New Georgia department heads take oaths of office

Candice Broce

ATLANTA – One of Gov. Brian Kemp’s former top staffers is Georgia’s new commissioner of human services.

Candice Broce, a former communications director and chief deputy executive counsel in the Kemp administration, was sworn in Thursday to lead the state Department of Human Services (DHS). She also will continue to serve that agency as interim director of the Division of Family and Child Services (DFCS).

Broce is a great fit for both roles, Kemp said.

“Given her experience serving in numerous leadership roles in my administration and her demonstrated commitment to public service, I have no doubt she will continue to make the state of Georgia proud as commissioner of DHS and interim director of DFCS,” he said.

Broce also has served as the state’s chief operating officer. Before joining the Kemp administration, she was legal counsel for elections and legislative affairs in the Georgia secretary of state’s office.

Broce succeeds Gerlda Hines at the DHS. Hines was sworn in Thursday as the new state accounting officer.

Hines was named to head the agency at the beginning of July. Before that, she was the department’s deputy commissioner and chief financial officer.

Hines also held finance-related positions in the Georgia Department of Community Health and the Georgia Student Finance Commission, and was a policy analyst with the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget.

“She has a wealth of experience and is a respected, valued leader in state government,” Kemp said.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

Georgia unemployment falls, but so does workforce

Georgia Commissioner of Labor Mark Butler

ATLANTA – Georgia’s unemployment rate and the number of unemployed have both fallen to pre-pandemic levels.

But the state’s labor force is also below what it was when COVID-19 struck Georgia in March of last year and shows no signs of bouncing back.

The unemployment rate declined two-tenths of a percentage point last month to 3.5%, lower than the 3.6% jobless rate posted in March 2020, the Georgia Department of Labor reported Thursday. The number of unemployed dropped to about 182,000, also below the pre-pandemic level of 187,000.

While those numbers represent good news for the state’s economy, the labor force also remained 31,000 below the number of Georgians in the workforce in March of last year.

Job losses in the accommodation and food services and retail trade sectors negated what otherwise would have been a job gain of more than 4,000 in August.

“Job growth will become stagnant if we don’t fill the hundreds of thousands of jobs that we currently have open right now,” Georgia Commissioner of Labor Mark Butler said Thursday. “We are not seeing the number of Georgians rejoin the labor force at the same pace as we are seeing employers post jobs.”  

A survey conducted by the labor department found that 69% of Georgia employers have been increasing pay scales to try to fill vacant jobs. About 46% report they have become more flexible with education and experience requirements of jobseekers, and more than a third say they have enhanced benefits.

Jobseekers responding to the survey said they were discouraged from applying due to a lack of qualifications, fear of COVID exposure and a desire for higher salaries and benefits. 

“Based on what we are seeing, it may take months, if not years, for the job market to return to some type of normalcy,” Butler said.

First-time unemployment claims were down 19% last month from July and declined 81% compared to August of last year.

The number of employed Georgians rose by 15,686 last month to nearly 5 million.

The sectors with the most over-the-month job gains included administrative and support services, which posted a gain of 3,500 jobs;  professional, scientific, and technical services, which gained 2,500 jobs; and non-durable goods manufacturing, which saw an increase of 1,000.

There are more 200,000 jobs posted on Employ GA. In many cases, employers are willing to train quality candidates and assist with obtaining additional credentials.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

COVID-19 cases on Georgia college campuses declining

ATLANTA – New cases of COVID-19 on University System of Georgia campuses started to come down this week after increasing at the beginning of the fall semester.

The number of positive tests reported at nine schools – including the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech – declined this week, mirroring a trend that occurred at the same time last year.

“Whenever we see a decline in cases, we are grateful, and we hope this downward trend holds,” said Dr. Shelley Nuss, co-chair of UGA’s Medical Oversight Task Force. “We saw a similar pattern last fall: a peak in cases shortly after we began classes that then fell markedly and leveled off.

“We hope that with our continued push to encourage vaccinations, testing and masking, our numbers will continue to decline. COVID-19 is a very serious disease, and vaccines remain our best defense.”

The decline in positive tests for the virus came as the campuses ramped up vaccination campaigns stressed continuing health and safety protocols.

More than 313,000 COVID-19 tests have been sent to campuses, and an additional 50,000 tests are on the way. The university system also has distributed 942,000 gloves, 432,000 masks and face shields, 21,400 gowns and about 1,000 gallons of sanitizer and disinfectant solution.

“Thank you to the students, faculty and staff who have gotten vaccinated and taken seriously all we’ve asked them to do to keep themselves and their campuses safe,” Acting Chancellor Teresa MacCartney said.

“We appreciate everyone who’s wearing a mask on campus, staying home when they’re not feeling well, getting tested and, most of all, getting vaccinated. It’s making a difference.”

