Thursday, September 29, 2016

Donald Trump's agriculture advisor in Georgia expresses concerns about farm labor

Gary Black, Georgia’s Commissioner of Agriculture and a member of Donald Trump's agriculture policy advisory council, expressed his concern about farm labor issues and their effect on Georgia’s farmers during a listening session that included representatives from the offices of Senators David Perdue and Johnny Isakson.


In a news release after the meeting, he is quoted as saying, “We are talking today about what we need to do now to ensure our farmers have the labor they need in the spring,” said Commissioner Black.

The release goes on to say:

During the meeting Georgia farmers Drew Echols, Russ Goodman and Chris McCorkle relayed the many challenges they faced this year while attempting to use the federal H-2A program. The H-2A program is a critically important tool for America’s farmers and ranchers who need timely, legal and dependable workers to harvest valuable crops which are seasonal in nature.

“There is no debate on the fact that the H-2A program is our best option for harvesting our crops. We just hope to work with the Department of Labor to find ways to strengthen that program in the future,” said blueberry farmer Russ Goodman. “It is very important that they understand that we have a time-sensitive commodity and any amount of delay can have a huge impact on our bottom line.”

The listening session highlighted the need for enhanced coordination to eliminate processing delays within the H-2A program. During the 2016 spring harvest, Georgia farmers faced millions of dollars in crop losses as the Department of Labor struggled to process an increased number of applications for foreign migrant labor.

“We are not here to point fingers, but instead to have a proactive and constructive conversation on how to avoid the missteps from last year and safeguard against it ever happening again,” Black said.

The news release does not mention Donald Trump or his views on immigration policy.


Wednesday, September 28, 2016

State program to help Georgians with their mortgages


The Georgia Department of Community Affairs has launched a new program to help the approximately 150,000 Georgians whose mortgages are greater than the value of their homes.

The Underwater Georgia program is targeted to relieve this pressure by using federal funds to make a one-time payment to reduce the principal balance on their home.

Georgia’s housing market was hit hard by the Great Recession, and some Georgia homeowners still find that their houses are worth less today than before the recession.

Many workers find while job opportunities are increasing, they are unable to move to jobs in new areas because their outstanding mortgage is higher than the selling price of their house. This is causing inefficiencies in the labor market as workers are reluctant to take jobs that will cause them to move and lose money when they sell their residence, which is the principal source of savings for most families.

By reducing homeowners’ mortgage principal, the program hopes to reduce stress in families, improve the housing market, and allow workers to pursue job opportunities even if it requires a move to a new area.

Application process

For three weeks, from September 28-October 18, 2016, Georgia residents will be able to visit www.UnderwaterGeorgia.org to fill out a pre-application for these funds. 

All applications will be assigned a number, which will be sent to a third party for a blind random selection process.  Next, the randomly selected applications will be reviewed, in the order selected, for eligibility and those deemed eligible will continue through the process. 

To be eligible, a homeowner must:

•                    Owe more than home is currently worth. 
•                    Owe no more than $250,000.
•                    Purchased home before 2012.
•                    Less than 90 days late on mortgage.
•                    Mortgage lender is willing to participate.
•                    Have not previously received HomeSafe Georgia assistance.

It is expected that the program will receive more applications than available funding, so it is unlikely that all eligible applicants will receive assistance. Based on current funding, an estimated 2,700-3,000 eligible Georgia homeowners will receive assistance.

How the Program works

According to the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, for successful applicants, a one-time payment will be made to your lender/servicer on your behalf. The funds will be used to reduce your principal balance, usually on the first mortgage. The funds will be provided as an interest-free loan. A subordinate lien will be placed on the home, for which the balance will be forgiven at 20% each year.

After 5 years, the lien will be cancelled.

If you sell your home before the lien is cancelled and you have equity in the home, you will have to repay the portion of the loan that is outstanding. If you sell your home before the lien is cancelled and there is no equity in the home, repayment will not be required. HomeSafe Georgia will subordinate to a “no cash out” refinance.

Determining Eligibility

To see if you are eligible to participate in this program, you may take DCA’s Eligibility Quiz here.

Customer Service representatives will be available 24 hours a day to take calls during the pre-application submission period.

