TRI-CITIES, Tenn. (WJHL) Tennessee Governor Bill Lee says the state is in a position now where federal pandemic unemployment programs are no longer needed.
Thousands of Tennesseans will lose their additional unemployment pandemic assistance Saturday, July, 3. The extra $300 a week is just one benefit that will end.
The extra relief was a part of the American Rescue Plan passed by Congress to help Americans who lost their jobs.
“People are returning to work as a result of this change in the federal benefit,” said Governor Bill Lee.
Lee joined several other Republican-led states in choosing to end the federal benefits early. Congress allowed for them to stay in place through September.
“This will incentivize people to say, this money is going away, it’s time to go back to work,” said Tennessee State Representative John Crawford.
Republican lawmakers argue the reason many employers are struggling to hire right now is thanks to the extra pandemic benefits.
“With all the federal funding, they can make more money sitting at home than they can doing their job. And you can’t fault them for doing that,” said Crawford.
Alicia Summers with the Northeast Tennessee Regional Economic Partnership says businesses are still struggling to rebound, “There’s plenty of jobs to be filled,” she said.
She believes stripping the extra benefits will help the local economy, but not right away.
“It’s probably gonna take a month or two to see whether there is a direct correlation between that unemployment benefit going away and the loosening up of the labor market,” said Summers.
Some East Tennesseans say the pandemic unemployment programs are ending too soon.
“It’s gonna really impact us, because we will not be able to pay our bills,” said Thomas Rimmer who has been having a hard time finding suitable work.
Many families are losing all benefits because their unemployment extension also ends Saturday, leaving them with no income.
“We go from getting by with what we get now to getting nothing, not even the $240 a week we had gotten previously,” said Tri-Cities resident Josh Hubbard.
He and his wife, both diagnosed with cancer, quit their jobs for medical safety in 2020 and began drawing unemployment for the first time. He said the risk of going back to work and infecting himself or his wife with COVID-19 is too high.
“It is literally risking our lives by going back to work,” said Hubbard.
Data shows some Tennesseans are choosing to hold off for better work. Financial planner John Vandergriff of Blue Ridge Wealth Planners says not to do this.
“I don’t think anyone is going to look down on you for taking a job and supporting your family that may not be on the career trajectory that you were on pre-COVID,” said Vandergriff.
Benefits ending Saturday include:
- Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC), which provides for an additional $300 weekly payment to recipients of unemployment compensation.
- Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), which provides benefits for those who would not usually qualify, such as the self-employed, gig workers and part-time workers.
- Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), which provides for an extension of benefits once regular benefits have been exhausted.
- Mixed Earner Unemployment Compensation (MEUC), which provides an additional $100 benefit to certain people with mixed earnings.
News Channel 11 digital reporter Jeff Keeling complied data on unemployment claims in Tennessee, which show weekly jobless claims in Northeast Tennessee remain at more than double their rate than before the pandemic.
Data from the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development (TDOL) show that continued claims for eight Northeast Tennessee counties were running slightly below 1,200 in the two weeks prior to the pandemic. Those claims totaled 1,196 the week of March 14, 2020 and 1,165 the following week.
The figure was much higher each week in June 2021 and stood at 2,639 the week ending June 26.
After topping 20,000 for three consecutive weeks in May 2020, claims fell slowly and steadily into mid-November of last year. They fell below 3,000 for the first time Nov. 21.
Since then, they’ve averaged 2,704 per week and never been below 2,000 in a single week.
The problem isn’t limited to Northeast Tennessee. In fact, the statewide numbers are slightly worse.
Tennessee’s ongoing claims the week of June 26 — 49,909 — were actually triple the totals for the two weeks going into the pandemic, which were both just above 16,000.