Coronavirus: No unemployment check for couple after weeks of waiting, calling, providing proof of eligibility

Investigations

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — In Tennessee, thousands of people are out of work because of the COVID-19 pandemic and are still waiting on their unemployment benefits.

NEW: East Tennessee counties among hardest hit by pandemic-spurred job loss

WATE 6 On Your Side’s Don Dare spoke with a Knoxville couple who are eligible for benefits, but so far, have received nothing.

The amount of benefits both are eligible to receive could tally up to $6,000 or possibly more. This couple is in their early 70s, but they still work – rather, they were employed up until nine weeks ago.

Diane and John Sturgeon, married for 50 years, were still working when everything shut down in mid-March because of the novel coronavirus crisis.  

Together, they’re eligible for state and federal unemployment benefits.

RELATED: Coronavirus: Sevier County woman shares frustrations with state unemployment

The couple met more than 50 years ago when they were in the Army. They had heard the phrase “hurry up and wait” before but nothing compares what’s happening now.

Documents down loaded from the state labor department show Diane is eligible for unemployment due to COVID-19.  She received nothing.

“Then the first thing I eceived was the 4 weeks that was back pay,” Diane Sturgeon said. “They sent it to the bank and it was rejected. The amount of $2,540 it was rejected on April 30th. So the next thing we heard is that I got another rejection letter. For 635 dollars and it was rejected.”

“And it was rejected stating there was no account or unable to locate. No explanation,” John Sturgeon said.

“We asked the bank, the bank couldn’t tell us. We called the unemployment office. You can be on the phone for half a day and still not get anybody,” Diane Sturgeon said.

To make issues even more confusing and frustrating the couple was sent a special debit card from the state to secure Diane’s unemployment benefits.  

“We received this card. A Tennessee Way to Go card. We activated it … with a zero balance. Then unbeknown to us, you can do that by phone. Every time you do, you are charged 25 cents,” John Sturgeon said.

Under Federal Coronavirus legislation passed more than two months, John is eligible for unemployment payments even though he’s self-employed.  

“To date I have received no benefits either from the state or the federal,” John Sturgeon said.

Weeks ago, the state asked John to produce a number of document.  

“I submitted 1099’s for 2018 and 2019. And my income tax records for 2018 and 2019. I have sent them email messages, fax and regular mail,” John Sturgeon said.

But all he’s been sent is information saying he’s ineligible for benefits. The couple receives social security, but they never stopped working until the pandemic hit.

They say they’re able to make ends meet – but things have been very tight.

The state labor department has added hundreds of extra workers in Nashville to handle the huge backlog of unemployment claims.  However, it is slow.

“We’d like to receive our funds that we’re due,” John Sturgeon said.

For those waiting for their unemployment checks, there are thousands of people, for those trying to navigate the state’s labor department website, or, just to talk with someone on the phone, the waiting game is almost like a full-time job.

RELATED: Coronavirus in Tennessee: Morristown couple hits roadblock registering for state unemployment checks

In reporting several of these stories since March, the holdup often centers around “conflicting information” interpreted by the state.

We’ll let you know how it goes with Diane and John Sturgeon.

SEE MORE | WATE 6 On Your Side Investigations

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