Self-employed Tennesseans have trouble navigating ‘difficult’ unemployment website

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — At least one Memphis-area lawmaker is calling for faster and more reliable help when it comes to helping people file for unemployment in Tennessee, after more than 120,000 people filed in the state due to COVID-19.

Some people are frustrated after they said they spent countless hours on the State of Tennessee’s website trying to file for unemployment. They said the confusion starts because they are self-employed.

“I’ve lost all my reservations for last month, this month and May,” said Heidi Knochenhauer, who is self-employed and runs and AirBnB.

She filed for unemployment more than a week ago. Because she’s self-employed, she immediately noticed problems, as well as when she attempts to certify weekly she is still not receiving income.  

“The site is pretty difficult to navigate through,” she said. “I’m pretty computer-savvy, and if it’s difficult for me, I know it’s going to be difficult for other people.”

State Rep. Antonio Parkinson (D-Memphis) went through the process of helping one of his self-employed constituents try to file. 

“It was very difficult,” he said.

He said that person immediately received a denial letter, but it turned out they weren’t really denied. 

He called the confusing process inexcusable.

“My thing is that those who pay tax dollars in our state, you know those people who are self-employed, they pay taxes, and they deserve to get better services than what’s being rendered to them at this point,” Rep. Parkinson said.

He said with the millions of dollars the state has designated for situations like this, a separate portal to help those who are self-employed should be created.

“I want you to think about who we’re talking about,” Rep. Parkinson said. “We’re talking about the stylists. We’re talking about the barbers. We’re talking about people that ran restaurants and bars, people that own businesses on Beale Street.”

Knochenhauer has advice for those trying to deal with the bogged-down system.  

“You have to be patient, and you just have to keep doing it,” she said.

Rep. Parkinson said he has been emailing Gov. Bill Lee as well as the Commissioner of Labor and Workforce development for answers.

A spokesperson with Labor and Workforce development said, “The Department is in the process of reprograming the unemployment system to accommodate the new CARES Act provisions. When that happens, the system’s wording and directions will be more user-friendly for self-employed Tennesseans trying to file.”

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