KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — For thousands of Tennesseans whose unemployment benefits remain in limbo, the Department of Labor says its hearings are taking longer than expected; a Knoxville man is caught up in this process. His first appeals’ hearing was in mid-July, it has now been 10 weeks and he’s still waiting.

The young veteran had to leave his apartment and move in with a relative, unemployment issues aren’t a new thing, just more prominent since the pandemic began. At first, the state Labor Department in Nashville brought in extra workers to handle the unprecedented number of cases, now, the department says it has a limited number of hearing officers to help tackle the increase of claims that are under appeal.

Sam Berrios is diabetic and keeps his supply of insulin in the refrigerator, but it’s running low — he’s been out of work for five and a half months and with no health insurance, he’s cutting back on the amount of insulin he takes daily. He said, “It’s been a little bit hard to maintain my sugar level. But yes, I want work. I need to pay my bills. That’s the main thing I want to do.”

The auto supply warehouse where Berrios worked for over a year closed in April and moved its operation to Middle Tennessee. So, the marine veteran immediately filed for unemployment benefits, but soon after, things went wrong. “In May I got disqualified,” he said. “Because my two IDs were black and white — they rejected it and made me apply for my benefits again on May 30. On the 12th, they made me apply again.”

Within weeks of registering, he received his appeals notice. “I’m still waiting for the date of the hearing. They said it would be 21 days after you appeal to make the decision.”

On his behalf, WATE 6 On Your Side contacted the Department of Labor and they said, “Tennessee has experienced a tremendous increase in claimant appeals with a large number of appeals and a limited number of appeals hearing officers, it’s taking longer than usual to process these cases. As soon as there is an opening, the staff will schedule an appeals hearing with you.”

Berrios wants his appeal hearing now, “Today, tomorrow, yes, I need that. I need it, I need it.”

Not only has he cut back on his insulin, but now, he sleeps on the sofa of his aunt’s apartment, with his state employment claim still in progress, he hopes to get his life back soon. “I got everybody backed up. If it wasn’t for CAC, Knoxville CAC, I wouldn’t be here. I’d be homeless.”

The Community Action Committee helps people like Berrios who have hit hard times. He continues to look for work, especially a job with health benefits.

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