‘I can’t get a straight answer,’ says Knoxville man in unemployment limbo

Investigations

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Tennesseans continue returning to work. In year-to-year comparisons, each county showed a remarkable recovery from pandemic-era unemployment rates one year ago.

Yet, thousands of people still out of work and are eligible for unemployment benefits, continue to wait for their unemployment checks. The Tennessee Department of Labor statistics shows the number of continued unemployment claims dropping dramatically over the last year.

At the end of May in 2020, there were more than 300,000 continued claims, compared to just 49,000 at the end of May this year. However, if you are among those still waiting for your benefits, the bills add up.

One Knoxville man is among those still waiting for his benefits. Bryan Hendrix has spent hours a day over the last four-and-a-half months checking his unemployment status with the state of Tennessee. He has only been able to make ends meet because his friends have lent him money after losing his steady job in January. Hendrix said he doesn’t like being unemployed.

“I’ve been certifying for 18 weeks. It took about seven or eight weeks just to get the approval letter from the Department of Labor,” Hendrix said. “I called them and went through the same thing everyone else does, wait and wait and wait. The system either hangs up on you, or if you do get to talk with someone, they don’t really have any answers and you can tell they’re reading from a script. So, they don’t know when I will be paid.”

His certification status shows state benefits of $275 a week, and it does not include the extra money from federal assistance. Hendrix says he has had at least four conversations on the phone with the Department of Labor, all without seeing any payments being made or getting a straight answer on how much money he will receive or when he will receive it. He does know the amount would be in the area of $7,000 to $7,500.

“I’ve had to borrow from friends, close friends to keep from being evicted, keep the utilities on and gas in the car,” he said. “I could pay off, pay back those who have been so kind to help me.”

Since the pandemic began a year ago, the state has been hiring additional people at the Labor Department in Nashville to handle the unprecedented number of unemployment claims, and progress has been made unless you are one of those still waiting.

“I would like a straight answer, not a scripted answer that I have been given five, six, seven times now about when can I expect to be paid, what is really going on with my account,” Hendrix said. “I just want a straight answer and can’t get it.”

WATE contacted the state about Bryan’s unemployment benefits, in response we were told his claim is being investigated by the adjudication unit and a decision is expected soon. Fortunately, Bryan is back at work. He landed a job within the last 10 days. However, he says, the state benefits he qualified for will go a long way in helping to pay off his debts.

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