Hundreds of thousands of Tennesseans hope more unemployment help comes soon


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — The state labor department can’t say when hundreds of thousands of Tennesseans might get a new round of federal unemployment help, but steps are being taken to potentially add $300 weekly for those who qualify.

The new benefit that requires a grant process through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) can’t come soon enough for jobless Tennesseans or those who have seen work hours sharply cut.

“We gotta decide if we’re gonna have electric, eat or pay our rent,” said Joe Driver of Dickson County who’s only working one day a week in the hospitality industry.

Unemployment benefits through the state’s labor department max out at $275 weekly which is much less than what Driver used to make when he worked full-time.

“When you are used to making $900 dollars a week and you are tied down to $275—that makes a big difference,” he added.

His hours in Nashville’s hospitality industry were slashed as hotel bookings fell dramatically with the COVID-19 shutdown, but while an extra $300 a week would clearly help Joe, there’s a warning from the state’s labor department commissioner in charge of unemployment benefits.

“Since there is a grant, these are finite funds, so the way the program works is that when the funds are exhausted, the program is over,” said Tennessee Labor Department Commission Jeff McCord at Tuesday’s COVID-19 briefing with Governor Bill Lee.

It means the state’s proposed extra $300 weekly might not be around for very long, just like the extra $600 jobless benefit that went away earlier this summer after being effective for several months.

The plan for the extra unemployment benefits comes from an executive order earlier this month by President Trump. It limits eligibility to those getting at least $100 weekly in unemployment aid.

In the meantime, there could be more negotiations between Congress and the White House over additional unemployment benefits.

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