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Frequently-asked unemployment questions answered

As a record number of Tennesseans file for unemployment, the Department of Labor and Workforce Development clears up some common questions

Over the past five weeks, Tennessee has gotten almost 400,000 unemployment claims. The state's weekly unemployment claim totals rose dramatically in mid-March, reaching a peak of 116,141 new claims in a week earlier this month. 

10News took some of your most-asked questions about the process to Chris Cannon, the Assistant Administrator of the Communications Division for the Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

His responses have been edited for clarity and brevity.

Q: I filed my claim, but it says "still processing." What does that mean and what should I do?

A: The state has gotten almost 400,000 claims over the last 5 weeks. Many have processed, but not every claim moves at the same speed. If it shows up as processing, it means a staff member may be "working" the claim or looking for more information about it before it goes through the approval process. You don't need to do anything if you see that.

Q: I applied more than a month ago, but I haven't gotten any money. Is there a delay?

A: The system is paying out people. A lot of people who have been waiting are self-employed. Self-employed people are usually not eligible for unemployment in Tennessee, but they are under the CARES Act. The Dept. of Labor and Workforce Development had to rewrite a program to be able to pay those benefits. They started by paying out a test batch this week. The test went well, and they are planning on another test. The state hopes to pay more of those claims by the end of the week.

Q: How long should I expect a delay?

A: Every claim is different. Some don't have any issues and can process in seven to ten days. If something pops up and a person has to look the claim over, it's going to take some time. Typically, the U.S. Dept. of Labor gives states 21 days to make a decision. That could be longer for some people because of the influx of claims. 

Q: I've never filed for unemployment before. Any advice for first-time filers?

A: It's important to file as soon as you know you're not going to be working. As soon as you file, that gets you into the system and marks your date of filing. So if it takes time to approve your application, as long as you are completing those weekly certifications between the time you file and the time you are approved, you'll be paid retroactively from the time that you filed.

Q: What if I'm afraid to go back to work? Can I still collect unemployment?

A: If your employer calls you back to work, you are required to go back to work to be able to collect unemployment benefits. There may be some caveats through the CARES Act, but that's a case-by-case basis. 

Q: If I think I qualify, but I'm not getting any money, what should I do?

A: If you're not getting paid because you were deemed "not eligible," you can file an appeal. Ad adjudicator will look at both sides, see why it was denied and go from there.

Q: What if I haven't heard anything back?

A: If you haven't heard from the state, it's just the process of getting through the sheer volume of claims. We understand it's frustrating, but we are continuing to make progress.

Q: I've been receiving benefits for a few months, but still don't have a job. Can I apply to extend my benefits?

A: The CARES Act does provide for an additional 13 weeks of benefits. That part of the program is not up and running yet. We are working towards helping people who need that part of the program.