NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) - Since mid-March, more than 470,000 Tennessee residents have sought unemployment benefits and now many state lawmakers are getting involved to help those stuck in limbo.
State Rep. John Ray Clemmons told News 4 Nashville he receives more than 100 calls a day from people across the state in need of help. Clemmons said they can’t get a response from the Department of Labor about their unemployment claims.
“What we have is a legislative portal where we can enter people’s information. Their email. Their phone number and that type of thing,” Clemmons said. “And submit it to the department of labor for them to respond to that person. Unfortunately--that is taking about a week now, before that person even gets a response--after I submit a request.”
For weeks, News 4 Nashville has heard from dozens of Tennesseans having issues applying such as Garrett Hinners.
“The virtual chat is broken, like there’s no other way to describe it,” Hinners said.
For weeks, Hinners’ claim status has said “Awaiting Claimant Response.” Hinners said he’s tried to call and log onto the DOL’s chat room.
“After a while, which is like 10, 15 minutes, the chat, you disconnect from it. It doesn’t make any sense. You have to reconnect. And then when you do, you’re put in the back of the queue,” Hinners said.
Clemmons said both the governor and the DOL need to be held accountable. Clemmons added they owe it to Tennessee taxpayers.
“Over the past several years, they have incrementally and even the previous governor, cut the budgets to these vital state programs and departments so what we’re seeing these cuts to infrastructure and personnel...are now causing a real problem,” Clemmons said.
News 4 Nashville reached out to Governor Lee’s Office, who released this statement:
"COVID-19 has created an unprecedented economic crisis, with over 400,000 Tennesseans losing their jobs. In addition, the system had to add two new completely new programs (Pandemic Unemployment Assistance for the self-employed and the $600 federal benefit) on a very short time frame. Despite these enormous challenges, the Department of Labor and Workforce Development has worked tirelessly to approve claims, with more than 300,000 already paid out and more approved every day."
The DOL and the Workforce Development also released a joint statement about the new unemployment numbers.
“For the fourth week in a row, Tennessee has seen a decrease in the number of new claims filed which points to fewer people seeking unemployment. This week, for the first week, the number of continued claims decreased. That indicates there are fewer claimants certifying each week to continue benefits and it’s the first time the state has seen that number go down since this unprecedented spike in unemployment started in mid-March.”
But for people such as Hinners, they said that message remains hollow.
“I try not to get too down on myself, because none of this...this wasn’t anyone’s fault,” Hinners said. "Per se, it’s just caught up in the circumstances. But it’s hard. It’s hard to stay positive and to keep your chin up at times."