Ossoff sets quarterly fundraising record for Senate candidate from Georgia

Democrat Jon Ossoff (left) is looking to unseat U.S. Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga.

ATLANTA – Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Jon Ossoff raised more than $21.3 million during the third quarter in his bid to unseat Republican Sen. David Perdue, Ossoff’s campaign reported.

That represents the largest-ever fundraising quarter for a Senate race in Georgia, according to the Ossoff campaign, and dwarfed the $7 million the Perdue campaign reported raising during July, August and September.

“With less than three weeks to go, our grassroots juggernaut is firing on all cylinders to send Jon to the U.S. Senate,” said Ellen Foster, Ossoff’s campaign manager.

Perdue campaign manager Ben Fry noted that 87% of Ossoff’s money during the third quarter came from out of state, and 26% of that was from California alone.

“While Ossoff and his allies are bankrolled by liberal billionaires from California and New York who want to use Ossoff to push a radical socialist agenda, Senator Perdue is proud to have the support of Georgians who will re-elect him for another term,” Fry said.

However, according to the Ossoff campaign, his average contribution during the quarter was only $35, while 97% of his campaign donations were for less than $100.

Most recent polls have shown the two candidates locked in a tight battle, within those polls’ margins of error.

However, a poll released this week by Quinnipiac University gave Ossoff a bit more breathing room, putting him up by 51% to 45%.

The two candidates entered the final month of the contest with about the same amount of cash on hand, just more than $8 million, according to the Perdue campaign.

Unemployment rises in Georgia but initial claims fall

Georgia Commissioner of Labor Mark Butler

ATLANTA – Unemployment in Georgia rose last month, but first-time unemployment claims fell significantly, the state Department of Labor reported Thursday.

The state’s unemployment rate in September was up 0.7% from August to 6.4%. But joblessness in Georgia remains below the national unemployment rate of 7.9%.

Meanwhile, initial unemployment claims were down 19% last month, or 45,833, to reach 201,790.

Along with fewer first-time unemployment claims, more Georgians went back to work as businesses shut down by the coronavirus pandemic continued to reopen.

During the last five months, 65% of the jobs lost have been gained back, Georgia Commissioner of Labor Mark Butler said Thursday.

“We are encouraging those who have been displaced to take a look at the incredible number of career opportunities listed on EmployGeorgia that include a vast array of entry level and experienced positions of all pay grades,” he said. “Employers are looking for good candidates to fill these positions as Georgia’s economy begins to rebound.”

The labor department has processed nearly 3.9 million initial unemployment claims during the last 30 weeks, more than the last eight years combined. Those claims have generated more than $15 billion in state and federal unemployment benefits during that time.

Since mid-March, the accommodation and food services job sector has accounted for the most claims, with 929,912 claims filed. The health care and social assistance sector is next with 447,748 claims, followed by retail trade with 411,217.

The labor department offers online resources for finding a job, building a resume and assisting with other reemployment needs.

Gov. Kemp rolls out Washington-approved health-insurance reforms

Gov. Brian Kemp

ATLANTA – Gov. Brian Kemp unveiled a “Georgia-centric” health-care reform plan Thursday based on newly won federal approval of two waivers to expand health-insurance coverage outside the provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Kemp joined Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, in signing a waiver allowing Georgia to expand Medicaid coverage to adults with incomes up to 100 percent of the federal poverty level.

Current law limits Medicaid eligibility in Georgia to low-income mothers and children, and to the aged, blind and disabled.

The other waiver, aimed at serving uninsured Georgians who make too much to qualify for Medicaid but too little to receive insurance premium subsidies through the ACA, is to be signed in the coming days.

Stating the problem, Kemp said Georgia suffers from one of the nation’s highest rates of uninsured, while insurance premiums are too high and there’s a lack of competition in the private health-insurance market.

“This status quo is simply unacceptable,” the governor said in announcing the plan at the Georgia Capitol. “It threatens our families and our state’s future.”

The General Assembly passed legislation last year authorizing Kemp to pursue the two waivers. The state hired Deloitte Consulting to help develop the waiver applications, which were submitted to CMS late last year.

The Medicaid waiver will make Georgians earning up to $12,000 a year eligible to enroll in Medicaid or employer-sponsored health insurance if they spend at least 80 hours per month engaged in a “qualifying activity” Those include employment, on-the-job training, participating in job-readiness activities, vocational training, higher education or community service.

“We’re making health insurance accessible for those who need it most,” Kemp said.

The second waiver will replace the ACA’s healthcare.gov insurance enrollment website and let Georgians enroll directly with insurance carriers, local brokers or private sector web-broker sites.

Kemp said enrollment through the healthcare.gov portal has declined by 22% since 2016. He blamed the site’s cumbersome nature for the decrease.

“Healthcare.gov has fundamentally failed Georgians,” Kemp said. “The enrollment process has been nothing short of disappointing.”

The second waiver will cover Georgians earning between $12,000 and $51,000 annually.

Many Democrats voted against the Medicaid waivers legislation last year, arguing Georgia should join the majority of states that have expanded Medicaid coverage under the ACA to those making up to 138% of the federal poverty level.

