FOLEY – While unemployment claims rose across Alabama since the coronavirus was reported in the state and across the country, the rate in Baldwin County jumped at more than three times the state average, Alabama Department of Labor officials said.
During the week ending March 14, 30 Baldwin County residents filed for unemployment compensation. During the next week, 472 people filed for unemployment in Baldwin County, an increase of 1,473 percent.
Statewide, the number of claims in the same period went up 422 percent, from 1,819 to 9,490, according to Department of Labor reports.
On March 13, the first COVID 19 cases was reported in Alabama. The next day, the first case was reported in Baldwin County.
Later that week, Gov. Kay Ivey ordered all Gulf beaches closed as well as restaurants restricted to carry out meals only. Since then, many other nonessential businesses have also been ordered closed.
Donna Watts, president of the South Baldwin Chamber of Commerce, said many businesses in the area have been faced with a difficult choice.
“A lot of them want to stay open and keep their people working, but they just can’t,” she said. “They’ve either got to close or at least let some of their people go for now.”
Watts said many local merchants are following developments in Washington, waiting to see if legislation intended to help business owners will provide assistance. “We’re waiting for details, but it appears to be a moving target at this point,” she said.
Charlene Haber, whose family has operated Wolf Bay Lodge since 1974, said she had to lay off more than 200 workers and close two of the three restaurants in March. Only about 10 employees are working in the Foley restaurant after the Orange Beach and Pensacola establishments were closed until the restrictions are lifted.
“We were just gearing up for spring break,” Haber said. “I feel very bad for everyone. We never expected that something like this would happen.”
Haber said the restaurant’s Human Resources manager has worked with laid off employees to help them file unemployment and deal with the other difficulties caused by the pandemic and economic downturn. She said the company news letter has been providing instructions such as links to the Department of Labor’s instructions for filing for unemployment compensation.
She said the restaurant is also continuing to operate seven days a week and providing curbside meals and a full menu.
She said that when the economy does improve and restrictions are lifted, the restaurant will be ready to pick up business again.
“We’ll just have to see when that is. A fall crowd is different from a spring crowd,” Haber said. “When it does happen, I think it’ll be a slow start, but we’ll just have to see. In the meantime, we’ve been blessed that our locals have always supported us.”
Tara Huchison, communications director for the Alabama Department of Labor, said anyone wanting to file for unemployment should go to the department’s website at www.labor.alabama.gov or call 866-234-5382.