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Unemployment mine field

By Joe Rector

Since the demise of the U.S. economy in 2008, too many Americans have lost their jobs. In Tennessee 424,000 parents have lost them, and that number doesn’t include the people who are no longer looking for work. (Kids Count Data Center)

It’s a sad situation, one that breaks the hearts, hopes, and spirits of those affected. However, something even worse is now occurring to folks who lose jobs in the state. They aren’t able to file for unemployment due to a system that rivals the mess in the Affordable Care Act.

An acquaintance recently lost her job, and she began the filing procedure that same day. Later, she received confirmation that her application had been received. The next thing she was to do was to keep a log of jobs for which she applied. Then the state required her to confirm her unemployment status weekly.

The woman did as the website instructed, but to her surprise, a message came that the information had not been filed in a timely manner. Confused, she placed a call to the state 800 number provided on the website. To her dismay, she was told that no one was available to take her call. Days and repeated phone calls later, she continued trying to find help, finally contacted a local office, and talked with a sympathetic worker. However, that person offered little help and less hope. It seems that all unemployment filings are done on-line or on the phone. The workers who used to help with claims have been let go. The folks there are not trained to do the job but diligently attempt to help. The result is that individuals in need are unable to file for or to receive unemployment compensation. They are trying to navigate an unemployment mine field.

If you look at the situation, it would appear that the Tennessee State government is making the process hard to discourage people from filing. Oh, I suppose it does look good when the pols can brag about the low numbers on the unemployment roles, but for those in need of some short-term help to pay bills, buy groceries, and purchase medicines, the situation isn’t so rosy. If this were the end of the story, it would be a disgrace, but things are even worse.

In April, 2013, a report appeared in The Tennessean about mistaken payments.

” People are dying to get unemployment benefits in Tennessee.

Since July 2011, for instance, at least seven people who had died were issued unemployment checks by the state of Tennessee, to the tune of about $12,000 in unemployment payments.”

That’s evidently just the tip of the unemployment iceberg.

“But it’s not just the deceased that a state audit found were being paid benefits by the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development. It also found that 24 state employees were getting paid unemployment benefits – while still working for the state of Tennessee.

Those findings were among several alarming entries in a scathing audit detailing the overpayment of about $73 million in jobless benefits and other systemic problems with the state’s unemployment system.”

Okay, let’s see if I have this correct: dead folks can draw unemployment and working folks can get unemployment. It’s just those who are without a job but with a legitimate claim that don’t seem to be able to break through the tangle in order to get the funds that they need.

Not a single Tennessean should listen to another word about the poorly managed health insurance program. Yes, it is all screwed up, but closer to home is a program in just as bad a condition, and the very people who could have helped it run efficiently have been let go.

The good governor of the state needs to address this situation and bring some immediate relief to thousands out of the workforce who are fighting a jumbled mess. I laud the state’s efforts to keep the national parks open during the recent assault on the government, but I would give greater praise for an unemployment program that met the needs of those displaced from their jobs.

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