With Christmas coming, many still waiting on Tennessee unemployment claims

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — We are entering the holidays and some people are struggling to make them merry because they are still waiting on their unemployment claims to be processed.

Last week, WREG’s April Thompson showed you what’s behind the delays at the Tennessee unemployment office. Now she shows you why doing everything right still might not speed up the process.

Daraeus Johnson is trying to prepare for Christmas, while waiting for months on money he doesn’t yet have. 

“It’s just it’s really stressful for me because now here we are going into another month. I mean, trying to figure out how I’m gonna make it,” Johnson said. “Finances. I don’t have anything coming in right now at all.”

Johnson said he filed for unemployment back in June after being furloughed from his restaurant job. But after countless calls and emails, he still hasn’t gotten a check.

“It is November. I know it doesn’t take that long to figure out,” he said. “When I got the letter in August saying you’re approved, I’m trying to figure out why is it almost December, and I have nothing, no answer. I don’t have any money but I don’t have an answer.”

The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development told us last month the pandemic has overwhelmed their system, and they have received 10 years worth of claims just in the last seven months.

But Chris Cannon with the state said a delay since June “wouldn’t be typical.”

The state says Johnson needs to complete his weekly certification.

“The persistence is the best way to get through. And a lot of people are getting through,” Cannon said. “We’re still getting the thousands and thousands of calls each day the call volume really hasn’t let up.”

He said when people file for extended benefits, that is treated as a new claim and the system has to start all over again.

Another WREG viewer said she was able to get through and talk with someone about her claim, but the answer she says she got was alarming. She says she was told they are still processing claims from March and April.

Cannon said that would only happen if a person is back-filing.

“The federal program allows them to backdate that all the way to March. So that is considered a March claim even though they filed in November, but no, there are no claims that have been sitting there since March,” he said.

He said another thing slowing down the process is they are checking for fraudulent claims.

“We still have so many people applying, and many of them are applying for the pandemic unemployment assistance and they’re saying, ‘Hey, I’m applying now but I want you to backdate my claim all the way to March.’ Well that raises a red flag right there,” Cannon said. “If you’ve been unemployed since March, why are you now just applying for pandemic unemployment assistance? It may be a legitimate claim but we’re going over each and every one of those claims with a fine tooth comb to make sure it is a legitimate claim and it’s not a fraudulent claim, and that is slowing down the process.”

For self-employed or gig workers who applied for unemployment under the Federal CARES ACT, their 39 weeks of unemployment runs out at the end of December, unless Congress does something.

“If you’re approved in January, you will still receive retroactive pay from the time that you filed through December 26, so the retroactive payments will be there it’s not as if those payments stop after December 26. It’s just that you can no longer claim that week after that for unemployment benefits,” Cannon said.

As for when the state may finally catch up with all the claims, Cannon said it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Their advice is for claimants to try and find employment through the state’s work search program and get back in the workforce.

The state said its unemployment website also has a section for jobs on its front page. At last check there were 240,000 jobs listed from all across the state.

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