As states reopen, out-of-work Americans converge en masse at unemployment offices

Hundreds of people lined up outside a temporary unemployment benefits office in the Kentucky Capitol on Wednesday to speak to a representative in person in hope of claiming their unemployment benefits.

A video that depicts a line stretching through the massive parking lot of the Capitol in Frankfort and around the block was posted on Twitter by Daniel Desrochers, a reporter for the Lexington Herald-Leader. It had so far drawn around 8,000 retweets.

As states begin to reopen after the coronavirus-induced lockdowns, out-of-work Americans have made beelines for their labor departments, many of which have struggled to process a surge in unemployment claims that has overwhelmed systems — creating backlogs that have left many applicants waiting as long as three months to receive benefits.

The pandemic has “made it difficult to help Kentuckians in person,” Marjorie Arnold, chief of staff of the Kentucky Labor Cabinet, acknowledged in the Courier-Journal newspaper of Louisville.

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State police estimated that people would have to wait in the line outside the Capitol for eight hours before receiving assistance, according to Desrochers. Those who arrived after 9 a.m. were sent away. They were told to provide their information and expect a call back.

At 6:40 p.m., the line was “still out there,” Desrochers tweeted.

Around 44 million Americans have filed for first-time unemployment benefits since the coronavirus pandemic hit, as lockdowns closed businesses and paralyzed the economy. The national unemployment rate now sits at 13.3 percent, down from 14.7 percent in April.

Kentucky has been hit particularly hard by coronavirus-related job losses. Since mid-March, 45 percent of the state’s workforce — 927,000 workers — has filed for unemployment benefits for the first time, according to the Courier-Journal. As of Monday, over 7,500 unemployment claims filed in March had still not been processed.

Kentucky has not been the only state to see long lines for unemployment claims. Last week, hundreds of people lined up on the campus of Alabama State University in Montgomery to file unemployment claims in person, WIAT-TV of Birmingham reported. Some even waited overnight to ensure that they would be among the first in the line.

The Alabama Labor Department continues to recommend that people use its website or hotline, but some residents said they struggled to get assistance.

“I haven’t been able to get through on the phone lines, because even if you wait until they open the phone lines, which is at 8 a.m., you can’t get in — it already says, oh, we’ve got too many, you know, too many calls,” Angelica Hugely, an Alabama resident, told WIAT.

Kentucky’s governor office has yet to respond to a request for comment.

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