Unemployed Tennesseans could start receiving an extra $300 weekly benefit from a recently-approved federal grant program as early as this week, state officials said Tuesday.
The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development received approximately $236 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency Monday afternoon, which will provide $300 weekly benefit payments to eligible jobless Tennesseans for the first three weeks of August, department commissioner Jeff McCord said at a news conference Tuesday.
“We anticipate implementing and processing those payments here within the next few days, so this week or early next (week) we’ll start processing those benefits to be paid,” McCord said.
The department has been working to build a system to distribute the federal grant benefits since beginning the application process. FEMA approved Tennessee’s application on Aug. 22. Gov. Bill Lee thanked the Trump administration Tuesday for “quickly approving” the request.
McCord cautioned that because the Lost Wage Assistance program is a federal grant, it will terminate when the $44 billion in FEMA funds allocated to the grant runs out. After distributing the extra benefits for the first three weeks of August, Tennessee will have to “wait and see” if it is possible to get another allotment, he said.
“As more states have come on, particularly some of the larger states, we do anticipate this not lasting very long,” McCord explained. “We anticipate it lasting five or six weeks, maybe more.”
The program, outlined in a presidential memorandum by President Donald Trump, provides up to $400 in weekly unemployment benefit supplements. States are required to pay $100 of the weekly benefit, and Tennessee has chosen to use the unemployment benefits it already pays to count for this match.
Eligible Tennesseans will receive an extra $300 per week in federal grant funds, meaning that the maximum weekly unemployment benefit a Tennessean can receive is $575 (Tennessee’s maximum benefit of $275 plus the federal supplement).
To be eligible for the $300 weekly benefit, unemployed Tennesseans must qualify for a weekly minimum of $100 in state unemployment benefits from one of the following:
- Tennessee Unemployment Compensation
- Pandemic Unemployment Assistance
- Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation
- Extended Benefits payments
The state will automatically add the extra $300 to eligible individuals’ weekly benefit payments, and these payments will be retroactive to Aug. 1. There is no need to file any additional applications or forms.
Weekly job search requirement to resume in September
McCord also announced Tuesday that Tennesseans receiving unemployment benefits will once again be required to complete weekly job searches starting in September. The exact date for when that requirement will resume has not been set.
“While it’s important that we provide that continued benefit to those who find themselves in an extended period of hardship, we also have to look for a long-term repair to our state’s economy to get Tennesseans back to the stability of good paying jobs,” Lee said. “At the height of the pandemic, the department temporarily suspended the work search requirement associated with unemployment benefits, but as the process of economic recovery continues and employers desperately need employees, the department will begin the process of reinstating work search requirements.”
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the state department of labor required individuals to file weekly certifications, including weekly job searches, to receive unemployment benefits each week.
The labor market contracted as COVID-19 caused many businesses to close, resulting in thousands of temporary furloughs and layoffs. Thousands of Tennesseans reported reduced hours or trouble finding work.
Lee issued an executive order that modified the work search requirements in light of these challenges, allowing applicants to instead maintain a re-employment plan, submit a resume, or create a career profile on the department’s site, among other things.
Tennessee department of labor spokesman Chris Cannon first told The Tennessean in early August that this modification would eventually be phased out, though the department had not yet set a termination date at the time.
McCord said reinstating the work search requirement serves Tennesseans in two ways.
“It ensures the integrity of the program — unemployment is meant to be a transitional program,” he said. “And the second thing it does for claimants is it opens them up to re-employment services so that we can move them from the unemployment benefits that they’re drawing on to meaningful employment, and that’s the thing that we like to do the most.”
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