Self-employed entertainer waits months for unemployment

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit Tennessee in March, many self-employed workers who lost their jobs have waited months for their unemployment benefits.

Many are even eligible for pandemic unemployment assistance. However, the state labor department says it has slowed approval for some claims because of potential fraud.

WATE 6 On Your Side’s Don Dare spoke with an out-of-work entertainer who finally received good news.

For seven months, it has been going tough for Kathryn Bunch, who just found out Monday she’ll be getting her unemployment benefits.

For 11 years, Kathryn Bunch has been an entertainer. As a self-employed worker, she operates her own business Angel Touch Productions. Her audience — seniors at assisted living and veteran facilities, as well as nursing homes.

But when the pandemic struck, senior facilities were off-limits to visitors, and Kathryn hasn’t worked for the last seven-plus months. She showed us her appointment book. Out of work in mid-March, it would be two more months before she applied for unemployment benefits.

“March 10th was my last day at work. It was in Dayton, Tennessee, up on Signal Mountain,” she said. “Because I’m not very good with the computer, I had to get someone to help me with passwords and so forth.

“Finally, in May I was able to file. But I never got any word, never got any word. … It was a desperate feeling that somehow it just wasn’t going to come through. I was going to have to accept that and move on.”

Kathryn said she updated her unemployment certification weekly, and it was always “under review” and “in progress.”

“I wasn’t able to talk with anyone because apparently it is overwhelmed, the system is overwhelmed with so many people that need their unemployment as well,” she said.

We contacted the state’s Department of Labor and Workforce Development about the delay in self-employee benefits.

The state says with a nationwide focus on unemployment fraud, with thousands of people applying for pandemic unemployment assistance, backdating claims to March, “we have increased the scrutiny of these claims to avoid any potential fraud.”

The due diligence the department must perform to maintain the integrity of the unemployment program may slow the approval process for some claims.

 Kathryn said she understands the state’s position

“A lot of people are trying to take advantage of them,” she said.

But she isn’t one of them.

We contacted the state three days ago about her benefits and received this message:

“(Her) claim has been been approved. She should receive her retroactive payment with 48 to 72 hours.”

Tennessee Dept. of Labor and Workforce Development

“I’m excited. Thank you for taking an interest,” Kathryn Bunch said.

She also said doesn’t know when she’ll be able to entertain seniors again, but when her benefits arrive, she’s already decided which accumulated debts she’ll first pay off first. 

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