Tennessee to end federally funded pandemic unemployment programs July 3


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) — Tennessee will end all federally funded pandemic unemployment compensation programs effective July 3.

Gov. Bill Lee said this is a push to get Tennesseans to return to work.

“We will no longer participate in federal pandemic unemployment programs because Tennesseans have access to more than 250,000 jobs in our state,” Lee said in a release. “Families, businesses and our economy thrive when we focus on meaningful employment and move on from short-term, federal fixes.”

Unemployment programs set to end on July 3 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

The governor said claims filed in the weeks before July 3 will continue to be processed.

Unemployment claimants in Tennessee have been required to complete three weekly job searches in order to remain eligible for unemployment benefits since October.

In Northeast Tennessee, some are for the unemployment benefits ending, citing the fact that workers would be forced to return to the workforce. However, some are against the cutoff as folks still feel the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I certainly understand and acknowledge that there are some people that are just making a conscious decision not to go back to work. But I think we also have to understand that there are some legitimate reasons people aren’t going back to work, and I think there’s a lot of great things in our region that are going on to address those,” Lottie Ryans, director of Workforce and Literacy Initiatives for First Tennessee Development District told News Channel 11.

Ryans added that there are certain instances that could prohibit some members of the employable population from returning to work.

“I think there are people who are fearful still and not knowing if people that they work beside have had a COVID shot or not and our Take a Shot campaign is one way to address that, you know, getting more people vaccinated. Childcare is an issue. So, if a childcare center had limited capacity or if they close, people need some place to take their children, and we already had limited seats before COVID So I think that is a big deal, we’ve heard about more women leaving the workforce during this time. And so somebody’s going to be taking care of those kids and now we’re heading upon summer, right, so they’re not in school and again it was gotta take care of the kids for businesses that opened in a limited way so for example restaurants. If people might really get tipped at full capacity but it’s offering a 50% capacity, chances are they’re not able to make the money that they did make so I think, you know, that has to be acknowledged,” she said.

Budding entrepreneurs starting their own businesses during the pandemic could be another reason folks aren’t returning to work in the traditional sense.

“I think a final thing for consideration we have a lot of budding entrepreneurs so we have groups that are really helping people who have said, you know this break from working the normal nine to five or whatever their shift might have been, has caused them to say that dream I’ve had, it’s time for me to act on it so I think there’s a lot of things going on, but I recognize you know why the governor might be making that decision,” Ryans said.

She said that FTDD’s Take a Shot on Life campaign kicks off in Johnson City and Kingsport this weekend, aimed at getting the workforce vaccinated.

Jeff Bedard, president and CEO of Crown Labs in Johnson City, said he thinks Lee’s decision is the right one.

“I think it’s time that the economy opens fully, and I think it’s time that people come back to work, I think, you know, we certainly have struggled over the last year plus with COVID but now with everybody who wants to get a vaccine that’s available to them. The schools are open, and you can’t drive anywhere in Johnson City or the Tri Cities area without seeing a ‘help wanted’ sign so this is really the right step for our economy right step for our state, and I think in terms of just overall sentiment to the community, getting people back to work and being productive, I think it’s, it’s simply the right step at this time,” Bedard said.

Along with physical “help wanted” and “now hiring” signs peppered throughout the Tri-Cities, Bedard said larger companies are also hiring.

“Crown is hiring, we’ve got about 70 job openings now from everything from starting jobs all the way up to senior management positions. We’ve been very fortunate in being able to find good employees, we have a solid and stable workforce, but we’re always looking for great talent, and I think this opportunity to get people out of waiting for the end of the unemployment reimbursement and back into the workforce isn’t only going to be good for us as a business but also the community,” he said.

Bedard added that the 70 vacancies are worldwide, not all based in Johnson City.

He said that though there are some folks who are claiming not to be abusing the system by not returning to work, he still thinks it’s better to return to work than to sit at home, even if it means taking a pay-cut.

“Certainly, where we sit today, there is a big issue around childcare affordability. Certainly, those that are taking care of immune-system-compromised people have concerns about going into the workforce and coming back home, and giving their loved one COVID, and so all those things are serious issues that we need to address, but the reality is, prior to COVID our schools were open the same childcare systems were in place, and actually wages have gone up during COVID to lure people back into the workforce. So it’s better just by that, but there’s still a lot of work to be done and I think those are serious issues that we all have to consider as employees to make sure that are in or employers that our employees are comfortable coming to work,” he said.

“The economy has changed in the last year, you know, the jobs that some people left because of COVID, they’re not there anymore to come back to, and the skill sets are different.”

He added that employers looking at resumes will expect reasons for large gaps of unemployed periods. He said COVID-19 is a good reason, but he said that since the vaccine has become available to all adults, it’s no longer a credible reason to stay out of the workforce.

“I think that, I mean if I was going to say anything, be open to opportunity, right, don’t don’t wait for the perfect opportunity because it may not immediately come to you, but once you’re in the workforce that stimulates opportunity, staying home and waiting for the perfect job, is not really the right approach in today’s work environment,” Bedard said.

Follow News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais on Facebook and Twitter for news updates.

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