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TN Dept. of Labor: Relief for self-employed individuals is coming "in the next few business days"

Commissioner Jeff McCord said pandemic unemployment assistance for self-employed workers will be available soon.

NASHVILLE, Tenn — Nearly a month ago, Lori Wilson filed a claim for unemployment. Under the CARES Act, the self-employed wedding floral designer said she should qualify for pandemic unemployment assistance (PUA).

As of Wednesday, she still hasn't received a dime.

"We were all thrown into this situation because of this virus," Wilson said. "We've got landlords coming after us. We've got mortgage companies coming after us, credit card people. I mean, it's crazy what we're dealing with here."

During a media briefing on Wednesday, Commissioner Jeff McCord from the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce said the state already paid more than 210,000 unemployment claims. By the end of the week, McCord said he expected that number to reach a quarter of a million.

Self-employed workers have been left out.

"For the sole proprietors, we've built that system," McCord said. "It's in testing right now and relief for them should be coming soon, in the coming days."

When asked what Tennesseans should do to make ends meet in the meantime, McCord said those payments should go out in the next few business days.

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"It's a struggle. We know it's a struggle every day," McCord said. "When we go to work, we understand that and we understand the weight of it and the importance of it."

Chris Cannon, Assistant Administrator for the Department of Labor and Workforce Communications Division, said they estimate there are about 75,000 self-employed individuals who will receive PUA in the coming days.

"Tennesseans have made tremendous sacrifices in this and some of the hardest hit are those that you're talking about, that are currently unemployed," Gov. Bill Lee said. "While we're making every effort we can to adapt to an incredible surge in the demands on the systems for unemployment insurance, we're also working really hard to get Tennesseans back to work."

But for people like Lori Wilson, getting back to work won't be so easy. 

"COVID-19 essentially shut down my business because weddings are being canceled or postponed," Wilson said. "There still aren't events."

Frustrated by a lack of answers and communication from the state, Wilson started a petition to Gov. Bill Lee for the department to address problems with the online unemployment portal and a lack of representatives to speak with.

"Self-employed such as myself are struggling to make ends meet while we wait for the broken unemployment system to be fixed," Wilson said. "Who knows when that will be?"

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