Some Alabamians still waiting for remaining COVID-19 unemployment benefits

Published: Jul. 14, 2021 at 9:28 PM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - All federally funded pandemic unemployment compensation programs ended on June 19, but there are still a number of Alabamians waiting to receive their payments owed to them before those benefits came to an end.

“I’ve made over 2,000 calls in the last 14 weeks and still can’t get anybody to answer my questions,” said Slocomb resident Kelly Pattison in reference to the Alabama Department of Labor.

Pattison said she began receiving unemployment benefits in May 2020 after losing her job because of the pandemic, and for nearly a year she was successfully receiving her unemployment benefits until the last week of April 2021 when ADOL put her account under review.

“I have supplied them more than 20 times with the requested documents by fax, email regular mail, and now through their new document portal, but my claim remains in review,” Pattison said.

It’s now been nearly 14 weeks without any answers from ADOL, Pattison said. She has since found a job, but says she is still waiting on eight weeks of pay she should have received before pandemic benefits came to an end.

“I know the $3,312 that I’m owed would go a long way in getting my family back on track,” Pattison said.

“I had employment this whole time until Governor Ivey announced she was ending pandemic unemployment. Ivey said any weeks filed prior to that would still be payed once claim reviews were cleared up, but 14 weeks waiting, 2,000 phone calls, and I still can’t get a live person to speak with or a call back leaves me in limbo,” Pattison went on to say.

Tara Hutchinson, communications director with the Alabama Department of Labor, said ADOL is still dealing with an overload of unemployment claims.

“During 2020 we received more than 10 times the number of claims than we would in any other year, Hutchinson said. “It was record breaking breaking in all aspects, and we still have the same number of employees working that we did pre-pandemic.”

Tara said ADOL is, “doing everything we can to get those payments out.”

“We have asked for patience for the past 15 to 16 months. We continue to ask for patience,” Hutchinson said.

Hutchinson said the delay in payments can be the result of either a disqualification or an issue that requires an investigation by the department, and that reviewing a claim for either issue takes time.

Hutchinson said in May 2021, which is the most recent data ADOL has, of the more 78,000 continued claims about 36% of them had an issue that needed to be investigated.

“So you’ve got a third off the top that are going to be automatically flagged for some type of investigation, whether that’s a discrepancy between the employer and the employee, or whether the system is detecting something that could potentially be fraudulent, it could be a multitude of things.” Hutchinson said.

She went on to say that of the 78,000 continued claims that were not flagged for an issue, more than 75% of those were paid in seven days and 81% were paid in 21 days.

“So the vast majority of people who are filing these claims are getting paid and they are getting paid rather quickly,” Hutchinson said.

After further investigation of Kelly’s claim, Hutchinson discovered that the system flagged her account because she has a Michigan driver’s license and an Alabama address.

After verifying her identity, the department was able to clear the issue, and said her payments should release no later than Monday of next week.

Hutchinson said this is just one of those cases where the system will catch things that may be indicative of fraud, but needs a follow up by a human employee. It’s something that during a normal year might not take too long to check, but when there is an abundance of claims will take longer than usual.

“Keep in mind that we are being very diligent and that we are being vigilant to ensure that fraud is not occurring and that we’re getting the money where it needs to go,” Hutchinson said.

Unemployment fraud continues to be a problem ADOL is dealing with, which is another reason why they have to closely monitor these claims to make sure they are legit.

Hutchinson said that since the federally funded pandemic unemployment compensation programs ended, ADOL has seen a drastic decrease in claims. Last week the department said there was around 6,000 claims filed which is down from the more than 110,000 claims filed per week at the height of the pandemic.

“We are kind of getting back to normal as far as regular unemployment goes, but we are plenty busy here, and we will be for the foreseeable future,” Hutchinson said. “We are working as quickly as we can, all day and into the night most of the time in order to get these old issues adjudicated and looked at.”

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