Hundreds camp out in long lines to discuss unemployment claims

Many travel long distances to Montgomery, the only place for in-person claims help
Updated: Jun. 12, 2020 at 2:53 PM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - Hundreds of people from across the state camped out in the early morning hours in Montgomery Friday to get help with their COVID-19 related unemployment claims.

For weeks, the Alabama Department of Labor has been helping people in-person at the Alabama State University Dunn-Oliver Acadome.

But it’s first come, first served because ADOL staff can only fit in about 300 to 350 people per day for the in-person services that run M-F from 8-5p.m.

Some people began lining up at 10 o’clock Thursday night to get a spot Friday, according to people on the scene. Others lined up at 2 a.m. in hopes of getting a ticket.

“It just absolutely breaks my heart,” Huntsville resident Michael Morgan said as he described the parking lot. He said people lined up to sleep in tents and chairs.

“It really hurts me to know that we're all paying into a system and when people are really in need, they can't get the help they need, especially when it's easily taken out of their paychecks,” he said.

Morgan and his wife left for Montgomery at 2 a.m. Friday after trying for months to talk with someone at ADOL online and through the phone.

“I'm really excited for my wife because it's kind of been a tremendous burden for her,” he said.

Mario Kennemore drove from Huntsville Friday morning. He had been trying since March 18 to receive help with his claim.

“I’m upset about it. This is money my family needs,” Kennemore explained. “My wife had to take another job just to help and I’m also a veteran, so this really sucks.”

Other people traveled from Mobile and Birmingham.

Kelly Betts is a communications specialist with the Alabama Department of Labor.

“It’s just one more resource we put out there to try and help claimants get their claims filed quickly and to get their money,” Betts said, adding that because the unemployment compensation division is headquartered in Montgomery, people have to travel to the capital city to speak with a specialist.

“We don’t have offices all over the state, so there aren’t unemployment compensation experts that can help and do this kind of event offsite,” she said.

ADOL said as of June 3, $1.5 billion in benefits have been distributed, which makes up 92% of the COVID-19 related claims that have been submitted.

But that leaves about 19,000 people who have not received benefits in limbo. Betts said their benefits could be held up based on a lot of factors including errors and reporting problems.

“But all of those issues have to be addressed by unemployment compensation claims specialists so there’s usually no help for it but to call an unemployment compensation claims specialists,” Betts said.

This was the sixth week of providing these in-person services. ADOL says 10,000 people have been helped since last Friday.

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