Crossville hairstylist struggles to claim unemployment during pandemic

Investigations

CROSSVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Imagine being out of work since the pandemic began nearly 18 months ago, and you were unable to receive your unemployment benefits – that’s been the situation for a hairstylist from Crossville. She believed her benefits were on the way, but the money was never deposited in her account.

We’ve heard stories similar to Carol Johanson’s frustrating experience dealing with unemployment. Some hairstylists are considered self-employed or independent contractors. They’re eligible for pandemic unemployment assistance under the regulations. In some cases for independent contractors there are often delays, some sort of hang-up in receiving their unemployment benefits.

For over 30 years, Carol Johanson has been a hairstylist. Her recent job was at a nursing home in Crossville, which was 18 months ago when the pandemic began. She says, “They closed the nursing home down. No one was allowed to come in to take care of the hair of the residents that were there. [It’s] a struggle, it’s been a definite struggle. Previously, I lost my husband as well, so that made it even harder.”

Johanson went to the state’s unemployment website last year to sign up for benefits. She says, “I tried to do it online. I kept getting thrown off, the application. You get halfway through the application, it throws you off. So, you have to start again. I would do this all day, it drove me crazy. Finally, on April 27, I got a hold of a man who answered the phone at quarter to seven at night. And they stay open only until seven. and I explained to him what was going on. He told me we would do the application online, and we did. All of a sudden a debit card came in the mail.”

However, that debit card she received last year was never loaded, no money was ever sent.

“I wrote three letters last year during those months to the Department of Labor. I faxed them in and I hard copied them in. No response to any of them. Explaining the whole situation, why isn’t something happening,” she said.

All she wants to do is just go back to work, but with another wave of COVID-19 keeping residents at the nursing home isolated, she can’t. Not to mention that debit card from the state has yet to be filled.

“You get online they put you on hold for about 10 minutes, then boom! It would disappear, you’d have to start all over again,” she said.

WATE 6 On Your Side reached out to the Department of Labor and was told that her claim in April of 2020 had an issue that wasn’t resolved until now. At this time, the DOL says they’re going to expedite her account.

She says her debit card has been loaded and it’s a good amount of money; she’ll now be able to catch up on her mortgage and a lot of other bills that have accumulated. She’s even got some outstanding expenses regarding her late husband’s funeral from last summer that she’ll be able to pay.

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