Toll Free: 1-877-519-4443
Para asistencia en EspaƱol, presiene (4) cuatro.

TDD/TYY Line: toll free 1-877-204-1194



Monday, September 26, 2016

Does Georgia’s slower job growth in August mean less employment in December?

Employment tends to follow seasonal variations. These variations are well known and re-occur annually allowing the Bureau of Labor Statistics to adjust their job numbers by making seasonal adjustments.

Take out those seasonal adjustments and you can see that Georgia’s job growth in August was the slowest in six years.

While Georgia added 20,300 nonfarm jobs over the month, this number falls way below the 33,300 jobs added in August 2015. Not since 2010, when the state recorded a rise of 16,000 jobs, has Georgia experienced such a slow August in job creation.

Job growth in Georgia during August, 2006-2016
Despite the state’s unemployment rate dropping to a seasonally adjusted 4.9 percent rate, the employment picture was not as positive as expected.

State’s 12-month job increases declining

While Georgia continues to outpace the nation in job growth, that trend is slowing, which becomes a worrying sign of a potential slowdown in the state.

For the 12 months ending in April, Georgia saw 137,700 net new jobs created in the state. Since then, the 12-month increases have fallen each month, and in August, the 12-month increase was only 107,500 new jobs.

Number of jobs created in Georgia over the previous 12 months, January - August, 2016
It could be that employers are having a rougher time finding skilled workers without wanting to raise wage rates, or companies may be more cautious in their hiring; but for whatever reason, Georgia continues to create new jobs but fewer of them.

Trend not the same for the nation

The drop-off in new jobs did not extend to the nation. The U.S. added 224,000 new jobs (before seasonal adjustment) in August, 25,000 more than recorded for the same month in 2015, although this was fewer than in the month of August for the years 2011 to 2014.

Over the 12 months ending in August, the nation recorded a job growth increase of 1.7 percent (before seasonal adjustment), less than the 2.0 percent growth rate recorded in 2015 or the 1.9 percent rate in 2014, but equal to the growth rates recorded in August 2012 and 2013.

The drop-off in Georgia does not appear to be part of a significant national trend, at least not yet.

Problem is Georgia’s job market outside Atlanta

A key component for Georgia is the Atlanta metro area, which is home to more than 60 percent of the state’s nonfarm employment.

In August, the Atlanta metro area grew by 14,500 jobs, fewer than for the same month in 2015, but representing about 71 percent of the state’s new jobs, way above their normal percentage.

That says that the slowdown is being felt more widely in the rest of the state than in the Atlanta metro area, which is why the slowdown may not be as visible in metro Atlanta.

Slow metro growth continues in Augusta, Columbus, Dalton, Hinesville, and Warner Robins.
In these areas, new job creation is slower than both statewide and the nation, most likely for a variety of reasons including the desire of high-tech and service industries to locate in the Atlanta metro area where the larger percentage of a higher-educated workforce is available, as well as other amenities such as public transportation and cultural opportunities.

Savannah remains a bright spot with 12-month growth at 4 percent, as its combination of port-related activities, professional and business services, and tourism makes it a regional hub.

What does this have to do with December?

Although we tend to connect job growth with a burst each year around the Christmas season as retailers add seasonal hires in November, August is actually a bigger month for hires than November or December in Georgia.

With the exception of 2009, the August job growth number in Georgia has been larger than the comparable number for November or December in that same year since the beginning of the century.

If that trend holds for this year, Georgia’s relatively small 20,300 August job growth will mean a relatively smaller job market in November and December.

While some retailers and fast-food operators might be worried about seasonal hires this year, overall, the job market may not be as tight as anticipated, although wages above the $7.25 mark may still be necessary to entice workers given the ongoing Fight-for-$15 movement.

Workers may find low-paying seasonal jobs in November and December in the $9-$10 range, but better-paying career positions might be harder to find in Georgia, and especially outside the Atlanta metro area, if these trends persist.

For job seekers, the message is to find that new position now and not hope that a tighter job market might raise wages later in the year.

For state policymakers, they should not be complacent about job creation outside the Atlanta metro area. In many smaller metro areas of the state, and for rural areas, the future does not look as bright.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

New overtime rule will have significant impact on Georgia’s budget


Georgia’s decision to join a 21-state lawsuit to stave off the U.S. Department of Labor’s new overtime rule is more than a matter of political philosophy.

