As the coronavirus continues to spread across Alabama, tens of thousands of people have filed for unemployment benefits due to businesses being shut down.
Within a few weeks, the Alabama Department of Labor (ADOL) has taken in more than a year's worth of unemployment claims.
"We're taking a record number of claims over the past several weeks," said Tara Hutchison, the communications director for ADOL. "As of [Monday], we've taken about 206,000 initial unemployment claims. To put that in perspective, for the entirety of 2019, we took 130,000."
According to numbers published by the ADOL, there were 10,892 initial claims filed during the week ending on March 21. Over the following week, that number spiked to 80,984 initial claims.
One of those who had to file a claim for the first time is Shelly Wilbanks. The Jackson County resident was contracted to work as an athletic trainer for both Section High School and Sylvania High School and had been with them for 17 and seven years respectively.
She said it was a sad day when the schools were closed and she learned she wouldn't be able to work with student atheltes for the rest of the school year.
"Not only do I have my own two kids at home, but I think of all my athletes as my kids," said Wilbanks.
Wilbanks said she was able to successfully file two weeks worth of claims online, but said she's still waiting for the first paycheck to come in.
"It's just so frustrating because I still haven't gotten paid for it and we still don't know about the whole $600 that the federal is going to put in it per week," said Wilbanks.
ADOL officials advised that payment for unemployment claims could take up to 21 days due to the volume.
Hutchison said that since the start of the outbreak in Alabama, the ADOL has been working to improve its website as well as bolster its staff that's processing claims and taking phone calls.
"We're in the process of retraining and re-utilizing employees from other divisions to help with that backlog. And we're also considering outsourcing to a third-party vendor for another call center," said Hutchison.
She said between 100 and 120 Career Center employees were being retrained for the effort and that the number could grow, depending on the need.
Meanwhile, until she can return to working with athletes, Wilbanks said she's left in limbo.
"It's very frustrating, very frustrating. We have bills coming in, so they've got to be paid one way or another," said Wilbanks.
New unemployment claims data is published every Thursday by the ADOL.