Tenn. unemployment error confuses claimants into re-filing, when they shouldn’t

Posted at 9:10 PM, Jan 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-05 22:45:36-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Tennesseans say they’ve been prompted to re-file their claim to access a new wave of unemployment money. State officials say re-filing will only create more issues in the future.

The Tennessee Dept. of Labor & Workforce Development (TDLWD) announced Monday, they would begin sending payments as part of the CARES Act Extension HR 133.

President Donald Trump signed the bill into law one week ago, which pays $300/week. That’s on top of the weekly state benefit you may already be collecting. This Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) fund provides up to 11 weeks of benefits between December 27, 2020, and March 13, 2021.

Chris Cannon works for the TDLWD and says Tennessee was one of the first states in the country to make this money available as soon as they did. The question now is, did this all happen too soon?

Speculation early on was that the state’s unemployment systems would adjust to what appeared to be the same programs we had before. The past several hours have shown, that’s not the case.

“This is a new program even though they seem like they are just extensions of programs that were active before the 26th. These are new programs because they have new rules. So we still need to go into those computer systems and change the programs so that they can apply the new rules with the extension,” Cannon said.

One “glitch” appears to be when you’re trying to certify your claim, as you’ve been instructed to do by the TDLWD. When you log in, you’re supposed to see a “next” button below your benefits balance. That’s where you click to certify, even if you’ve exhausted your benefits.

We’ve heard from some Tennesseans who say they don’t see the “next” button and are instead being prompted to re-file their claim.

“If you do not see that next button under your screen with a zero balance, do not re-file your claim. That will only cause bigger issues down the road. We are waiting on more guidance on exactly how to get those claims back up and running and we will have that soon,” Cannon said.

In the meantime, Cannon says their phone lines have been flooded with calls from claimants who mistakenly chose to re-file. Now instead of getting the money, they’re counting on, they have to wait for their claims to be restarted with guidance from the federal government.

“We’re back at the point we were back in the spring when there are so many people who have questions because these new programs keep coming at us,” Cannon said.

The TDLWD has between 500-600 call agents working at any given time to answer phone calls, take messages, and respond to virtual chats. Cannon says that’s three times the amount of staff they typically have outside a pandemic.

He says one of the issues is the number of people making several dozen, if not hundreds of calls each day to reach one of these agents. We asked him what the most efficient way of reaching an agent was and he says it’s best to wait in the line as long as you can.

“We understand it’s frustrating. We understand it’s taking a long time, but we’re doing the very best that we can because there is just an increase in demand right now,” Cannon said.

Tennessee will also be taking part in the Mixed Earners Unemployment Compensation or (MEUC), which offers benefits to those who have 1099 wages as an independent contractor, but also earned wages from a Tennessee employer.

There’s no timetable for when this program will go into effect in Tennessee until the state receives guidance on how to implement the MEUC into their existing systems.

Another provision of HR 133 has to do with requiring states to find a way for employers to report claimants who refuse offers of suitable work.

Tennessee law requires unemployment claimants to accept suitable work when offered by an employer or risk disqualification from their unemployment benefits program. An employer can report to the TDLWD that a claimant has refused a job offer and the agency will investigate.