KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — There’s good news for a mother of three children whose long-awaited unemployment check finally arrived.
Not long after the pandemic began last spring, people had started calling WATE 6 On Your Side asking for help with their unemployment claims, desperate because they didn’t know where to turn. While first-time claims for state unemployment are dropping, a backlog of unresolved claims continues.
Many of the pending claims are for the pandemic’s emergency unemployment compensation program, according to the state Labor Department. Those claims can be held up due to several issues — lack of weekly certifications or requested employee documentation, for example.
For thousands of Tennesseans who applied for unemployment in the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic, they reached the state’s 26-week benefit limit months ago. If they remained unemployed, such as Betty Lowe, they had to file an application for an extension.
Lowe was laid off due to the pandemic. For months, she checked the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development website weekly to find out whether her unemployment claim, the second one filed in 2020, would be approved.
Until March of last year, Lowe worked at the Hampton Inn in Williamsburg, Kentucky, just north of her home in Jellico, Tennessee.
“They said I had active issues on my claim, but no one could tell me what they were,” Lowe said. “I immediately got denied. Within four to five days I got a letter that said I didn’t have enough wages to be eligible.”
Turned down by the state of Kentucky last March, Betty turned to the state of Tennessee because for several years, she had worked at the Days Inn in Jellico.
“When I first got laid off, I applied for Tennessee unemployment. Within six weeks I was approved, and I started getting the extra stimulus money too. Then my claim was exhausted, and I couldn’t do anything,” Lowe said.
That was in late summer, so she applied for an extension, an extra 13 weeks of benefits, part of the CARES Act safety net. When she checked with the state about her status, it got her nowhere.
“And you can’t talk to anyone to find out. Do I keep certifying? You don’t know what you are supposed to do,” Betty Lowe said. “It has been probably the roughest year of my life, definitely. Because when you lose income and have a family to support, you don’t know what you are going to do. … I’m a hair stylist, I used to have a shop. So that is what helped me get through, going to people’s homes and doing hair.”
The state Labor Department added extra staff to handle the overload of unemployment applications and adjudication cases that have overwhelmed their Nashville offices since last spring.
But Betty’s case was a little complicated — she had worked in Kentucky as well as Tennessee before the pandemic. We wrote to the Tennessee Labor Department about her situation.
What the state didn’t have was a pay stub showing her employment at the Days Inn in Jellico — she sent it. Her claim was approved and the payments would be released.
“I could not believe that it is finally over,” Betty Lowe exclaimed. “There are no words. I just can’t explain how happy I was.”
Lowe said she’s going to use the payment she’s received to catch up on unpaid bills.
Across Tennessee, the number of continued unemployment claims hit a peak of more than 325,000 on May 9. Today, state records show there’s been progress in getting claims resolved — continued claims number just over 50,000.