WAAY31 I-TEAM: 124,000 Alabamians still waiting on unemployment benefits

The state said it's had 400,000 unemployment claims filed since the start of the pandemic.

Posted: May 1, 2020 6:26 PM
Updated: May 4, 2021 11:19 AM

Some 400,000 people in Alabama lost their job since the start of the pandemic. The state admits about a third of them are still waiting for their first unemployment check.

WAAY31 spoke with a cosmologist, a restaurant server, and a professor who are all struggling on different levels and still waiting for their unemployment check. The issues with the Alabama Department of Labor range from calls going unanswered, issues with the website, and lack of communication.

"I have tried to call them everyday," said Tuscumbia cosmetologist, Jenna Daniel.

Daniel's story is similar to restaurant server Aj Santos' story, "I tried over 150 times." Adjunct professor Richard Wallace said the same, "I called them 39 times."

The coronavirus cost all three them their livelihoods. Daniel, Santos, and Wallace told WAAY31 they all applied for unemployment between March 20th-March 28th. They are all still waiting on help along with thousands of other Alabamians.

"Trying to figure out how to stay a float has been nerve wracking because I've depleted all my savings," said Santos.

Daniel told WAAY31 she's getting to the point that she's worried about groceries. Wallace said for now he's okay but soon that won't be the case.

"If I can't access unemployment I'm not going to be able to survive over the summer," said Wallace.

Santos' claim was denied because it didn't list his most recent employer in Huntsville. He tried calling to appeal or fix it but gets no answer. Daniels and Wallace both applied and have gotten letters but they don't know if their claims are actually being processed.

"It's just been a headache like when I try to login it will say I make too much money which I don't so I don't know where they got that from," said Wallace.

Over zoom with a shared screen Wallace took WAAY31 to the site to show the issues he's facing. He logged in and put his pin number in and clicked various links on the page which lead to another page that said Error in big letters.

WAAY31 contacted the state department of labor about the issue.

"I haven't heard anything about the website crashing," said Alabama Department of Labor Spokesperson, Tara Hutchinson. She said she wanted to see the video clip of this happening so she could report it to their IT department. WAAY31 also asked Hutchinson about all of the other complaints.

Tara hutchinson is the spokesperson for alabama’s department of labor. I asked her about the list of complaints we heard from people.

"We understand there are still issues with our inquiry line we are working to modify that and make it more accessible," said Hutchison.

Even after contracting with a call center to add 100 people on the lines and reassigning employees to help with complaints, Hutchinson said there’s not much more the state can do because it's an overwhelming about of unemployment claims.

"Its tough all 50 states are experiencing the same thing. We're experiencing a tsunami of claims," said Hutchinson.

The department said it's considering bringing back retired employees to help in this unprecedented time. Time that's eating away at what money unemployed Alabamians have left and still waiting for the state to help.

"The system is broken," said Santos.

Daniel said, "Our state was not prepared to handle this amount of claims."

People will get their back pay for unemployment if and when they get approved. The department of labor said it's very important to log the earnings you've lost each week so they state can back pay you.

A few weeks ago the department of labor launched a claim tracker but this week as people went to check 4 other peoples sensitive information popped up. The department of labor posted on it's Facebook page saying it is aware of the breach and is providing the people with identity protection because of their mistake.

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