NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) - New information from the U.S. Department of Labor shows staggering numbers when it comes to unemployment across the country. 

More than 3 million Americans filed for unemployment claims last week. 

In Tennessee, we are also seeing unprecedented numbers. 

“Nobody in Tennessee, nobody across the country, nobody across the world saw any of this coming,” Tennessee Department of Human Services Commissioner Danielle Barnes said. 

It’s why the Commissioner is working around the clock. 

“We are really here to help support the people that really need us at a time when no one ever thought that they would need us,” Commissioner Barnes said. 

The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development says they are seeing an unprecedented spike in unemployment claim applicants. For the week ending March 21, 2020, Tennesseans filed 39, 096 initial claims for unemployment insurance benefits. The week prior, the state received 2,702 new unemployment claims,  a 20 fold increase  in week-to-week claims. 

The new regional unemployment claim numbers for the week ending in March 21,2020 break down the numbers. 

In Northern Middle Tennessee, the number of new claims totals 16,993. In Southern Middle Tennessee, the number of new claims totals 1,992. 

Nationwide, Americans filed 3,283,000 new unemployment claims, an increase of 3,001,000 from the previous week’s revised national level. 

Right now, the Department of Labor and Workforce Development is processing the claims as quickly as possible to determine eligibility and distribute benefit payments. They have added additional resources to help process the influx of new claims, including training 200 department employees to shift their job tasks to unemployment.

Soon, the Department says nearly one-third of employees will work to provide customer service and process new claims. The department of labor and workforce development is currently exploring other methods to increase its workforce. 

The maximum weekly unemployment benefit in Tennessee is $275 before the deduction of federal taxes. Claimants receive this benefit through a debit card or direct deposit to a bank account.

In Executive Order No. 15, Governor Bill Lee temporarily suspended Tennessee’s one-week waiting period to receive benefits. Typically, the state pays the first week of benefits after four consecutive weekly certifications. During this temporary suspension, the state will pay the first week of benefits as soon as an unemployment claim is approved.

Starting today, the Tennessee Department of Human Services families can begin applying, online, for up to two months of emergency cash assistance if they were employed as of March 11, 2020 and they’ve lost employment or at least 50% of their earned income as a result of the pandemic.

All Department of Human Services offices are currently operating as appointment only as a precaution for COVID-19. During this time, the department is asking applicants to complete the application process for emergency cash assistance online here.

Applicants are required to upload their verification to the application prior to submitting to TDHS. 

Once the application and verification have been submitted, no further action will be needed. 

Applicants DO NOT need to call the DHS office for an interview. Applicants will receive a notification of denial or approval via email within 5 days. 

If approved, applicants can expect an electronic benefit transfer (EBT) card to be sent within 5-7 days of approval via mail. The Emergency Cash Assistance provides two monthly cash payments to families that were employed as of March 11, 2020 and have lost a job or lost at least 50% of their earned income due to the COVID-19 emergency. 

This money is funded by the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program and provides: 

  •  $500 for a household of 1 to 2 persons.
  • $750 for a household of 3 to 4 persons. 
  • $1000 for a household with 5 or more persons. 

This assistance is available in addition to any unemployment benefits individuals in the family may be receiving. 

To be eligible, families must have been employed as of March 11, 2020 but have since then lost employment or at least 50% of their earned income due to the COVID-19 emergency. Include a child under the age of 18 or a pregnant woman, have a valid Social Security Number, must not have resources exceeding $2000, and the gross and/or unearned monthly income may not exceed 85% of the State’s Median Income that’s currently: 

  • Gross Monthly Income of $2,696 for a household of one. 
  • Gross Monthly Income of $3,526 for a household of two. 
  • Gross Monthly Income of $4,356 for a household of three. 
  • Gross Monthly Income of $5,185 for a household of four. 
  • Gross Monthly Income of $6,015 for a household of five. “

We know the next few months are going to be a challenge for families across our state who unexpectedly lost a job through no fault of their own,” Barnes said. “This emergency cash assistance will provide families with the temporary resources they need to support themselves during what we hope will be a short time away from their jobs. Helping families through this emergency is how we continue building a thriving Tennessee.” 

Commissioner Barnes also answered questions given to us by News 4 viewers: 

Question: What about owners of small businesses who have lost more than half of their income due to COVID-19? 

Commissioner Barnes: Owners of small businesses are certainly eligible to apply...we don’t distinguish between those. Again we just need some sort of documentation to demonstrate that they were self-employed and they did suffer a loss of income as a result of this pandemic.” 

Question: Say you’re a barber or a hairdresser, do you qualify? 

Commissioner: You can qualify. Again we just need that documentation. Anything that just gives us some sort of documentation to demonstrate that they were self-employed we will accept.” 

Question: The SNAP deadline recently passed, with everything that’s going on, does the Department of Human Services plan on extending that deadline? 

Commissioner: So the SNAP deadline was a little different. That was disaster SNAP that was specifically for those impacted by the tornado. We do know that the federal government has put in language in the federal legislation to administer certain flexibility in SNAP for the pandemic. We are still working with them through that process right now. We have not gotten to that point where we can really release any of that information. But I can tell you that we do anticipate doing that hopefully within the next week or so. 

Question: In terms of guidelines that will make or break whether you’re approved or denied, what are some of them? 

Commissioner Barnes: “One of the things for sure is because these dollars are coming from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families-- they have to be a FAMILY! Or a pregnant individual. And so that is the number one qualifier. Again, we’re looking at income limits, so if they’re making over 85 percent of state median income--then certainly they will not qualify.” 

Question: What certain documentation do I need for my application to be considered? 

Commissioner Barnes: “Birth certificates, court orders if that’s something that is relevant to that particular family. We’re going to need a statement from the employer or some kind of documentation that the individual has lost employment as a result of COVID-19 or suffered a significant number of hours as a result of COVID-19. And any other documentation  that individuals may have to be able to demonstrate the need of this particular cash assistance.” 

Question: Can I still qualify if I’m already receiving money? 

Commissioner Barnes: “Those who are currently on SNAP, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, those individuals will be able to qualify for additional dollars. There is nothing for those individuals to do at this time. We will make contact with those individuals through mail and so they can expect information on that in the coming days. However, please note that SNAP is very different from our emergency cash assistance. And if an individual qualifies for SNAP, the chances are very high that they also qualify and meet the income guidelines to qualify for the Emergency Cash Assistance.” 

Commissioner Barnes added that you have to also demonstrate that the children are living with you in the home. 

 

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