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Tennessee opts out of $300 federal unemployment programs

Tennessee is withdrawing from a $300 weekly unemployment supplement program, a decision by Gov. Bill Lee that comes as many argue the additional funds allow low-wage workers to make more money while staying at home. Lee cited a surplus of available jobs in Tennessee.

Lee informed the U.S. Department of Labor of the decision Tuesday, joining several other Southern states in refusing the additional payments for unemployed people.

“We will no longer participate in federal pandemic unemployment programs because Tennesseans have access to more than 250,000 jobs in our state,” Lee said in a statement about the decision. “Families, businesses and our economy thrive when we focus on meaningful employment and move on from short-term, federal fixes.”

The federal unemployment assistance programs will end in Tennessee on July 3, Lee wrote to Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh. 

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In addition to the $300 supplement, Tennessee is also ending participation in federal programs that have allowed those who don’t usually qualify for benefits, such as the self-employed, to receive them, as well as an initiative that extended the payments once regular unemployment benefits expired.

Tennessee pays up to $275 weekly for unemployed individuals, ranking it below the national average of $387.

Combined with the current $300 supplement — a drop from a $600 federal supplement offered last year — Tennesseans receiving unemployment benefits are now receiving around $575 weekly, the equivalent of $14.38 per hour for a 40-hour week. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour.

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