Faith groups help people file for unemployment during virus outbreak

(CNN) - More than 36 million Americans have lost their jobs during this pandemic.

Some churches and faith-based groups are beginning to help their members file for unemployment, among other services to help those in need. (Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association/CNN)

Many are frustrated, confused and desperate just trying to file unemployment. Some faith groups are stepping up to help.

Sunday sermons look different these days at River Church in Durham, N.C. Bishop Ronald Godbee Sr. is now leading service online.

Their mission is different too.

"We're seeing people come to us for things that otherwise we wouldn't have to deal with, but they're looking for guidance and direction," Godbee said. "A lot of them have never been unemployed before."

He and his team are helping parishioners file for unemployment, something the church had never done before.

About 18% of the workforce in North Carolina has filed for unemployment due to COVID-19.

The national unemployment rate for black Americans soared to 16.7% in April, nearly triple the rate in February.

"Unfortunately, we see the disparities existing in everyday life of the people, but now we just see it exacerbated," Godbee said.

The unemployment system is strained. Many Americans are still waiting to get through, leaving applicants frustrated, without answers and praying for divine intervention.

"A number of people in our congregation went to apply for unemployment and couldn't log in, "Godbee said. "And so not only were we able to provide direction and insight but also encouragement, so that they could go back and try again. And they've been successful in their efforts."

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association, a faith-based community service group, also shifted its direction.

The group is holding online tutorials and blasting out a step by step resource guide in English and Urdu to its 25,000 members, while also walking people through the process one-on-one.

"In the age of technology, we are able to do screensharing to help walk people through doing the applications, even being on the phone with them and just walking through it and getting the information so that we ourselves could fill it out on their behalf," said Salaam Bhatti, with the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association.

Waleed Khan was one of those members who didn’t know where to turn. He said they were a huge help in getting his unemployment paperwork completed and submitted.

"Faith groups aren't just to come together once a week or five times a day and pray together," Bhatti said. "There is so much more that happens as a result of that faith where we are there for each other, so we need to be able to rally and our resources and help each other out."

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