If the new rule goes into effect as planned on December 1, a significant number of the current 137,000 state employees will become eligible for overtime as the threshold for exemption from overtime pay moves up from the current $455 to $913 per week.

In a study conducted in the first quarter of 2016, the average weekly wage for a state employee in Georgia stood at $868. Even with the 3 percent pay raise granted effective July 1 raising the average wage to $894, the average state employee's weekly wage would still fall $19 below the planned new weekly wage threshold meaning that thousands of state employees would become newly eligible for overtime pay.

Taking the data from the first quarter and adding 3 percent to the average rates, only eight counties – Carroll, Chatham, Clarke, Fulton, Heard, Lamar, Peach, and Richmond – show average wages for state employees exceeding the new exemption threshold of $913.

In contrast, in 135 counties the average state employee’s salary fell below the exemption threshold. Sixteen counties did not report wages for state employees separately.

Impact on state budget

The level of impact on Georgia’s budget depends on how the state reacts to the new rule.

In the statement announcing the lawsuit, Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens stated that

“The rule will force many state and local governments to substantially increase their employment costs. Some governments may be forced to eliminate some services and even lay off employees.”

The state could minimize impact by tightening up rules on overtime but this might impact state services, especially in times of emergencies such as ice storms or other natural disasters where state workers are expected to put in extra hours.

Georgia could also raise its personnel budget to cover increased overtime costs, but with other costs rising, such as Medicaid, this will make balancing the 2018 budget more difficult.

Georgia state employees relatively low paid compared to other industries

Part of the reason the state is so impacted by the new rule is that state employment is a relatively low paid form of work compared to a number of other important industries in Georgia.

For example, while state employees averaged $868 per week in the first quarter of 2016, the average weekly wages for construction workers was $1,009. Workers employed in the insurance industry in the state averaged $1,694 and those employed in the real estate industry averaged $1,110 per week.

Among the industries paying on average less than state employment were arts and entertainment ($602), retail ($565), hotels ($473), and food and drinking establishments ($313). Average pay excludes tips, which explains the relatively low pay in the food and drinking industry where many workers’ pay is subsidized by customer tipping.

Averaging $739 per week, local government workers in the state make slightly less than state employees.

If Georgia does not win the lawsuit and the new rule goes into effect December 1, the state will have to reconsider its current approach to human resources and make changes to ensure that personnel costs do not go up substantially to avoid a budget problem next year.

You can read the actual lawsuit that was filed in the U.S. District Court here.


New overtime rule will have significant impact on Georgia’s budget


Georgia’s decision to join a lawsuit brought by 21 states to stave off the U.S. Department of Labor’s new overtime rule is more than a matter of political philosophy.

If the new rule goes into effect as planned on December 1, a significant number of the current 137,000 state employees will become eligible for overtime as the threshold for exemption from overtime pay moves up from the current $455 to $913 per week.

In a study conducted in the first quarter of 2016, the average weekly wage for a state employee in Georgia stood at $868. Even with the 3 percent pay raise granted effective July 1 raising the average wage to $894, the average state employee's weekly wage would still fall $19 below the planned new weekly wage threshold meaning that thousands of state employees would become newly eligible for overtime pay.

Taking the data from the first quarter and adding 3 percent to the average rates, only eight counties – Carroll, Chatham, Clarke, Fulton, Heard, Lamar, Peach, and Richmond – show average wages for state employees exceeding the new exemption threshold of $913.

In contrast, in 135 counties the average state employee’s salary fell below the exemption threshold. Sixteen counties did not report wages for state employees separately.

Impact on state budget

The level of impact on Georgia’s budget depends on how the state reacts to the new rule.

In the statement announcing the lawsuit, Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens stated that

“The rule will force many state and local governments to substantially increase their employment costs. Some governments may be forced to eliminate some services and even lay off employees.”

The state could minimize impact by tightening up rules on overtime but this might impact state services, especially in times of emergencies such as ice storms or other natural disasters where state workers are expected to put in extra hours.

