Operators at the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development are receiving increased calls from concerned job seekers about their unemployment benefits.
Currently, around 117,000 Tennesseans are collecting unemployment benefits.
Just before the Christmas holiday, Congress passed a two month extension of Federal unemployment benefits, along with other measures effecting payroll taxes and social security.
Without the extension, unemployment benefits paid by the federal government would be phased out starting on Saturday. The extension allows unemployed payments to continue through the end of February.
However, according to state employment officials, that does not mean additional weeks of unemployment benefits are available to people already receiving unemployment payments.
“I think a lot of people may be confused about what extension means,” Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development Spokesman Jeff Hentschel said. “This is a two month extension of Federal benefits that were already available.”
He continued, “The maximum anyone could receive is 99 weeks.”
For example, someone who has collected unemployment benefits for 97 weeks can only collect two more weeks of unemployment before they have exhausted out the available benefits.
Unemployment benefits are broken down into three parts.
The first 26 weeks of unemployment is paid by Tennessee. The Tennessee Unemployment Compensation program is not affected by the deal struck in Washington D.C.
After a person exhausts the state program the Federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) provides an additional 53 weeks of benefits over the course of four tiers.
Tier one provides up to 20 weeks of benefits, tier 2 is up to 14 additional weeks, tier 3 is another 13 weeks, and tier 4 is six more weeks of benefits.
Around 40,000 Tennesseans are enrolled in EUC.
Once a person has exhausted all the available weeks of benefits from the EUC they were eligible to apply for Extended Benefits (EB).
EB is the final 20 weeks of unemployment that a person is eligible to receive. At the end of EB a person would have received the maximum of 99 weeks of unemployment payments.
Around 12,000 Tennesseans are enrolled in EB.
People who are a part of the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program will continue to receive benefits past February 29, if a long term extension is not reached in Washington.
But, beneficiaries will only be able to exhaust the remaining weeks of unemployment benefits available to them based on their tier. They will not be able to move on to additional weeks of unemployment.
For people collecting Extended Benefits all benefits will end February 29, 2012 if a long term extension is not agreed on by Congress.
“They do not have to reapply for benefits,” Hentschel said. “They just need to re-certify as they were and they will continue to receive their benefits.”
Hentschel also said people receiving unemployment benefits should make sure the department has an updated mailing address.
The state mails letters to people collecting benefits that outlines which program the person is currently being paid from and alerts about changes to payments.
“If you received unemployment benefits and moved, make sure to update your address,” Hentschel said.
The information is important to job seekers like Colatta Gant. The mother of two has been off and on unemployment for two months.
“It has been kind of depressing but you have to keep trying,” she said. “I have been working through temp services off and on it’s the best until I can find something full time.”
Gant was at the Career Center on Rosa Parks Boulevard searching for a job on Tuesday.
“Right now I will take whatever,” she said. “Light industrial or office work it doesn’t matter.”
She continued, “There are jobs out there but people aren’t hiring; the reason why I have no idea.”
For more information about unemployment benefits click here.