Tennessee seeing ‘unprecedented’ spike in unemployment

HAMILTON COUNTY, Tenn. (WDEF) — Jobless numbers are up to 16.8 million nationwide after another 6.6 million Americans filed for unemployment last week.

According to the Tennessee Department of Labor, more than 250,000 Tennesseans have claimed unemployment in the last three weeks alone.

“It’s an unprecedented spike in unemployment. The state of Tennessee and the nation has never seen unemployment like it is right now,” said Chris Cannon, the director of communication for the Tennessee Department of Labor.

The state paid out over $30 million to 100,000 people last week alone. Usually, just about 15,000 people need unemployment, costing the state $4 million.

However, some Tennesseans are still waiting for their checks or even contact from the state about their unemployment claims.

Hairstylist Holly Mount filed for unemployment after her salon in North Shore was forced to close. Now, four weeks later, she’s still waiting to hear any update about her claim — and worrying she won’t be able to pay her bills.

“It’s just very stressful, and when can I go back to work?” Mount said. “And that’s the thing with unemployment it’s just like ‘Are you seeking jobs right now?’ And the answer is no because there’s nowhere to work.”

Phone lines are jammed. Servers are overloaded. One Tennessean spent all day filling out the application because the system kept kicking her out. And when people try to call to check their status, this is what they hear:

“Currently all of our agents are working with other customers, and we are not able to complete this call on hold. Please call back at another time. Thank you.”

“I’ve been trying to call my car company to see if my car payment is deferred,” Mount said. “It’s just like when you call these companies, it’s not that they’re not cooperative. I think it’s just so many people are calling right now it’s just hard.”

“We completely understand these benefits are a safety net for folks who are out of work due to no fault of their own and they need this money to make ends meat<" Cannon said. "We are working as quickly as possible to process as many claims as possible so we can get these benefits to Tennesseans." The Department of Labor will work through the Good Friday holiday to continue to process claims. Cannon says the state is currently reprogramming their systems to pay out the $600 extra granted by the new stimulus law. People can expect to see that money soon.

A major stresser for Tennesseans has been the inability to contact the state about their checks.

Officials say do not call the Department of Labor. Instead, go to Jobs4TN.gov and sign in to your dashboard to check your status.

“Go online and take a look at that because we’re getting tens of thousands of phone calls into the department each day, and people calling 10, 20, 30 as much as 100 times is just increasing that call volume and making the problem even worse,” Cannon said. “We want to get to everybody as quickly as we can because we know everyone needs these benefits.”

Also, don’t forget to fill out your weekly certifications, even if you haven’t been approved just yet. Once approved, the Department of Labor will go back and make sure your weekly certifications were filled out so you can be paid for those weeks.

Your payments will be retroactive back to the date when you initially filed for unemployment, as long as you have certified. The state says you still have five weeks to catch yourself up so you don’t miss compensation for those weeks you were out of work.

As far as the federal stimulus bonus is concerned, those payments will be retroactive back to April 4.

Currently, you can receive a maximum of $275 weekly for Tennessee state, plus an additional $600 from the federal level.

The federal government allows states 21 days to process unemployment claims. However, with the overwhelming influx of claims, the state says you can expect to receive payment from four to six weeks after you file. If you filed at the beginning of March, there’s a good chance the state is still processing your information.

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