Republican lawmakers push to cut unemployment payouts from 26 weeks to 12 weeks

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Tennessee House and Senate Republican leaders are supporting a bill that would cut weekly unemployment benefits nearly in half.

Republicans say the bill will incentivize people to get back into the workforce.

“Right now, whether you’re in a good economy or bad economy, you can get up to 26 weeks, we don’t think that makes good policy sense,” Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton said.

Part of the problem, Lt. Governor Randy McNally says, is people simply not looking for jobs.

“We do have a problem with people that — there [are] jobs available and they’re not really seeking employment because [of] their benefits,” McNally said.

The bill being carried by Representative Kevin Vaughn and Senator John Lundberg in each chamber will cut weekly unemployment benefits down to 12 weeks if the state’s average unemployment rate is at or below 5.5 percent.

“There are plenty of jobs out there making more money than you can get on unemployment, and so we think this is an opportunity to create solvency in unemployment fund and get people back to work quicker,” Sexton said.

The bill also increases weekly benefits by $25 for people with average wages of $780.01 up to $4,420 and by $50 for individuals with average wages of $4,420.01 and up.

Capitol Hill Democratic leaders say Tennessee’s middle class will feel the negative effects of the bill first.

“For working class people who are the major tax base for this state, contributing to our state to come with a bill like this is — I don’t think it’s good,” Representative Karen Camper said.

Currently, Tennesseans can receive 26 weeks of unemployment benefits.

“People have waited weeks upon weeks, and months even to get their benefits, so to be thinking about cutting it in half right now — I don’t think it’s good public policy,” the Democratic caucus leader said.

Tennessee requires residents to show that they’re looking and applying for jobs. Democrats say people do want to work.

“The very working-class people who keep our economy going are the ones that’s going to be impacted by this bill and so yeah — they want to work, yes they want to take care of their family, yes they’re looking, but the circumstances that they’ve found themselves in put them in this situation,” Camper said.

If the bill becomes law, the state will cap benefits at 20 weeks if the unemployment rate exceeds 9 percent.

The fiscal note attached to the bill indicates that there will not be a significant impact to jobs but does point out that business revenue may decrease as a result of the bill becoming law.

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