But Kemp said Thursday that would be too expensive. He said the $218 million annual price tag of his Medicaid expansion plan is less than half what the state would pay under the Democrats’ proposal.

Verma praised Georgia for becoming the first state to take advantage of the unprecedented flexibility the Trump administration is offering through the health-insurance waiver process.

“We have delivered by getting Washington, D.C., out of your health care,” she said. “We have worked to empower states.”

QAnon backer Marjorie Taylor Greene endorses Kelly Loeffler for Senate

U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler speaks at the State Capitol after qualifying for the 2020 election on March 2, 2020. (Photo by Beau Evans)

ATLANTA – U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler landed an endorsement Thursday from fellow Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene, a supporter of the controversial QAnon movement and a virtual lock to win Georgia’s 14th Congressional District seat next month.

Greene, who owns a construction company, has drawn national attention for past online videos reported in the Washington Post and Politico in which she appeared to promote the anti-government conspiracy theory QAnon and dismiss the racial-justice underpinnings of the Black Lives Matter protest movement.

But on Thursday, Greene told reporters during a news conference in Paulding County she decided to endorse Loeffler because they share a determination to stop socialism.

“If [Democrats] get their way in November, our economy will be wrecked, our jobs will be lost and our country will be plunged into a socialist hellhole,” Greene said.

Greene praised Loeffler for introducing legislation to target street violence Greene linked to the left-wing political movement Antifa and to Black Lives Matter.

Greene also cited Loeffler’s support for the police and gun rights and her opposition to abortion.

“I’ve fought to protect innocent life, our God-given 2nd Amendment rights, our borders and our religious liberties,” Loeffler said. “And just like Marjorie, I’ve taken on the radical left, cancel culture and fake news media – and won.”

Gov. Brian Kemp appointed Loeffler to the Senate late last year to fill the seat of retiring Sen. Johnny Isakson. She is running to retain the seat in a crowded special election field that features 20 candidates.

The Democratic Party of Georgia responded to Greene’s endorsement of Loeffler by accusing the senator of pandering to Republican voters to save her campaign. Loeffler has trailed Democrat Raphael Warnock, pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, in recent polls.

“Bragging about an endorsement from a candidate like Marjorie Taylor Greene, who has been denounced by members of her own party as ‘appalling,’ shows yet again just how out of touch Senator Loeffler is with Georgians,” The Democratic Party wrote in a statement.

Dan McLagan, campaign spokesman for U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, the other leading Republican in the Senate race, was succinct in his response.

“That’s a good endorsement for Kelly,” McLagan wrote in a text message.

Recent polls have shown Collins and Loeffler in a battle for second place behind Warnock and a spot opposite the Democrat in a likely January runoff.

Coronavirus slamming Georgia music industry

Chuck Leavell

ATLANTA –  Georgia’s music industry has been particularly hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic, music artists and industry professionals said Thursday.

The highly contagious virus has forced the cancellation of hundreds of music festivals and tours, while artists have delayed releases of musical recordings, Daryl Friedman, chief advocacy officer for the Washington, D.C.-based Recording Academy, told members of a state Senate study committee at its kickoff meeting.

“The music industry was the first to close and probably will be the last to reopen,” said Friedman, whose organization puts on  the annual Grammy Awards.

The Senate Music Workforce Study Committee was formed earlier this year to look for ways to take advantage of Georgia’s historic roots as a cradle of American music and grow the industry. But the first order of business is weathering the impact of COVID-19.

Georgia native Chuck Leavell, a keyboardist who was a member of the Allman Brothers Band during their 1970s heyday and is now with The Rolling Stones, said the cancellation of live shows has had such a huge impact on musicians because music streaming technology has deprived them of the income they used to derive from albums and CDs.

“It’s the live performances most musicians depend on for a living,” Leavell said.

Friedman said the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act Congress passed last March has helped not only musicians but the many workers at musical venues that have been forced to close. The legislation provides unemployment compensation to independent contractors and free-lancers for the first time.

However, a provision in the CARES Act reduces the benefits of  independent workers who have other part-time jobs that generate W-2 forms with the Internal Revenue Service.

“Congress knows this is a problem,” Friedman said. “If there is another COVID [relief] bill, they’ll fix it.”

Chris Albrecht, a partner at Johns Creek-based Double-A Productions, said his company has found a way to recoup some of the revenue lost from cancelled live shows by staging performances at drive-in theaters.

“Not many people are ready to go to an indoor show,” he said. “Safety is in the outdoors.”

Albrecht said Double-A Productions also is making use of baseball fields that otherwise would be shut down. The company also will be putting on a watch party in Dalton next month before the Georgia-Florida football game, he said.

Sameed Afghani, vice president and general manager of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, said the orchestra has been forced to reduce the salaries of its 85 full-time musicians. However, no one has been laid off because the orchestra is providing in-studio performances for downloading, he said.

“We’ve had to come up with creative solution focused on digital content,” Afghani said. “I’m confident this year we can weather the storm. But I’m only confident about this year.”

Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, the study committee’s chairman, said the General Assembly has passed three bills during the last dozen years that together have made the Peach State a center for film production.

“The same thing can happen with the music industry,” he said.

Mullis said the committee plans two more meetings this fall. It is due to make recommendations by the end of the year.