Unprecedented numbers of Alabamians filed for unemployment following the arrival of COVID-19 in 2020, as the pandemic spurred layoffs and business closings across the state. Many people waited weeks for claims to be processed, leaving some claimants in limbo for weeks or, in extreme cases, months.
After the dust settled, the state Department of Labor concluded that its unemployment division overpaid about $164 million in unemployment to residents in 2020 and 2021. Now it’s demanding those payments be returned.
Meanwhile, it appears the departmental chaos to which ADOL attributes the delays and overpayments persists; more than 86,000 appeals have been filed, but fewer than 13,000 have been entered into the system.
Clearly the state Department of Labor requires immediate attention and drastic reform to ensure it operates on at least an adequate level.
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But the most pressing action is to stop the department’s onerous attempts to punish Alabamians for the department’s costly errors.
Residents who made unemployment claims in good faith have every expectation that their claims are processed accurately, and that the disbursements they receive from the state Department of Labor are what they’re entitled to receive. A demand from the government that they must return a portion of that disbursement a year or more later would create an undue burden on most recipients, who surely relied on those funds to keep them afloat during a fiscal crisis.
Simply put, the state must eat its multimillion-dollar error, and officials should investigate the department to identify its shortcomings and then take the necessary steps to address them – ideally before it erroneously doles out millions more.