MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WIAT) — Some Alabamians are expressing frustration with how long it’s taking to receive federal unemployment insurance through the state labor department.

The Alabama Department of Labor says they’re still recovering from a flood of claims in 2020, but are doing their best to address new claims with limited staff available.

Laurie Burkhardt of Theodore lost her job and applied for unemployment in July.

“That’s when I’m told that there are at least 12 months behind in processing claims due to the pandemic,” Burkhardt said.

Burkhardt says she hasn’t been given a timeline for when she might receive benefits. In the meantime, she says she’s struggling to make ends meet as she looks for work.

“In the middle of August, I lost my power. I no longer have water. I had a car, can’t fix the car, so I have no transportation,” Burkhardt said.

The Alabama Department of Labor says about 50% of all claims are processed in 21 days or less. But how long the other half takes is a case-by-case basis depending on the circumstances of the claimant’s separation from their employer.

“I can tell you that month by month those percentages are increasing, so we are definitely making progress. Is it as fast as we’d like? Not necessarily, but we are making progress,” Alabama Department of Labor Communications Director Tara Hutchison said.

Hutchison says the department is also struggling to process the claims due to limited staffing.

“Like most everyone else, this department is underfunded and understaffed. We are struggling to hire staff. We are not alone in this. Most agencies across the state and across the country are experiencing the same thing,” Hutchison said.

Hutchison says once people are hired, it can take months to train new employees to adjudicate claims. She doesn’t have an estimate as to how many people are waiting to hear back but emphasizes that it may take time as the pandemic’s effects are still being felt.

Another concern Burkhardt raised was that claimants can make only one phone call weekly to the department. Hutchison says that the system started last year to help the department address claims more efficiently.