600,000 jobless claims filed in Tennessee during pandemic

Friday, June 12, 2020, Vol. 44, No. 24

MEMPHIS (AP) — More than 21,000 new claims for unemployment benefits were filed in Tennessee last week, bringing the total number of jobless people who have sought government payouts during the new coronavirus outbreak to 600,000, state officials said Thursday.

More than $288 million in unemployment benefits was distributed last week in the form of federal funds distributed under the federal CARES Act, the emergency assistance package created to deal with financial effects from the virus response, the Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development reported.

Tennessee usually depends on a trust fund to pay state unemployment benefits. But the state is using the federal Coronavirus Relief Fund money for payments through June 30 to prevent the fund from falling below $1 billion, department spokesman Chris Cannon has said.

A tax increase starts for employers if the fund sinks below $1 billion. The fund's April balance was about $1.1 billion, Cannon said.

Of the 602,822 new claims filed since mid-March, about 309,000 remain active.

Stay-at-home orders from Gov. Bill Lee and city and county officials in mid-March led to business closures and hundreds of thousands of layoffs, as officials scrambled to stem the spread of COVID-19.

Businesses have gradually reopened in recent weeks, and many workers have been able to return to their jobs. But the number of new weekly filings is still much higher than normal, with some businesses remaining closed and employers cutting staff as they operate at a limited capacity due to social distancing rules.

The process of filing for and receiving unemployment payouts has frustrated jobless Tennessee residents who've complained about waiting more than a month to receive benefits. Problems include employers who were slow to respond to claims, confusion about who can receive funds, trouble with the state's unemployment website, and an inability to get a claims agent on the phone in a timely manner.

Meanwhile, in Shelby County, a federal judge has declined to dismiss a lawsuit demanding the release of medically vulnerable inmates who are only jailed because they can't meet financial conditions for pretrial release or are being held on a technical violation of probation or parole.

Last month, the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups sued the Shelby County Sheriff's Office on behalf of jail inmates who are at risk of contracting COVID-19 and are not deemed a flight risk.

The judge also has ordered the county sheriff to produce a list of the medically vulnerable and disabled people in his custody, the ACLU said Thursday.

Also, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music in Memphis said Wednesday that it plans to reopen to the public after closing for three months due to the new coronavirus outbreak.

The Memphis museum will start welcoming visitors June 18. It closed March 18 as officials in Memphis issued coronavirus-related safety orders that shuttered tourist destinations like Stax and Graceland.

Located in Memphis' Soulsville neighborhood, Stax produced records by some of the top soul artists of the 1960s and 1970s, including Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, Sam & Dave, Carla and Rufus Thomas, The Staple Singers, Booker T. and the MG's, and others.

The museum features self-guided tours of exhibits about the recording studio's history and memorabilia connected to Stax artists, such as Hayes' flashy Cadillac car.

The reopening includes a new exhibit featuring Stax album cover photographs.

Stax said admission and merchandise transactions will now be cashless.


Follow AP coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.