The Investigators: What you need to know about new unemployment benefits in the Mid-South

Tennessee, Mississippi and Arkansas are updating their systems so expect a delay
Updated: Jan. 7, 2021 at 9:05 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - There were nearly 20,000 first-time filers for unemployment in Tennessee last week, according to data released Thursday by the Tennessee Department of Labor.

The weekend ending Jan. 2 saw the biggest jump in initial claims, or people filing for the first time, since July.

For the thousands of unemployed Mid-Southerners, there is a bit of good news. More unemployment benefits are on the way.

However, it will likely take time for the money to reach your bank account.

House Resolution 133, which was signed by President Trump a week and a half ago, extended the unemployment programs created by The CARES Act but not word-for-word.

“While this act is called The CARES Act extension it really did change all the programs,” said Chris Cannon, Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development spokesperson. “We still have to go in and modify the programs and reprogram the system to adhere to the new rules of the extension.”

In Tennessee, Mississippi and Arkansas the new law means unemployment will continue to be provided to gig workers and those not traditionally eligible through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program (PUA).

People on PUA will receive an additional 11 weeks of benefits from the day their benefits ran out, ending mid-March.

Those on the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program (PEUC) will be eligible for additional benefits through mid-March as well.

The new law also extends the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program (FPUC) so that most people on unemployment will receive an additional $300 per week through mid-March.

Cannon says in Tennessee, the state has been already sending that money.

“We started with the FPUC because we knew that was coming and would be a system we could get up and running pretty quickly so I believe we were the 5th state in the nation to pay that $300,” he said.

“Can we expect a delay in getting paid through these other programs that do not include FPUC?” Asked The Investigators.

“It depends on the claim. If someone had gone through December 26 and still had a benefit balance in their account, it’s going to move a little bit faster for them because we can just continue that claim,” said Cannon. “But if they exhausted their claim prior to December 26 and had a $0 balance, there may be a delay as we work the system to recognize the claim is still valid and needs to pay so that could take a little bit more time.”

The Tennessee Department of Labor asks those who have exhausted their benefits not to refile. Additional guidance from the state will come soon once they update their system.

Unfortunately, those on the Extended Benefits program (EB) will not be eligible for additional money.

There is good news for those who earn wages both as independent contractors and from a Tennessee employer.

Tennessee will take part in the new federal Mixed Earners Unemployment Compensation (MEUC) program. A mixed earner is someone who has 1099 wages as an independent contractor but also earned wages from a covered Tennessee employer.

This is a new program and USDOL has not issued any guidance on the implementation of MEUC. Once states receive program rules, Tennessee and its vendor will build this latest federal program into the state’s unemployment computer system.

There is no timeline as to when TDLWD will begin paying benefits from the new program.

The Arkansas Division of Workforce Services states there will be a delay in payments as it updates its system as well.

“Claimants should continue to file weekly claims for certain programs such as Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) in order to preserve any possible rights to benefits,” an ADWS spokesperson wrote The Investigators. “This is also true for existing PUA claimants, however, the PUA website is currently undergoing a quick modification so the function that allows for the filing of PUA weekly claims is temporarily unavailable. This function will be available in the PUA system again within the next 5-10 days. At that time, existing claimants should resume filing weekly claims. Claimants may check the homepage for updates on when they will be able to begin filing weekly claims again.”

The Mississippi Department of Employment Security said it, too, is updating its system to begin sending the additional money soon.

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