Federal unemployment benefits ending in Tennessee, Governor Lee opts out of extending payments

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Thousands of Tennesseans are set to lose additional unemployment pandemic assistance. The $300 dollars in assistance is going away this week.

Governor Bill Lee joined other Republican-led states in ending the benefits early to encourage people to get to work.

However, some Democrats said the move makes Tennessee’s response to the pandemic weaker.

“What we’ve found is that, we’ve heard from businesses all across the state, and in fact even this week that people are returning to work as a result of this change in the federal benefit,” Lee said.

The benefit is a part of the American Rescue Plan passed by Congress to provide additional resources to those who were forced to the unemployment line due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This comes as Governor Bill Lee spent part of Friday handing out food boxes in Hardeman County to those in need.

“The best mitigation to food insecurity is employment. When we can move people from unemployment to employment then we mitigate food insecurity. That’s happening across the state and we think it’s a very good movement in that direction because what we want to do is give people opportunity to work,” Lee said.

But Tennessee Senate Democrats said the move to opt out of the federal benefits will hurt Tennesseans and the economy. Accusing Gov. Lee of exaggerating current job openings.

The caucus released a statement to News 2 saying:

“The trade off some families will make to survive will ultimately make our state more insecure. Some people who were laid off from a good-paying job with good health benefits and retirement may be forced to find work at a low-paying position without benefits. Some parents, who can’t afford childcare on a low wage, may not return to the economy at all.”

A study from the U.S Congress Joint Economic Committee revealed Tennessee will lose $485 million in benefits to local economies.

There are a number of childcare programs available, but I also say that there are 250k jobs available in the state,” Lee said. “We have job openings in every county. We’ve done a county by county analysis to determine number of jobs available in every county and skills required to make sure we’re matching needs of those with unemployment with those opportunities.”

News 2 reached out to the Tennessee Department of Labor on the number of people who will be impacted by the decision to end the Federal Unemployment Benefit and have not heard back on an exact number.

Currently, Tennessee’s unemployment rate is just below 5%.

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