Unemployment benefits need revisiting

Published 6:25 pm Monday, April 6, 2020

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Just last April, Alabama’s economy was trending upward, the state boasted a 3.8 percent unemployment rate that was near-record low. Sixty-six of 67 counties saw drops in their unemployment numbers.

Then came what could be arguably the most shortsighted move in state government last year.

A bill introduced by state Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur overwhelmingly passed both houses and was signed into law by Gov. Ivey, cutting the length of unemployment benefits from 26 weeks to as little as 14 weeks. At $275 a week or $6.87 per hour (based on a 40-hour workweek), Alabama is tied for fourth-lowest unemployment payment in the country.

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Why is this shortsighted? Clearly, this move did not take in to account the next crisis that this state or in today’s case, the country would face. Now, the legislature is deciding whether or not they should backpedal because the new bill risks the financial future of Alabamians who are facing unemployment due to the COVID-19 health crisis.

Instead, Alabamians will have to rely on the federal government to help them through tough times, through an additional $600 a week payment from the CARES Act that was signed into law on March 27.

Last week, the U.S. Department of Labor announced more than 6.5 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits in one week alone. In Chambers County, 338 workers filed claims and that number will likely skyrocket given the stay at home order signed by Gov. Ivey on April 3.

The hardworking citizens in Alabama deserve better during a time none of us brought on ourselves.

No one knows how long this crisis will last or what the lasting economic impacts will be.

How many businesses will not reopen after the all-clear is given? Yet another question we cannot answer today.

What we can answer is the number of people that can survive on $6.85 an hour. The answer — few very, if any.

It is time for our state leaders to think more about Alabamians and the future of the entire state.

We are falling behind, fast.