The Alabama Department of Labor clarified yesterday that if unemployment claimants are called back to work after businesses are reopened across the state, they must accept work or potentially be disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits.
The announcement came after numerous public officials and business owners expressed concerns that the $600 per week federal unemployment supplement provided by the CARES Act, combined with the state maximum benefit of $275, could pay the unemployed as much as $21 per hour. That’s almost three times as much as minimum wage in Alabama, which is currently $7.25 per hour. But according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median wage in Alabama is $16.73.
On Monday, Alabama Labor Secretary Fitzgerald Washington announced the department had disbursed more than $164 million in COVID-19 related unemployment compensation benefits to 103,453 claimants between March 16 – April 18. But more than 80 percent of those funds — or $132.3 million — are Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC), the $600 stimulus benefit added to weekly unemployment compensation benefits.
“It’s important for workers to know that if their employer reopens or otherwise calls them back to work, they must do so, unless they have a good work-related cause for not returning,” Washington said in a statement Thursday. “Quitting work without good cause to obtain additional benefits under the regular unemployment program or CARES Act programs qualifies as fraud.”
Late late month, Baldwin County Economic Development Alliance President and CEO Lee Lawson told Lagniappe at least one condo management company owner thought the federal unemployment supplement could dissuade hourly workers from returning to work when jobs do return.
This week, he said “there is clarity” in the CARES Act requiring workers to return if offered jobs, but the question now is if ADOL has the manpower and tools necessary to enforce it.
“There’s still thousands of unemployment filings that have yet to be processed so is there enough capacity to manage the follow-up on whether hundreds of thousands of [the unemployed] been re-offered jobs?” he asked. ”I don’t know what that case management tracking looks like but will it be incumbent upon the employer or the employee to communicate [job offers] to the Department of Labor?”
In a news release, the DOL pointed employers to its New Hire system online, which was established in response to 1997 legislation mandating employer reporting requirements.
According to the department, The New Hire Act is designed to “prevent program abuse and to assist the Federal Parent Locator Service. New hire reports are transmitted to the National Directory of New Hires where the data is cross matched with other states. Alabama New-Hire provides a direct means for identifying workers who refuse jobs while receiving unemployment compensation. An individual can be denied benefits for failure to accept suitable employment.”
Under the act, all employers are required to report each newly hired or recalled employee to the ADOL within seven days from the date of hire or reemployment. Further, the CARES Act “specifically provides for serious consequences for fraudulent cases including fines, confinement, and an inability to receive future unemployment benefits until all fraudulent claims and fines have been repaid,” ADOL reported.
Meanwhile, the ADOL also issued weekly unemployment numbers yesterday, indicating another 66,432 people filed for unemployment the week ending April 18. Weekly filings have been trending downward since a peak of 106,739 the week ending April 4, but a total of 344,039 people have filed since March 15, representing 15.6 percent of the state’s civilian workforce.
The initial claims numbers do not represent the unemployment rate, but the weekly report also noted another 3,221 people in Baldwin County filed for unemployment last week, representing a total of 17,853 since March 15, or 18.66 percent of Baldwin’s civilian workforce. In Mobile County, 6,708 people filed for unemployment last week, totaling 30,990 since March 15, or 16.64 percent of the civilian workforce.
Statewide, 14.87 percent of the civilian workforce has filed for unemployment benefits since mid-March. Comparing each of Alabama’s 67 counties, Baldwin and Mobile rank 11th and 19th, respectively, in the percentage of civilian workforce filing for unemployment. In raw numbers, Mobile County ranks second behind Jefferson County, while Baldwin County ranks fifth. Madison and Tuscaloosa counties are also in the top 5.
This page is available to subscribers. Click here to sign in or get access.
It looks like you are opening this page from the Facebook App. This article needs to be opened in the browser.
iOS: Tap the three dots in the top right, then tap on "Open in Safari".
Android: Tap the Settings icon (it looks like three horizontal lines), then tap App Settings, then toggle the "Open links externally" setting to On (it should turn from gray to blue).