State loses out on federal program benefits

By: Angela Starke Email
By: Angela Starke Email

KNOX COUNTY, Tenn. (WVLT) - For those who are out of work, things have been tough. And now they must brace for a cut in benefits from a federal program.

The Extended Benefits Program, or EB, had given unemployed Tennesseeans up to 20 additional weeks of pay. But now the state doesn't qualify. The criteria used for the program is based on the unemployment rate for a 13-week period this year versus two years ago. It will likely impact thousands, including Lisa - a Knox County resident.

"It's been very tough, very hard and very frustrating," said Lisa, who recently came to the Tennessee Career Center in Knoxville to polish her resume.

Lisa has been collecting unemployment since Christmas. While she is hoping to find a job soon, she doesn't like the news that the additional benefits are no longer available.

The EB program will end on April 16, according to Don Ingram, Administrator for Employment Security for the Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development.

Ingram says the state's unemployment rate had to be 110 percent above that rolling 13-week average to get the benefits. And though federal legislation offered states a provision to keep the program going, lawmakers in Tennessee did not act.

Tennessee legislators had an option to look at unemployment rates from three years ago - when unemployment rates were better - instead of two years ago and compare those with today. A three-year review may have made a difference and kept benefits intact.

Gov. Bill Haslam hasn't addressed the issue and neither have legislators.

"There is no initiative as far as I know to pass legislation," Ingram said. At least 15 other states have not passed legislation, either.

And that's putting pressure on Lisa and others.

Said Lisa: "When that's the only thing I depend on to pay my bills it's very tough."

"Unemployment helps out a lot of people," said DeMarcus Schofield - who lost his job three days ago - "and if they cut them off that would be an inconvenience for the community."

Ingram said that legislators may not have worked on a bill to prevent the benefits from being cut because no one had predicted that the unemployment rate would still be high. He also offered that the state may want to be fiscally responsible and not burden the federal government.

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