Tornado victims lose unemployment benefits in the mail after losing home, jobs

Posted at 9:15 PM, Apr 23, 2020

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Debit cards carrying unemployment benefits are being sent to homes condemned after the March tornado, leaving homeless families with few options.

Semette Milliken-Simmons knows she’s not alone, but sometimes it feels that way when she thinks of how much she lost in the March tornado. We met Semette in a Nashville parking lot where she explained how she and her family have bounced from one hotel room to another.

Much of their belongings were either in a room or whatever they could fit in the trunk of their car.

“You’re living one day to the next trying to see where you’re going to lay your head at the next night,” said Milliken-Simmons.

Up until now, each hotel room has been paid for with FEMA money, which by Friday, will have run out. Semette received $1,600 from FEMA and she makes a point of saying the TV hanging on her apartment wall at the time, cost more than that.

“When Second Harvest and everybody was out assisting, we were getting assistance as far as keeping afloat, but when COVID came in and shut everything down, that’s when things got really hard,” said Milliken-Simmons.

Semette was working from home, but of course she doesn’t have a home to work from at the moment. In the meantime, she says she’s been taking care of her husband who’s preexisting health conditions put him at risk of contracting the COVID-19 virus.

Semette and her husband both filed for unemployment back on March 11 and they say they’ve kept up with certifications, even with all they’ve faced.

“We certify every Sunday and it’s showing where the money is being sent to the card, but we don’t have the card,” said Milliken-Simmons.

Way2Go is Tennessee’s vendor for unemployment debit cards and over the last week, we’ve received a number of complaints from viewers who say they’ve waited over a month for their cards in the mail.

In Semette’s case, she rushed to open a P.O. Box shortly after losing her home. She expected the card to be sent to the address, but after weeks of waiting she believes it may have been sent to the home long since condemned.

“They give you two numbers. One is the number on the back of the card and then there’s another number they give you. Both of them you can never contact and I tried,” said Milliken-Simmons.

When we explained Semette’s concerns to the TN Dept. of Labor and Workforce Development, they said they’ve been instructed to direct people to the Way2Go customer service line for answers.

That number is 855-462-5887.

Up until Thursday, state officials say they were unaware of debit card issues to this extent.

On the Way2Go website and app, you can find information on your account status, but what you can’t do is get a replacement card.

Way2Go says it’s to protect against identity fraud, so instead you have to call to request a new card. They explain the card could take as many as 7-10 business days.

As for expediting the card, they can send you one for an undisclosed fee as long as it’s sent to a physical address and someone 18 years-old or older can sign for it.

Semette’s P.O. Box according to these guidelines, would not qualify.

Where that leaves her is hoping that her original card could somehow be forwarded to the P.O. Box.

If you’re asking yourself, why didn’t they just direct deposit the money? It turns out Semette did try to enter her information earlier, knowing full well the money would only bring her balance out of the red. She was then told, her only option was to use the card when it arrived. In reality, having the card would make using the money immediately much easier.

Between Semette and her husband, they say there’s as much as $2,100 on their Way2Go cards. When you take consider the stimulus money they’re also still waiting on, it could amount to as much as $4,500.

It’s money they know could help them start over and money they’re entitled to.

Honestly, as far as options. I do have four seats in this car and they do lay back. We’re not in 20 or 30 degree weather anymore. So if it comes down to it. I’ll lay my seat back,” said Milliken-Simmons.


See all our coronavirus coverage here


What is COVID-19 (a.k.a. the new coronavirus?)

According to the World Health Organization, coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases. Examples include the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV)and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). A novel coronavirus (nCoV) is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans. COVID-19 stands for "Coronavirus disease 2019," which is when this strain of the coronavirus was discovered.

What are the symptoms?

The CDC says patients confirmed to have the 2019-nCoV reportedly had mild to severe respiratory illness with:

  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing

Or at least two of the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Repeated shaking with chills
  • Muscle pain
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • New loss of taste or smell

At this time, the CDC believes symptoms could appear as soon as two days after exposure, or as long as 14 days.


The CDC is recommending "common sense" measures such as:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a cloth face cover when around others.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.