Unemployment pilot program paves the way for paying 'self-employed' workers

Posted at 8:10 PM, Apr 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-13 22:15:13-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — The pilot program aims to offer clarity on how to process payments for the 75,000 “self-employed” and gig workers, counting on money from the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance fund.

Chris Cannon with the Tennessee Dept. of Labor and Workforce Development made the announcement Tuesday afternoon, as part of several changes we can expect to the ever-evolving unemployment website.

The pilot program will take several claims, chosen at random and process their payments for the minimum Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) benefit of $120, plus the additional $600 FPUC, for a total weekly benefit of $720, at first. When the state can calculate a self-employed individual’s actual PUA weekly benefit amount, it will retroactively pay the difference between that amount and the $120 already paid out. Once it’s determined that the process works, Cannon says they’ll begin pay outs for the thousands of others currently waiting.

Payments for PUA will be retroactive back to when someone first filed in March. FPUC will be retroactive back to when President Donald Trump signed the CARES Act during the week ending on April 4.

These retroactive payments are only available if you certify your claim weekly. Payments are then made to your account or your issued debit card, 48-72 hours later.

“We’re catching up and paying Tennesseans the benefits that they need to make ends meet during this critical time,” said Cannon.

To handle the processing of thousands of new claims, Cannon says they’re currently installing upgraded servers.

This comes one day after their servers were once again overwhelmed with web traffic from people attempting to make their weekly certifications.

Cannon says Monday’s delay on the certification page, happened as a result of their vendor not being able to process the daily payment register during the overnight hours.

The vendor was trying to process payments from days before, but ended up doing so at peak certification hours.

“Processing the payments takes so much capacity on the website that it didn’t have enough capacity to run the front end and the back end for users on Jobs4TN,” said Cannon.

Call centers have reportedly been fielding as many as 100,000 calls per day. Cannon says if those number stay as they are, the only hope of meeting the demand is through these server upgrades. The second upgrade of it’s kind in the past five weeks.

“Each and every time there’s a problem with a claim, a staff person has to physically work that claim and that takes time when there are hundreds of thousands of claims out there. So we’re working through those as quickly as possible,” said Cannon.

Michael Castor of Nashville says he’s anxious to begin seeing results, after having been disappointed on numerous occasions while trying to apply for benefits.

Castor works as a ride-share driver and says once he applied, he immediately began his weekly certifications. He wasn’t paid in that time, but for the past two weeks, he was under the impression he was doing everything he was supposed to.

On Tuesday he was told he had to apply all over again because there was no record of his previous certification. Castor filed several complaints before finally being told by employees at the call center, that they had no idea how to fix the problem other than starting over.

“It’s frustrating. It’s absolutely frustrating to know that the federal government’s office makes these funds available to ride-share and gig workers, but the state doesn’t know how to disperse it,” said Castor.

For the next four hours Castor reapplied, only to be told he was approved for solely the state unemployment benefits. Castor hopes this too is an oversight and that he will ultimately get the federal money he’s entitled to.