Knoxville man waits seven weeks to for unemployment benefits

Tennessee

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — With the pandemic now in its fifth month in Tennessee, state employees are continuing to scramble to process an unprecedented number of unemployment claims.

But many Tennesseans feel as though they are falling through the cracks.

WATE 6 On Your Side’s Don Dare spoke with a Knoxville man who has waited seven weeks for his state unemployment benefits.

Frustrating seven weeks

 It’s been a long, frustrating seven weeks for Diamond Fields.  

Unemployed since the end of June and unable to pay rent, he lost his apartment and now lives out of his car. He’s used his car for the last two years delivering pizza. Fields filed an unemployment claim with the state in June. If approved, he’d receive $133 a week.

“I’ve been calling all the numbers. I have emailed. It sends me to automated services. I haven’t gotten no response at all. I have worked real hard to get unemployment since June 21st,” Fields said.

For weeks now, Fields says he’s been looking for a new job, but with no luck. He showed us the state website where he’s required to check in weekly.

Claim ‘in progress’

“I register with the state and every week I have to update it, update my claim It says ‘in progress,'” Fields said. “It keeps saying in progress, in progress. Nothing successfully went through.”

Last week, Priscilla White related a similar story with the state’s labor department.  Unemployed for five months, the single mom with three boys has not received confirmation about her benefits either.

“It’s been since March since I’ve had any income coming in. I file my claim with unemployment in May. It’s been 11 weeks. I haven’t received anything. My case is under review still,” White said. “Trying to make ends meet is hard. I ended up losing my car, my home.”

Since April, tens of thousands of unemployment claims have been filed weekly in Nashville because of COVID-19. The labor department has hired extra employees to work through the backlog.

Emotionally draining

Unfortunately, for people like Priscilla White the unknown about her benefits is emotionally draining.  The same for Diamond Fields who just wants to get on with his life.  

“I would just like all my back pay. Try to get unemployment (benefits) until I can find a job,” Fields said.

WATE 6 On Your Side contacted the state about Mr. Fields’ claim. We’re told it’s being investigated, as well as Ms. White’s claim.

The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development says the unprecedented number of claims take time to process as they make their way through the backlog.

However, with little or no income coming in, many people are struggling to pay rent, to keep their cars going, to keep their kids fed — as they wait for the state to work through its issues.

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