MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) – FOX10 News is committed to getting the facts about how the government’s response to the coronavirus affects regular people.

Here is investigative reporter Brendan Kirby with Wednesday’s installment:

QUESTION: The unemployment process has caused a great amount of frustration for so many. Now, there’s an easier way to file an appeal.

BRENDAN: Correct. An online system debuted on the website of the Alabama Department of Labor last week. You can get to the site through your “Claim Tracker” if you’ve filed and you have an active claim. It’s also at labor.alabama.gov/Appeals/default.

This is available to claimants or employers who believe a decision has been made based on inaccurate or incomplete information. This is not for people who have pending eligibility issues, pending weekly certification errors, or to ask for retroactive payment before a determination has been made.

You will be directed to fill out your first and last name, your Social Security number, your address, and your email and phone number. And then you will have 500 words to briefly state the nature of your appeal.

QUESTION: There must be a flood of appeals since the pandemic.

BRENDAN: It is certainly running way ahead of normal. Tara Hutchison, a spokeswoman for the Department of Labor, told FOX10 News that it is hard to get an accurate count because so many come in by mail. But to give you an idea, Hutchison indicated that one time, the agency counted at least 500 faxed appeals claims in a single day. That does not include those that came in via the regular mail.

Since March, the department has finalized 1,946 claims, so the agency continues to chug through this backlog as well as it can.

You may ask how the department decides which ones to settle first, and the answer is it’s basically a first-come, first-served basis – regardless of whether the appeal gets filed over the phone, online, by fax or mail.

If you have filed an appeal, keep filing the weekly certifications each week you remain unemployed. If the hearing officer rules in your favor, you will only be paid for the weeks that you certified on time.

QUESTION: Lots of people have complained they never received the stimulus payments for their minor children. And now there’s some good news for them.

BRENDAN: That’s right. This is people who don’t normally file tax returns who used the “non-filer” portal on the Internal Revenue Service website to enter information about their kids.

The IRS said this week that if you did that but did not get the $500 per child, there’s nothing more you have to do as long as you entered the information before the May 17 deadline.

The agency is automatically going to issue the money for each qualifying child. If you are set up for direct deposit, you actually already should have gotten that money this week. If you aren’t set up for direct deposit, it will come from the post office. Those checks went out in the mail Friday.

You will know based on how you got the money for yourself and/or your spouse. If that came via direct deposit, that’s how you’ll get the dependent money. And if it came by mail, that’s how’ll you’ll get it.

If you used the “non-filer” portal on or after May 17, then the $500 dependent money will come with your stimulus money.

QUESTION: Some people have asked if they have to give back any of the stimulus when they file their 2020 return next year if they didn’t qualify for it.

BRENDAN: The answer is “no.” The IRS clarified that this week.

Remember, the payment was based on your 2019 or 2018 tax return. But circumstances may have changed.

For instance, let’s say you have a child who qualified for the $500 dependent payment based on your 2019 tax return. And suppose that child turns 17 this year and would no longer qualify based on age.

Or, suppose you got the $500 based on a foster child who lived with your in 2018 or 2019 but that child’s parent will claim him a dependent in 2020.

The IRS says that in cases like these, there’s no provision in the law to require you to cough up the money. But the agency says you should make sure to keep the letter that the government was supposed to send within 15 days of the stimulus payment. That’s called a Form 1444, and you might need it for your tax records.

(If you have a #COVIDINFO question for investigative reporter Brendan Kirby, email him at Brendan.Kirby@fox10tv.com)

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