Tennessee unemployment officials say pandemic programs will end soon

Posted at 9:05 PM, Oct 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-30 22:34:36-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Depending on when you got your first unemployment payment during the COVID-19 pandemic, some may see their benefits expire as soon as mid-November.

If you lost your job because of the pandemic and applied for benefits through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance fund, you were eligible for 39 weeks of pay. These benefits were made available for those working jobs not traditionally covered by unemployment insurance.

Semette Milliken-Simmons was one of the thousands who had to wait to receive any money from unemployment. When we last spoke to Semette in April, she and her family were still living out of their car.

When her unemployment payments finally came through, Semette began staying at motels and months later managed to find a new home. Her main concern has been finding a job.

She’s applied for several jobs and even with 25 years of customer service experience, she says the jobs are still hard to come by. The added urgency of her benefits running out hasn’t made the search any easier.

“I think I probably have a couple more weeks of it and I’m done,” Semette said.

Chris Cannon with the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development says no matter when you applied, all of the pandemic-based unemployment help ends December 26. They’ve sent notices and the hope is people find work before it’s too late.

“This may not be the job you may want for the rest of your life, but this may be the job you need now before your benefits end,” Cannon said.

Late Thursday night, The United States Department of Labor (USDOL) informed TDLWD that the Extended Benefits (EB) program will also end on Nov. 7.

Cannon says there was virtually no warning ahead of time for the state. This federal program, which was separate from the CARES Act, extended benefits for those claiming regular unemployment up to 13 weeks.

You only got the EB funding once you exhausted your regular 26 weeks of benefits and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation fund that followed.

Former EB claimants may reapply to determine eligibility to receive benefits through the PUA program. Tennessee had approximately 3,000 claimants who completed their certification for the EB program by the beginning of this week.

“So it’s not much notice, it’s not much time for folks to prepare, but that’s what we have been given and that’s what we have to go with,” Cannon said.

As many as 230,000 jobs are now available on the state’s database, but Semette says this hasn’t been for lack of trying.

“I understand what they’re saying that there are jobs out there, but you gotta understand some people have children and they’re not able to accept any job,” Semette said.

For one-on-one help, career specialists are available to provide job searches, information on virtual job fairs and Reemployment Services and Eligibility Assessment appointments and assistance determining if job training is available. The state offers these services at no cost to job seekers.