BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — The Alabama Department of Labor is preparing for the challenge it could face if Congress passes a second COVID-19 relief package.
According to Tara Hutchison, the department’s communications director, the department has paid out more money on unemployment claims over the last eight months than it did the last several years combined. That’s because of record unemployment the state is facing due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many Alabamians applied for unemployment benefits available in the first relief package, which included enhanced employment assistance.
“It was definitely a challenge. It remains a challenge,” Hutchison said. “I think the department has risen to that challenge as best we could. We’ve made significant improvements to the system. We’re constantly working day in and day out to make even more improvements.”
Under the first relief package, Alabamians could receive up to $875 per week while on unemployment. As congressional leaders continue to debate the structure of the next package, it’s not clear how much the unemployed might receive as part of that package.
But it is clear that filling the claims could again present the Department of Labor with challenges, including the burden of dealing with the potential for fraudulent claims.
“On one hand, we’re trying to pay record numbers of people and get that money out as quickly as we possibly can,” Hutchison said. “On the other, we have to make sure that the funds are going to the people they’re supposed to, for legitimate reasons.”
It’s an issue that can affect people who have legitimate needs for unemployment benefits. That’s why she recommends that everyone applying for assistance have all their information ready beforehand. That’s especially important for people who are self-employed, as they may have to provide additional tax information when applying.
“So there’s some documentation that needs to be gathered, and just make sure that you’re able to answer those questions as best as you can and as honestly as you can,” she said.
Hutchison said online banks and prepaid debit card are often used for fraudulent claims, so she advises avoiding those as a method of accepting payment. She recommends using a traditional bank instead.
Congressional leaders are still discussing the details of a possible second relief bill. Right now, it’s not clear if they’ll sign one this week or if it will have to wait until after the election.
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