A new state requirement that Tennesseans getting jobless benefits verify at least three job searches a week has cut off benefits to about 7 percent of those previously getting benefits, according to initial audits by the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
In the first seven weeks of enforcing Tennessee's new unemployment insurance reform law, random audits of 6,164 people found that 402 failed to verify their weekly job searches and lost their benefits, at least for that week. Since then, audits of another 3,147 recipients found 226 failed to meet the new search requirements.
Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, Tenn., said earlier this month that the new search requirements are helping the state save money and ensure that those getting benefits are actively looking for work.
"By strengthening the work search requirements and the definition of misconduct, we are restoring the intent of the system and making the lives of our small business owners easier while saving taxpayer dollars," Ramsey said in a statement praising the new reforms.
State Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, Tenn., a sponsor of the new search requirements for jobless benefits, said "this critical reform" already has saved more than $100,000 to the state's Unemployment Insurance fund and thereby helped employers who must pay for the program.
Tennessee's new search requirements are less demanding than Florida, where unemployment insurance recipients must prove each week that they have looked for work at at least five job sites.
"Tennessee's requirements are not out of line, but it's important to recognize that not everyone who these audits indicate haven't met the job roster requirements of this new law are necessarily not looking for work or somehow lying about their situation," said George Wentworth, senior staff attorney for the National Employment Law Project, an advocacy group for programs that help the jobless.
Tennessee's Unemployment Insurance Accountability Act of 2012, which became effective Sept. 1, requires all unemployment claimants in Tennessee to demonstrate valid work search activity and maintain a work search log. Failure to conduct at least three job searches a week results in a loss of benefits.
The job searches can include registering for jobs online, completing job applications in person or online, sending applications to employers, interviewing potential employers on the phone or mailing resumes to employers. Tennessee pays a maximum jobless benefit of $275 a week for those who lost their job through no fault of their own.
"Documenting three work searches each week will require a small effort, but the consequences of not doing them are very serious," Tennessee Labor Commissioner Karla Davis said.