NASHVILLE, Tenn (WTVF) — Getting back to work is a critical part of the rebound efforts.
During the pandemic, more than 1.2 million Tennesseans lost their jobs and filed for unemployment.
Now new and continued claims are starting to fall and state officials believe we will see even lower numbers in the coming weeks.
Gov. Bill Lee has called a halt to federal unemployment benefits for out-of-work Tennesseans.
It's a controversial move with critics arguing that it's too soon to remove the extra help.
Benefits that ended on July 3 include:
- Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC), which provides for an additional $300 weekly payment to recipients of unemployment compensation.
- Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), which provides benefits for those who would not usually qualify, such as the self-employed, gig workers and part-time workers.
- Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), which provides for an extension of benefits once regular benefits have been exhausted.
- Mixed Earner Unemployment Compensation (MEUC), which provides an additional $100 benefit to certain people with mixed earning
Josh Hubbard and his wife are both battling cancer. They filed for unemployment in March of 2020 after doctors told them it's best for their health if they don't work.
"We're now being told we have no choice but to go back to work and risk our lives," Hubbard said.
Combined the couple was bringing home $240 a week.
Hubbard says they only qualified for the federal pandemic assistance programs.
"Now, our benefits are decreasing to precisely zero per week," he said.
Lee announced in May that those on unemployment will no longer receive the federal benefits of $300 and $100 for mixed earners after July 3.
"They've just pulled the rug out from underneath of it, said good luck and lumped everyone together when you can’t," said Hubbard.
Lee credits the thousands of jobs available and people returning to work for the decision.
But Hubbard says what about him, his wife and others who are at risk for a pandemic that's far from over?
"There are certain ones of us that have literally been put in a position to where we're in a no-win on this one," Hubbard said.
Hubbard, who lives in the Tri-City area, says there are few good-paying jobs in the rural parts of the state, there's limited to no public transportation and the vaccination rates against COVID-19 remains low.
"My only option is to go somewhere make $7.25, 20 hours a week. By doing that, I don't know if I'm going to bring anything, home to my wife that's going to end up getting her extremely sick."
Tennessee has listed more than 250,000 job openings, but Hubbard says he's worried this is a risk not worth taking.
"We need someone to listen to us, and we need your help," he said.
Claims filed before July 3 that are deemed eligible will receive retroactive benefits.
Congress is allowing states to continue the federal benefits through September if they choose.