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In this Monday, March 16, 2020, file photo, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee answers questions concerning the state's response to the coronavirus during a news conference in Nashville, Tenn. Lee's "hope and expectation" is that there will be no "elective" abortions performed in the state under an executive order that bars non-essential medical procedures to free up protective equipment for hospitals treating the coronavirus, his spokesman said Wednesday, March 25, 2020.(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)

This story was updated Wednesday, April 8, 2020, at 8:23 p.m. with more information.

Tennessee has been overwhelmed with a 25-fold jump in jobless claims over the past three weeks from about 250,000 Tennesseans filing initial claims for unemployment benefits after being laid off due to business shutdowns from the coronavirus.

"COVID-19 has caused many Tennesseans to lose their jobs and we are seeing record spikes in the number of applications for unemployment benefits," Gov. Bill Lee said in a coronavirus crisis update this week. "It is a very difficult reality of what this pandemic has done."

Tennessee's unemployment office is scrambling to pay more than 100,000 claims this week and more are continuing to come into the state every day. As a result, Tennessee has yet to say when it will be able to add the extra $600 federal supplement to the state jobless benefit that Congress approved last month.

Georgia will begin paying the extra $600 a week payments to jobless persons next week, officials announced Tuesday. The added weekly payment — part of a massive $2.1 trillion spending package passed by Congress — will be attached to whatever payment a laid-off worker is due each week.

"We'll be ahead of most of the other states," said Kersha Cartwright, spokeswoman for the Georgia Labor Department. "We think we will be in the front pack."

Payments are retroactive to last week's benefits, she said, and will continue through July. The added $600-a-week payment is intended for anyone who does qualify, either under pre-coronavirus protocols or under new, expanded rules.

The extra federal dollars will be added to the $365 maximum now paid in the state program in Georgia.

In Tennessee, state jobless benefits are capped at $275 a week, and getting the extra $600 a week in federal funds paid to unemployed workers may take a bit longer, although any back pay will be made up to the workers, officials said.

Lee said on average, Tennessee usually has about 3,000 unemployment claims filed across the state. But since mid March when businesses began to close and later restaurants, retail stores and entertainment activities were ordered to close, about 250,000 persons have filed new jobless claims in Tennessee.

With a record surge of persons trying to file for benefits and new rules still being implemented under the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the state's unemployment office has struggled to handle incoming calls and online filings.

"This sudden and dramatic increase in first-time claims (for jobless benefits) has put a strain on both our people and our systems," said Dr. Jeff McCord, commissioner for the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

McCord said he hopes to soon be able to add the additional $600-a-week federal supplement to the state jobless benefits, which now range anywhere from $30 to $275 a week depending upon the income of the laid off workers.

"We'll have more specific information about when that money will be paid in the next few days," McCord said, noting that the extra federal money will be backdated and paid to jobless Tennesseans from when the program began last Friday or when individuals qualify for benefits.

The state unemployment office has boosted the number of persons handling initial claims from about 20 workers three weeks ago to 200 today and 50 more are being trained to start working within the next week so the office can handle claims seven days a week.

McCord said his office has already undergone one major computer upgrade and is beginning another to handle all of the claims and expanded coverage for benefits for self-employed and other displaced persons previously not included in the unemployment insurance program.

"We understand time is of the essence and we feel the full weight of urgency," McCord said. "We are making progress but we have a lot of progresss to make."

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6340.

Filing of jobless benefits

TENNESSEE

Tennessee's unemployment insurance program pays weekly jobless benefits ranging from $30 to $275, depending upon the income of the worker who is laid off. The weekly benefit amount is calculated by dividing the sum of the wages earned during the highest quarter of the base period of the past year by 26, rounded down to the next lower whole dollar, up to the maximum of $275. For instance, A worker making $500 a week, or $26,000 a year, would be paid $250 a week in jobless benefits in the state program.

The additional $600 weekly federal supplement should be added to the state payment "soon," officials said.

To file a UI claim online - https://www.tn.gov/workforce/unemployment.html

To file a claim by telephone number - Telephone Support for Unemployment Insurance Filing: 844-224-5818

Coronavirus update - https://www.tn.gov/workforce/covid-19/employees.html

GEORGIA

Georgia's unemployment insurance program pays weekly jobless benefits ranging from $44 to $330, depending upon the income of the worker who is laid off. The weekly benefit amount is calculated by combining wages from the two highest quarters in the base period, and dividing that number by 42. For instance, a person making $26,000 a year, or $500 a week, would be paid $309 in jobless benefits in the state program.

Georgia announced this week the additional $600 weekly federal supplement should be added to the state payments starting Monday.

To file a UI claim online - https://www.dol.state.ga.us/WS4-MW5/cics.jsp?TRANSID=UCI1&FRMNAME=UCI1S

To file a claim by telephone number - 404-232-3180

Coronavirus update - https://dol.georgia.gov/gdol-covid-19-information

 

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