NASHVILLE – Democratic lawmakers in Tennessee slam Gov. Bill Lee’s plan to end $ 300 a week federal unemployment benefits paid to thousands of early unemployed as “immoral” in light of new proposal of the Republican governor to use $ 44.6 million in other funds to increase payments to 1,125 small businesses that suffered during the coronavirus pandemic.
“In Governor Lee’s mind, $ 300 a week in federal aid for a parent who has lost their job is bad, but millions of federal aid for business owners is good,” accused Senator Heidi Campbell, D-Nashville, who went on to call it “an immoral double standard”.
Representative Yusuf Hakeem, D-Chattanooga, said that despite the fact that the people of Tennessee “are still in pain,” Lee “has lost sight of who he represents. Tennessee is not short of cash. We have money flowing, with federal money flowing in, flowing all over the place. There is no reason that the two [jobless Tennesseans and businesses] cannot be supported. “
The governor defends the end of the federal supplemental allowance for tens of thousands of unemployed and self-employed in Tennessee on July 3, even as he defends his new proposal, arguing among other things that “work is good for the job.” soul, it’s good for families, it’s good for Tennessee. “
“One of the things we have worked very hard for during the pandemic is to make sure the livelihoods are maintained, and the best way to do that is to make sure that the businesses the Tennesseans work for are able to continue operating, ”says Lee.
The additional weekly payments of $ 300 are courtesy of President Joe Biden’s US bailout, approved by Congress earlier this year. But 25 Republican-led states, including Tennessee, have announced plans to end the program, which has also tried to expand pandemic unemployment assistance for self-employed Americans, including workers in the economy of odd jobs, before it officially expires on September 6.
In March, Lee criticized the US bailout, saying the country “didn’t need it,” while criticizing a new distribution formula that he said would result in $ 160 million less in aid for the Tennessee as the model used in previously approved Federal Coronavirus Programs and Economic Relief
Republicans argue that low-wage workers are encouraged to stay home because they can make more money with the payments of $ 300 per week. A survey of small business owners released last month by the Tennessee National Federation of Independent Businesses found that 85% of those polled said they had vacancies and 94% said they had difficulty finding jobs. get people to apply.
Biden disputed this last month in the White House, saying, “I think the people who claim Americans won’t work even if they find a good and fair opportunity underestimate the American people.”
“If you get unemployment benefits and you are offered a suitable job, you cannot refuse that job and continue to receive unemployment benefits,” Biden said.
The latest figures released last week by the Department of Labor and Workforce Development show the state paid claims to 113,807 unemployed Tennessee residents for the week ending May 29. The amount paid was $ 66.08 million. The federal government took $ 57.51 million of the cost, while the state government’s share of the tab was $ 8.57 million.
The highest unemployment rate in Tennessee was 325,095 claims during the week of May 9, 2020.
Administration officials Lee announced the proposal for an additional $ 44.6 million in business support at last week’s meeting of the state’s Financial Stimulus Accountability Group, made up of administration officials. Lee and Republican and Democratic lawmakers.
Officials said the state has already approved $ 73 million in such aid through President Donald Trump’s 2020 Coronavirus Relief Fund, helping more than 3,200 small businesses with an average payment of around $ 22,500.
Building on the same pot of money, Lee’s proposal calls for raising the cap on payments per company from $ 30,000 to $ 100,000. The administration said this was justified on the basis of data showing 1,125 companies lost more than $ 30,000 during the pandemic. But state officials plan to contact businesses first to verify losses before making any payments.
Contact Andy Sher at [email protected] or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @ AndySher1.