State lawmakers debate ending pandemic jobless benefits

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (WDEF) – On July 3rd, Governor Bill Lee is ending federal pandemic unemployment benefits in an effort to get Tennesseans back to work.

But not everyone agrees with the move.

“I don’t think it’s been vetted or thought through enough when you
look at the needs of the people,” says District 28 Representative Yusuf Hakeem.

Rep. Hakeem says that he’s gotten calls from constituents
pleading not to end the benefits.

Many are single mothers who have struggled to stay afloat during the pandemic.

“Childcare places are not open as they were in the past prior to the
pandemic. There are places that don’t provide PPE, and that gives
great concern particularly when you have more than one generation
living in one household.”

State Representative Robyn Smith points to “Now Hiring” signs outside of
many Tennessee businesses as evidence that employers are looking for workers and it’s
time for those on unemployment benefits to start looking for a job.

“With the extra boost in the unemployment pandemic benefits, there are
a lot of people that have access to jobs and they are choosing to
deplete their eligibility,” says Smith.

She says that while some jobs aren’t suitable for everyone,
education opportunities are readily available in the state for career
advancement.

“We have never seen the amount of resources that are available right
now in our state for the purpose of education and or workforce
development. And so right now, if someone wants a job, they can have a
job,” she says.

But Hakeem argues that the state government has enough money in
federal funds to keep both businesses and families afloat.

“If we’re not going to help both small businesses and families at this
time, I don’t know if we ever will as a state,” says Hakeem.

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