diligently to address many of these stops. 


Last week alone, GDOL processed 266,565 claims, up 19,000 from the week prior.  Of the weekly total, 185,782 were employer filed claims. In the past six weeks, of all claims determined to be eligible, approximately 540,000 (75 percent) were employer filed partial claims and 185,000 (25 percent) were filed individually. The number of initial unemployment claims filed throughout the United States decreased to 3.8 million last week.


The sectors with the most initial claims in the past six weeks included Accommodation and Food Services, 396,209, Health Care and Social Assistance,­­ 157,496, Retail Trade, 156,123, Administrative and Support Services, 109,483, and Manufacturing, 105,122.


“The Accommodation and Food Service sector has truly suffered during this pandemic,” said Butler.  “We hope that employers and employees can work together to find a return to work plan that can work for both parties allowing for continued financial support from state and federal programs as we gradually reopen Georgia for business.”


Commissioner Butler continues to promote the emergency rule stating that earnings of $300 or less will not affect entitlement to benefits.  Any amount earned over $300 will be deducted from a claimant’s weekly benefit amount, a payment determination based on an employee’s past wages.  As long as a claimant is awarded at least $1 in state or federal benefits, he or she is eligible to receive Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC), the additional $600 weekly payment. 


Last week, the GDOL issued regular weekly UI benefits totaling $155,207,136, up $54 million over the previous week. Over the last six weeks, $388 million has been paid in regular UI benefits, more than the annual total for each of the previous four years. The average weekly benefit amount is $276.


In addition, the total federal funds issued for the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program, or FPUC, totaled over $336 million last week.  Over the past six weeks, the GDOL has issued over $700 million in federal funds. FPUC provides an additional $600 weekly payment to any individual eligible for any of the Unemployment Compensation programs - State and Federal. 


As of 4/28/2020, the Georgia Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund Balance was $2,092,486,809, down $455 million, or 18 percent, from the 3/24/2020 balance of $2,547,000,000.  Through 4/28/2020, $119 million has been collected in tax revenue for the year.


The GDOL is also continuing to work with employers to get Georgians back to work.  Employers have been contacting the GDOL with job opportunities that are critical during this crisis – some in the workplace and others that can be done from home. Today, over 106,000 jobs are listed online at for Georgians to access. The GDOL offers online resources for finding a job, building a resume, and assisting with other reemployment needs.


Information on filing an unemployment claim, details on how employerscan file partial claims, and resources for other reemployment assistance can be found on the agency’s webpage at


Local governments look to state for reopening guidelines



Pickens and Jasper leaders are “holding tight” with their executive orders regarding COVID-19 restrictions, abiding by state mandates that supersede any local acts, and waiting for cues from Gov. Brian Kemp to see what moves to make next. 

Pickens Commission Chair Rob Jones said at this point they will keep their local State of Emergency declaration, enacted March 24, in effect until April 30, “but we could extend it to May 13,” which would coincided with the last day of Gov. Kemp’s State of Emergency declaration (the state’s shelter in place orders expire April 30th). “I wouldn’t have a problem letting it run on into May and then regrouping and see if we need to re-do it. I am curious what the governor will do. I’m also wanting to see if he is going to open up his state offices or keep them closed until June. Right now our county offices are open, the public just can’t go inside.”

Read more: Local governments look to state for reopening guidelines

Burn Ban starts May 1 for Pickens and many other counties


Georgia's annual ban on outdoor burning begins May 1 in 47 counties. The Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) puts the restrictions in place during the summer months, when increases in ground level ozone may create health risks.

For seven counties that are normally included in the summer burn ban, restrictions will be activated on June 1, giving them extra time to clear vegetative debris from April storms. Those counties are Banks, Catoosa, Chattooga, Floyd, Gordon, Upson and Walker.

"From May until September 1, open burning of yard and land-clearing debris is prohibited in some counties where particulate matter pollutants and chemicals from smoke are more likely to combine with emissions from vehicles and industrial activities," said Frank Sorrells, Chief of Protection for the Georgia Forestry Commission. "That's more likely to occur in cities, where there's more asphalt and concrete than open green space and trees to help cool and filter air. The risk of wildfire also may be high in summer, so our agencies are closely monitoring air quality and weather conditions for the safety of all Georgians," Sorrells said.

Read more: Burn Ban starts May 1 for Pickens and many other counties

Tips on growing vegetables at home, from UGA horticulture expert

UGA squash

Photo/UGA Extension Service

Squash plants grow in the UGA Research and Education Garden.

By Bob Westerfield for CAES News


While adults and children spend more time at home as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, planting a garden or container garden is a great activity to plan together. It’s outside, active, educational and edible. With some grocery stores taking longer than usual to stock some items, vegetable gardening is a great way to keep your refrigerator stocked.

For those who have never considered growing their own vegetables, the task may seem daunting, but it’s actually a very simple process.

Vegetables need soil, sunlight, moisture and fertility. Any location in your landscape that receives at least six hours of sunlight could be a good location for growing your crop. The amount of space you have available will dictate the size

Read more: Tips on growing vegetables at home, from UGA horticulture expert