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Unemployment claims soar amid COVID-19 pandemic layoffs

The state of Tennessee experienced an unprecedented spike in new initial unemployment claims according to data released this morning by the United States Department of Labor.

For the week ending March 21, 2020, Tennesseans filed 39,096 initial claims for unemployment insurance benefits. The week prior, the state received 2,702 new unemployment claims. The latest figure represents a nearly 20 fold increase in week-to-week claims.

Nationwide, Americans filed 3,283,000 new unemployment claims, an increase of 3,001,000 from the previous week’s revised national level.

Week ending March 21, 2020, at a glance:
• New: 39,096
• Last week: 2,702
• Difference: 36,394
Currently, the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development (TDLWD) is processing these claims as quickly as possible to determine eligibility and distribute benefit payments.

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TDLWD has added additional resources to help process the influx of new claims, including training 200 Department employees to shift their job tasks to unemployment. Soon, nearly one-third of TDLWD employees will work to provide customer service and process new claims. The Department is currently expanding capacity and exploring other methods to increase its workforce.

The maximum weekly unemployment benefit in Tennessee is $275 before the deduction of federal taxes. Claimants receive this benefit through a debit card or direct deposit to a bank account.

In Executive Order No. 15, Governor Bill Lee temporarily suspended Tennessee’s one-week waiting period to receive benefits. Typically, the state pays the first week of benefits after four consecutive weekly certifications. During this temporary suspension, the state will pay the first week of benefits as soon as an unemployment claim is approved.

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