Unemployment filers face new set of challenges

Status of unemployment claims in Alabama

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - The COVID-19 pandemic is still impacting the workforce.

The number of initial claims for unemployment has gone down from recent weeks, but now those who filed at the beginning of the pandemic are facing a new set of challenges.

LaTanya McCaslin was furloughed from her job at the Sheraton at the end of March.

She said she had no problems initially filing for unemployment, but it’s a different story now.

“I have been having difficulty contacting person-to-person Department of Labor, persons who could help me with this problem. It’s going on two weeks now and I’m very frustrated,” McCaslin said.

McCaslin is among a number of people who are still jobless as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

She had hoped to return to work by now, but says her furlough has been extended.

“We have necessities to take care of, medical expenses, food, bills, kids, and it would just help so much if the Department of Labor would just really step up and work overtime if possible and help us,” McCaslin explained.

The Alabama Department of Labor said it is seeing an increase in people like McCaslin who are now applying for Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, or PEUC.

It’s an additional 13 weeks of unemployment benefits provided by the federal government under the CARES Act.

“So, if someone’s in that situation where they know that their benefits are about to expire, then what they need to do is they need to continue to file those weekly certifications. That is so important,” said Communications Director of the Alabama Department of Labor, Tara Hutchison.

“You don’t need to miss a week, you don’t need to stop because if you miss a week or stop it can create a break in that claim, which means we may have to go back and reopen a claim, which again is going to take longer to get processed,” Hutchison explained.

The Alabama Department of Labor said it’s seeing a call volume of more than 200,000 calls a day, but there are only about 300 people available to take those calls, which why there’s been such a backlog.

However, the department says 92% of COVID-related active claims filed since March 16 have been paid, which adds up to more than $1.5 billion.

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