U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, and Congresswoman Terri Sewell, D-Selma, sent a letter urging Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey and her administration to extend unemployment benefits for Alabamians impacted by the spread of the novel coronavirus, which causes COVID-19.
“As our state and nation responds to the COVID-19 pandemic by encouraging ‘social distancing,’ many workers in Alabama have been forced to stay home to attend to their health as well as their families’ wellbeing,” Jones and Sewell wrote. “We write to urge your administration to extend the duration of unemployment benefits for workers impacted by COVID-19 to twenty-six weeks in an effort to prioritize their financial and physical well-being.”
“We appreciate the actions your administration has taken thus far to streamline the processing and availability of unemployment benefits,” Alabama’s only two Democrats in Congress continued. “The actions of our public officials have been instrumental in shaping the public’s understanding of the coronavirus’ impact, and continued leadership will ensure we effectively respond to this challenge.”
“Alabama’s economy relies on workers across a variety of sectors and industries who will be impacted by the spread of COVID-19,” Jones and Sewell wrote. “We are facing unprecedented economic upheaval, and families will increasingly rely on these funds to afford basic necessities, including food, housing, and medication. One of our top priorities must be to support workers and families facing difficult financial circumstances due to the pandemic. For these reasons, we urge you to work with the State Legislature to make available twenty-six weeks of unemployment benefits for all eligible individuals for the duration of this public health and economic crisis. This action would be an impactful step to maintaining economic stability during this challenging time.”
At the recommendation of public health officials, the governor declared a state of emergency and sent all of the public school children home for an extended holiday.
In addition, restaurants have been ordered not to allow on-site dining, massage parlors have been closed, dental work has been ordered postponed, workers have been told not to report, daycare centers, senior centers, beaches, public venues, sports leagues, massage parlors, spas, churches, colleges, etc. have been ordered to close.
Sewell and Jones explained that as a result of the economic and public health crisis caused by the virus, many workers have had their hours cut or have lost their jobs entirely.
The state of Alabama enacted a new policy to cut unemployment benefits from a maximum of 26 weeks to between 14 and 20 weeks, depending on the state unemployment rate.
Currently, Alabama workers who qualify for unemployment benefits are eligible to receive $275 a week through the program.
Sewell and Jones want the Governor to extend the unemployment benefits for six months.
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has predicted that COVID-19 could result in up to 20 percent unemployment before the end of the year.
As of press time, 78 Alabamians have been diagnosed with the coronavirus.
Jefferson County has 34, Lee 10, Shelby 9, Elmore 5, Madison 5 Tuscaloosa 4, Montgomery 3, and Baldwin, St. Clair, Calhoun, Limestone, Mobile, Walker, Talladega, and Chambers all have one.
Sewell represents Alabama’s 7th Congressional District. Jones defeated former Chief Justice Roy Moore in the 2017 special election for U.S. Senate, the only Democrat to win a statewide election in Alabama since 2008.