But those efforts haven’t been enough to satisfy groups of students, faculty and staff, who have conducted demonstrations this week on campuses across the state demanding the university system impose a mask mandate.

Other campuses experiencing a decline in positive tests for COVID-19 this week include Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, Clayton State University, Columbus State University, Fort Valley State University, Georgia Southern University, Kennesaw State University and the University of North Georgia

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

Georgia Senate examining growth in university fees

Teresa MacCartney

ATLANTA – Ever-increasing fees the University System of Georgia’s (USG) 26 colleges and universities charge students are making it harder to afford a college education in the Peach State, a state senator said Wednesday.

The fees even part-time and graduate students are forced to pay each semester have grown significantly, particularly since the Great Recession, Sen. Sally Harrell, D-Atlanta, told members of a Senate study committee created this year to examine the issue and make recommendations.

“Every parent of a USG student sees a long list of fees when they pay the tuition bill,” she said. That bill doesn’t make them happy, especially when the HOPE scholarship doesn’t cover fees.”

Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, who joined Harrell in sponsoring the resolution creating the study committee, said the fees became a greater concern when the coronavirus pandemic shut down college campuses last year, making student activities financed by many of the fees unavailable.

“That made us all more interested in where the fees go,” he said.

While there are dozens of mandatory and elective fees, Harrell said one of the largest – the institutional fee – was a product of the Great Recession. She said her daughter, who attends Georgia Tech, is being charged an institutional fee of $544 per semester.

Teresa MacCartney, the university system’s acting chancellor, said the institutional fee was intended as a temporary measure to help offset the economic impacts of the recession when the Board of Regents approved it in 2009.

However, state tax revenues were slow to recover during the years following the economic downturn, even as enrollment across the system grew with students laid off because of the economy signing up for college classes.

“We had less resources but were required to provide more services,” she said.

MacCartney said the institutional fee raises $230 million a year, money the university system would be hard pressed to replace.

“How do you take away $230 million in revenue and assure we’re providing a quality education?” she said

MacCartney said most of the increase in student fees in recent years has been to pay the debt service on building projects not directly related to instruction, such as parking decks, student housing and on-campus recreation centers.

While the state finances classroom buildings and labs, non-instructional projects are paid for through public-private ventures that account for more than 20% of mandatory student fees, she said.

MacCartney said she has asked officials at all 26 system campuses to look for greater efficiencies that could help save money.

“There are some things we could probably tighten up,” she said. “But even tightening up, I don’t think, is going to drive $230 million.”

Sen. Lindsey Tippins, R-Marietta, chairman of the Senate Higher Education Committee and the study committee, promised the panel will take a close look at the fee structure without making any prejudgments.

“We certainly do not want to cripple our institutions,” he said. “At the same token, we don’t want to spend more than we need to spend to maintain fine programs.”

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

McBath updates constituents on legislative priorities

U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath

ATLANTA – U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath touted her family-friendly agenda Tuesday evening during a telephone town hall with 6th Congressional District residents.

McBath, D-Marietta, cited a list of legislative accomplishments, including a bill President Joe Biden signed earlier this year expanding insurance premium tax credits for Americans who lost their jobs during the coronavirus pandemic.

She also worked with congressional Republicans on bipartisan legislation including a package of bills aimed at reducing maternal mortality.

“We have the worst rate of maternal deaths in the developed world,” she said. “This is absolutely unacceptable in the richest nation on Earth.”

Improving child care has been one of McBath’s top priorities in Congress. She cited a bill she introduced in 2019 that created an interagency task force to help states conduct criminal background checks of child-care workers and applicants.

McBath reminded listeners that the third installment of the expanded federal child tax credit Congress passed this year will go out on Wednesday. Part of a COVID-19 relief bill known as the American Rescue Plan, the legislation provides monthly checks of $300 for each child under age 6 and $250 for each child ages 6 through 17.

McBath said more than 100,000 children in the 6th Congressional District are eligible for the tax credit – 64% of the total.

“This is one of the most tangible ways we can support families and children,” she said. “These are middle-class tax cuts for our working families.”

On other issues, McBath said she supports the $1.2 trillion infrastructure spending bill now before Congress, Biden’s Clean Energy Plan and proposed legislation expanding funding for a program that works to prevent domestic violence.

With the Republican-controlled General Assembly getting ready to redraw Georgia’s congressional district lines this fall, McBath has a target on her back.

She captured the 6th Congressional District seat in 2018 after it had been in Republican hands for decades, and the GOP wants it back.

Four Republicans are competing for the GOP nomination to challenge McBath’s reelection bid next year: Cobb County lawyer Jake Evans, former chairman of the Georgia Government Transparency & Campaign Finance Commission, former state Rep. Meagan Hanson of Sandy Springs, activist Suzi Voyles of Sandy Springs and U.S. Army veteran Harold Earls.

The 6th District covers east Cobb County, and the northern ends of Fulton and DeKalb counties.

This story available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.