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Unemployment claims show sudden surge

STATEWIDE – The number of new unemployment claims filed in Alabama on Sunday and Monday were almost double the total for all of last week as coronavirus precautions impacted state businesses.

According to preliminary data, the number of initial claims statewide for Sunday and Monday was 16,955, said Tara Hutchison, communications director for the Alabama Department of Labor. That compares to 9,347 for the week ending March 20.

The two-day totals for this week were almost 12 times the 1,434 initial claims filed the week ending March 13.

Alabama workers who aren’t able to work due to COVID-19 were eligible to file for jobless benefits starting Monday. State Labor Secretary Fitzgerald Washington announced the benefit changes last week.

“We knew we would see an increase” in the number of new claims, Hutchison said. “But to see that level over a two-day period was surprising.”

Individuals could file claims starting at 12:01 a.m. Sunday, and the number of claims filed Sunday are included in Monday’s count.

Based on current guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor, the ADOL modified existing unemployment compensation rules to allow workers to file a claim for unemployment compensation benefits who are:

• Quarantined by a medical professional or a government agency.

• Laid off or sent home without pay for an extended period by their employer due to COVID-19 concerns,

• Diagnosed with COVID-19,

The amount that claimants receive depends on their salary, with the maximum amount at $275 a week, Hutchison said. “Right now, it’s for up to three weeks. That could change,” she said.

“Generally, if Congress passes (legislation), we’ll get guidelines on how to implement it from the U.S. Department of Labor,” Hutchison said. “The U.S. Department of Labor has granted the states a lot of flexibility with the rules so we can adjust to our situation as needed.”

The ADOL said that people making claims, under the change that took effect Monday, won’t have to search for other work if they take reasonable steps to preserve their ability to return to their jobs when the quarantine is lifted or the illness subsides. The waiting week, which is typically the first week of compensable benefits, is also being waived.

According to the ADOL, certain criteria and exceptions may apply, and are subject to change, and verification of illness or quarantine may be required.

Workers can file for benefits online at www.labor.alabama.gov or by calling 1-866-234-5382, but online filing is encouraged.

People who are being paid to work from home, or those receiving paid sick or vacation leave are not eligible for unemployment compensation benefits, regardless if they experience any or all of the situations that are listed.

Employers who decide to shut down due to causes related to COVID-19 should treat the shutdown as a temporary layoff.

February’s unemployment data for Alabama cities and counties will be released Friday, said Hutchison. “You won’t see the impact (of COVID-19 on the unemployment rate) until the April numbers,” she said, and those will be released in May.

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