Georgia could also raise its personnel budget to cover increased overtime costs, but with other costs rising, such as Medicaid, this will make balancing the 2018 budget more difficult.

Georgia state employees relatively low paid compared to other industries

Part of the reason the state is so impacted by the new rule is that state employment is a relatively low paid form of work compared to a number of other important industries in Georgia.

For example, while state employees averaged $868 per week in the first quarter of 2016, the average weekly wages for construction workers was $1,009. Workers employed in the insurance industry in the state averaged $1,694 and those employed in the real estate industry averaged $1,110 per week.

Among the industries paying on average less than state employment were arts and entertainment ($602), retail ($565), hotels ($473), and food and drinking establishments ($313). Average pay excludes tips, which explains the relatively low pay in the food and drinking industry where many workers’ pay is subsidized by customer tipping.

Averaging $739 per week, local government workers in the state make slightly less than state employees.

If Georgia does not win the lawsuit and the new rule goes into effect December 1, the state will have to reconsider its current approach to human resources and make changes to ensure that personnel costs do not go up substantially to avoid a budget problem next year.

You can read the actual lawsuit that was filed in the U.S. District Court here.


Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Georgia's uninsured rate drops but remains among the highest in the nation

While the number of Georgia residents without health insurance declined last year, Georgia remains one of only five states with uninsured rates above 12.0 percent.

States with Highest Uninsured Rates: 2015
In 2015, 13.9 percent of the state’s population was uninsured, which translated to more than 1.3 million residents.

“All Georgians and Georgia businesses are affected by this uninsured burden through higher health insurance premiums and the corresponding cost shift on employer-sponsored health insurance,’’ in a statement attributed to Earl Rogers, who serves as president of the Georgia Hospital Association.

Nationally, the uninsured rate is 9.4 percent with Massachusetts recording the lowest uninsured rate at 2.8 percent, as measured by the American Community Survey (ACS), according to a new report from the Census Bureau.



If there was any good news in the report, the percentage of uninsured Georgians has decreased over the past years. In 2013, 18.8 percent of Georgians were uninsured, and in 2014, that number dropped to 15.8 percent.


The drop can be attributed to more individuals receiving insurance through Healthcare.gov under the Affordable Care Act, and an aging population of people 65 and older who fall under the provisions of Medicare, the government’s other major health insurance program.

State continues to resist Medicaid expansion

Georgia remains one of 19 states that have chosen not to expand Medicaid to low-income families, although the federal government has promised to pick up all of the costs of Medicaid expansion.

The failure to insure the population is putting strains on hospitals in Georgia, especially in rural areas, where emergency rooms are required to treat patients regardless of their ability to pay.

Without any form of health insurance, increasing numbers of residents are also finding their way to emergency rooms for non-emergencies, such as the flu, and then are unable to pay their bills.

The lack of an insured population also hurts employers. Employers not providing health insurance must put up with sick employees at their establishments who cannot afford to miss work or seek medical assistance.

Employers who do provide health insurance pay higher premiums to subsidize the losses suffered by hospitals that are required to treat uninsured patients.

When hospitals are unable to collect payments from patients, they then have to increase charges to other paying patients to make up for the losses suffered from uninsured patients. That results in higher health care costs to insurers and higher premiums to those with health insurance.

Georgia Chamber of Commerce prepares options to cover the uninsured

 Some Georgia state legislators, as well as the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, are re-thinking their opposition to Medicaid expansion as more hospitals in the state struggle to stay open. Since 2013, five hospitals in Georgia have closed and many more are having financial difficulties, especially in rural parts of the state.

The health care task force, created by the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, has developed options that they will bring next year to the Georgia General Assembly.

All three options include a requirement that individuals receiving health insurance must pay at least part of the premium costs, and all three options would require a waiver from the federal government because they differ from the standard Medicaid expansion.

Chris Clark, president and CEO of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement that “any of these plans would serve as a game-ready playbook for lawmakers seeking a fiscally responsible and sustainable path to cover Georgia’s uninsured, revitalize a rural health care network in crisis and undergird our safety net hospitals. That’s important not just to the health of our families but also to the health of our economy, because no good jobs are going to come to a region that lacks access to quality health care.”

More information about the Chamber's work regarding health care in Georgia is available here.