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Tennesseans say federal unemployment boost too important not to extend

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Posted at 6:58 PM, Jul 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-22 08:04:13-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — The extra $600 boost to unemployment payments will come to an end for most states by this weekend, but NewsChannel 5 talked to some who say the country can’t afford to let that happen.

Since March, more than 714,000 Tennesseans filed for unemployment. While many have returned to some work, at least 250,000 are still being paid benefits as of last week.

A new stimulus bill would help to either continue the $600/week boost in payment or of a much smaller figure.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and GOP legislators say $600 is too much. Their counter is somewhere between $200 and $400. An amount they hope offers some help, but also brings people back to work. Anything close to $600 and legislators argue we could see people once again making more on unemployment than at their full-time jobs.

Meanwhile, Democrats say they want to continue the $600 through the end of the year.

“If there’s people that are making more while on unemployment, all that does is show how preposterous our system is,” said Connor Quinn of Nashville.

We helped Quinn several months back with his unemployment claim. At the time, he was working at a restaurant and now says he has no intention of returning. Not because he made enough on unemployment to avoid work altogether, but because he made enough to have a choice.

He’s now working somewhere else and pursuing his master's degree. Something that could only have happened if he had the money to dig himself out of his unemployment.

“People don’t want to work because they don’t feel safe and they don’t trust other people to keep them safe,” said Quinn.

These days he can’t imagine what it would be like to make anything less than the extra $600 a week. Without the boost, he like all other Tennesseans would be left with making at max $275 per week.

For those gig workers who became eligible for benefits through the CARES Act, they could end up with far less. How much you make in unemployment is dependent on how much you’ve earned. That could leave some with a fraction of what they made with the extra $600.

“It’s important to know that some of us still want to go back to work, but some of us can’t go back to work,” said Chelsea Catlin of Nashville.

Catlin is someone else who turned to us after having issues with her unemployment benefits. Four years ago she had a kidney transplant, leaving her with a compromised immune system. She now works from home and says the $600 went a long way in making that possible.

“I was able to save money, while still paying my bills. Still getting the medication that I needed daily,” said Catlin.

For Connor and Chelsea, the real question is will we find a way to bring back jobs and protect those choosing to return.