Thousands still waiting months for unemployment benefits; state - WSMV News 4

Thousands still waiting months for unemployment benefits; state apologizes

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The Tennessee Department of Labor is still working to fix the delays in unemployment benefits for thousands of Tennesseans.

Since the system upgrade in Spring 2016, wait times have been far behind federal guidelines and the department admits the system is not working like it was intended.

The department has been telling the Channel 4 I-Team for month it would fix the problem.

In September, the Department of Labor said it was doing everything it could to fix the problem and things would be better by November.

The Channel 4 I-Team went back in November to find thousands of people were still waiting months to get paid.

While things are better, the Channel 4 I-Team continues to hear from frustrated job seekers who are still waiting months to get paid.

“I have applied. It’s been five weeks but I have still not received the first payment,” said Tamela Ensrud when interviewed in September.

Chasta Brewer waited at least eight weeks for her first unemployment check in September.

“Clearly there are issues with that system,” said Melissa Dixon in November.

The Department of Labor said it is still trying to work out the issues nearly eight months after the system upgrade that was supposed to help pay people faster.

In regards to the backlog that’s been causing the delay for thousands, Deputy Commissioner Dustin Swayne said in November that “we expect to clear or get close to clearing the backlog before the end of the year.”

The backlog has been chipped from 11,000 to 7,000.

In December, the Department of Labor processed 15,481 claims. Of those, more than 3,000 took longer than 21 days to process, still far behind federal guidelines.

“It’s taking longer than we through it would,” said Department of Labor spokesman Chris Cannon.

Labor Commissioner Burns Phillips and Swayne were not available for interviews.

“We are doing everything we can, and I mean everything we possibly can, to get this backlog taken care of and get people who depend on this benefit paid in a timely manner,” said Cannon when asked how the department can get through the backlog faster.

State Sen. Mark Green, who sits on the Senate Commerce and Insurance Committee, said whatever the Department of Labor is doing still isn’t enough.

“There’s still a lot of work to be done,” said Green. “Too many people are waiting past 21 days to get their claims paid.”

Green said he’s still getting the same amount of calls from frustrated job seekers he got six months ago. He said he wants updates from the commissioner more often and is determined to help fix the problem.

“You’ll see the Commerce Committee request a report from the department, and then I, of course, am going to make the request for weekly status update,” said Green.

“We are not processing claims in the timely manner we are expected to process them, and that’s something we know, something we’re dealing with, and something we’ve been working on for months now, and we continue to work on,” said Cannon.

The department said it now expects to clear the backlog in the next few weeks.

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