ATLANTA - Nearly 230,000 Georgians filed initial unemployment claims last week, down from more than 266,000 claims filed during the previous week, state Commissioner of Labor Mark Butler reported Thursday.

That brings to nearly 1.6 million the number of initial unemployment claims filed in Georgia during the last seven weeks, since the state began feeling the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

The largest number of claims by far – 446,437 – has come from the accommodation and food services sector. Health-care and social assistance workers have accounted for 183,328 claims, followed by the retail trade sector with 182,663.

The labor department has paid out more than $1.7 billion in combined state and federal unemployment benefits during those seven weeks.

“Over half a million Georgians have received a payment from the Georgia Department of Labor,” Butler said. “We have been enhancing our current systems and creating new ones to make sure every eligible applicant receives their [unemployment insurance] benefits as quickly as possible.”

Butler said Georgians whose claims are denied or ruled invalid still might be eligible for Pandemic Unemployed Assistance (PUA). This includes gig workers, people who are self-employed or 1099 contractors, or those who work for a church or other nonprofit.

The state began paying out PUA claims last week totaling more than $4 million.

The labor department is continuing to work with employers that are still hiring workers. More than 100,000 jobs are listed online at .

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