NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennesseans receiving unemployment benefits started seeing their first payments to include a $600 federal supplement for the newly jobless Wednesday. Normal weekly benefits in Tennessee are $275.
Andrea Larson, a former maitre d at a Nashville restaurant said she is one of the people who got $875 deposited into her bank account Wednesday morning. “I’m grateful for the extra money,” she said in a text message. “I’m so happy I can pay my household bills this month.”
Many people are owed two weeks of the supplement, or $1,200, but only the first payments were going out Wednesday, said Chris Cannon, a spokesman for the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development. He could not say how soon the retroactive payment for the week ending April 4 would be sent, only that it would be as soon as possible.
Tennessee had to reprogram its computers to be able to distribute the additional $600 after Congress approved the supplement, Cannon said. Under the federal CARES Act, freelancers and other nontraditional workers who lost work from the coronavirus also qualify for the $600 a week payment, but programmers are still working to add them to Tennessee’s unemployment system, Cannon said.
Tennessee has had to order the manufacture of new computer servers to add capacity to its unemployment system because there’s such a demand that more capacity couldn’t be purchased on existing servers. Tennessee did manage to buy some additional server capacity when unemployment claims first started surging, but now there is no more available, Cannon said.
“It’s a demand issue,” Cannon said. “Every state in the union is looking for more servers to handle their capacity, so we have to wait on the manufacture of new servers.”
Tennesseans filed 116,141 new claims for the week ending April 4. They filed 94,492 new claims for the week ending March 28, and they filed 39,096 new claims for the week ending March 21. Compare that to just 2,702 new claims filed for the week ending March 14.
While the state is waiting to increase its server capacity, it is making changes to its overwhelmed unemployment system to try to make it run more smoothly. For one thing, the department has begun taking the system offline for customers between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. Central Time each day. Employees will use that time to process payments instead of doing it in the background while customers are trying to input claims during the day, Cannon said.
In addition, the state is going to start staggering the days when people can certify their unemployment claims for the week. Currently, nearly everyone on unemployment is trying to certify on Sunday. That’s the first day that people can certify for the previous week, and people who certify on Sunday get paid soonest. But many people have been unable to certify on Sundays, leading to frustration and confusion.
The state is working on a new system where claimants will certify on Sunday, Monday or Tuesday depending on the last digit in their social security number. As of Wednesday, officials were unsure whether the new system would be ready to roll out on Sunday.
Meanwhile, Tennessee announced that its state parks will remain closed due to the ongoing threat of the coronavirus. The announcement Tuesday by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation keeps the 56 parks closed past the previously announced April 14 date to end the closures.
State officials closed down the parks starting April 4. They have not set a new date to reopen them this time, saying they will closely monitor the pandemic and will notify the public when parks reopen.
The department says the closure occurred because state parks saw staggering increases in visitor traffic, including from out-of-state visitors, making social distancing difficult.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in a few weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including life-threatening pneumonia.
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