The Alabama Department of Labor said Thursday it has started paying an extra $600 a week to people who receive unemployment benefits, and people whose claims have processed should expect to see the money within two to three days, if not sooner.

That process comes as the number of initial jobless claims in the area and statewide continues to grow, reaching 106,739 in Alabama for the week ending Saturday. Of those claims, 94,047 are COVID-19 related.

Statewide, the number of new claims for the four weeks that ended Saturday totaled 200,344.

By comparison, the total number of new claims statewide for all of 2019 was 130,586.

The number of claims filed locally last week was 455 in Lawrence County; 1,410 in Limestone County and 2,514 in Morgan County.

The additional $600 payment is part of the federal $2.2 trillion relief package.

Tara Hutchison, the ADOL’s spokeswoman, said it can take up to 21 days to receive a payment.

“That’s for a perfect claim with no issues,” she said.

With the volume of claims being filed, though, “it may take longer, but we’re doing everything we can to get them done in 21 days or less,” she said.

The ADOL paid about $40.06 million in the additional unemployment compensation benefits to 60,848 people on Wednesday, announced ADOL Secretary Fitzgerald Washington. With the extra money, the maximum payment for Alabamians filing claims is now $875 a week.

Under the federal legislation, anyone who receives unemployment compensation benefits is eligible for the additional $600 a week stimulus payment. The payments will be made for eligible weeks beginning on March 29 through July 25, and refers to the weeks being claimed, according to the ALDOL.

An example: If someone filed their initial claim on March 16 and remains out of work, they will not receive the additional $600 for the weeks beginning March 15 or March 22, but would receive it for the week beginning March 29 and all weeks going forward.

The ADOL said it will make payments retroactively for weeks already claimed since March 29.

Washington said that Alabama is one of the first states to begin distributing these additional funds.

“We continue to urge patience as the department works to implement this vital legislation,” he said in a release.

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Speeding up process

Hutchison said there are some ways the processing of claims can be expedited:

• All employers who can file on their employees’ behalf are encouraged to do so.

Last month, Washington ordered that all charges are waived until further notice against employers who file partial unemployment compensation claims on behalf of their employees, due to COVID-19-related issues.

• Those filing claims should select direct deposit as a payment option instead of receiving a debit card.

Hutchison said that 150 staff members from other divisions have been shifted to answer phone calls, and “we’re looking at contracting with an outside agencies to set up another call center.”

The ADOL encourages anyone who believes they may be eligible for these programs to file a claim at www.labor.alabama.gov or by calling 866-234-5382. Online filing is strongly encouraged.

Tyler Jones, the owner of The Railyard and Whisk’D Café in Decatur, made the decision to close those restaurants last month until further notice. He said that The Railyard wasn’t set up to take to-go orders and he wasn’t prepared to change its business model during an uncertain time.

“We hope to be back up and running as soon as possible,” he said. But, he’s encouraging employees to file claims if it’s in the best interest for them and their families. “We don’t know when this is going to blow over,” he said.

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Related programs

Other programs that are part of the legislation are:

• Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), which provides unemployment benefits to those not ordinarily eligible for them, including people who are self-employed or contract employees. This benefit is retroactive to Jan. 27.

• Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), which allows for an additional 13 weeks of benefits added to the end of regular unemployment benefits. People filing claims may collect unemployment benefits for a longer period of time than under normal circumstances.

People who already have an active claim, or who have already filed a claim, do not need to refile to be eligible for these benefits. The ADOL will begin processing PUA and PEUC claims as soon as possible.

None of these benefits or any other unemployment benefits are available to employees who quit without a good work-related cause, who refuse to return to work or refuse to receive full-time pay.

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marian.accardi@decaturdaily.com or 256-340-2438. Twitter @DD_MAccardi.

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