Gov. Bill Lee is opting Tennessee out of federal pandemic unemployment relief that’s been boosting unemployment checks by $300 a week. The extra money will no longer be available starting July 3.
That cutoff also means the end of benefits for self-employed or gig workers who normally don’t qualify for unemployment and stops the federal extension of weekly checks for people who’ve exhausted their benefits from applying in Tennessee. The governor says in a statement that there are currently 250,000 job openings.
“In many cases, the job openings matched with the job skills of the unemployed, and that’s part of what we used to make our decision going forward,” Gov. Lee said when asked by WPLN News whether the jobs paid a living wage. “There are a lot of jobs and a broad range of pay scales that are available, and we want to get Tennesseans back to work.”
Lee sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Labor explaining the withdrawal. Other states, including South Carolina and Montana, have accused the larger benefits of contributing to a labor shortage and also declined the enhanced payments.
The Tennessee legislature also voted to cut state benefits from 26 weeks to 12 when the unemployment rate is as low as it is now. Even though Tennessee has some of the smallest weekly checks for those who are jobless, there’s a feeling among Republican lawmakers that there’s not enough incentive to take a job that’s available.
WPLN’s Damon Mitchell contributed reporting.