published Wednesday, October 31st, 2012

Georgia to replace unemployment checks with debit cards

  • photo
    A new debit card will replace paper checks for Georgians getting unemployment benefits.
    Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

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ABOUT THE CARD

Georgia's new debit card for unemployment benefits charges fees for some services, while others are free.

• Free: Purchases, cash back with purchase, cash withdrawals from MoneyPass ATMs, unlimited monthly account access by telephone.

• 95 cents: Per ATM transaction outside of the MoneyPass network.

Source: Georgia Department of Labor

Georgia residents won't get unemployment checks after Thursday because the state's Department of Labor is replacing paper checks with debit cards.

"We're going away from checks in the mail," Georgia Unemployment Insurance Director Brenda Brown said.

Benefits of going paper-free, Brown said, include that "[recipients] receive their payments quick. They also don't have to worry about their check being stolen out of the mailbox."

The state Labor Department will save about $19,000 a week after the switch, she said.

"We don't have to worry about postage," Brown said. "It's just a more efficient way of making payments."

Only about 30 percent of unemployment recipients receive checks in the mail now, she said. Most choose to have their unemployment payments deposited directly into their checking or savings account, Brown said.

Alan Essig, executive director of the Atlanta-based Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, said many low-income folks don't have bank accounts, but as long as the state is providing them the option of a debit card, they should be OK.

"If it saves the state money and it doesn't hurt recipients at all, it shouldn't be a problem," Essig said.

Those now getting paper checks must choose between the debit card and direct deposit. The debit card allows free cash withdrawals at any MoneyPass ATM.

"MoneyPass is all over," Brown said.

"A person really doesn't have to go find an ATM," she said, because card-holders get cash back free of charge.

The debit card simply says "Georgia" on it.

"It doesn't say unemployment. It doesn't say Georgia Department of Labor," Brown said.

The debit card is a MasterCard issued by Comerica Bank. Several banks applied to the state through a competitive bidding process to be the vendor.

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at tomarzu@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6651.

about Tim Omarzu...

Tim Omarzu covers education for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California.

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