Knoxville state lawmaker calls for unemployment system changes

KNOXVILLE (WATE) – More than 50 state lawmakers have signed on to a Knoxville state representative’s letter calling for changes to Tennessee’s unemployment system.

WATE 6 On Your Side viewers have had many of the same complaints – unemployment applications taking too long to process and difficulty contacting someone to fix problems. State Rep. Roger Kane sent a letter to Commissioner of Workforce and Labor Development Burns Phillips saying no other issue “has generated more angst than the failure to provide benefits to some of our most needy constituents.

The letter offers up 10 recommendations and asks for an update on those items within 30 days. Read the full letter [PDF]

“As a state we want to make sure that our people are being taken care of and some people are waiting four, six, ten weeks to get benefits,” said Rep. Kane.

Kane says the problem that should be fixed first is making sure there are people answering the phone. The state says a new system was launched in May 2016 and there was a learning curve that was much greater than expected, which meant more calls, creating a backlog.

“We have federal guidelines that mandate that 87 percent of all claims have to be approved or denied within 21 days and we’ve been hanging in the 30s and 40s percentile in the last couple of months,” said Rep. Kane.

Kane says some families are telling him they’re about to lose everything and while there’s some uncertainty, constructive change should be made within 30 days.

“I would just ask people be a little patient with us. We recognize there’s a problem. Everybody in the state now does,” Kane said.

The state says they’ve opened a 30-person call center in Nashville so operators can answer questions. Staff is also working on unemployment claims six days a week to help with the backlog.

Commissioner Burns Phillips issued a statement saying:

“I understand the frustration Representative Kane has expressed to me in his letter and I share his frustration because I know how crucial unemployment benefits are to the people of Tennessee who depend on them.  We have been working non-stop for months to improve the efficiency of our new system, so we can pay claimants in a timely manner.  I can tell you, I see the light at the end of the tunnel and soon Tennessee will have the best unemployment system in the nation.”

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