Gov. Bill Lee announced on Tuesday his plans to terminate Tennessee's participation in federal pandemic unemployment programs, meaning Tennesseans will no longer see the additional $300 in weekly unemployment benefits effective July 3.
While the additional $300 in weekly unemployment benefits will remain in effect for much of the United States through Sept. 6, 2021, Lee has chosen to opt out of the federally funded program, citing what he considers to be an abundance of jobs in the state.
“We will no longer participate in federal pandemic unemployment programs because Tennesseans have access to more than 250,000 jobs in our state,” Lee said. “Families, businesses and our economy thrive when we focus on meaningful employment and move on from short-term, federal fixes.”
In a letter dated May 11 and addressed to U.S. Secretary of Labor Martin Walsh, Lee voiced his intent to end all participation in federally funded pandemic unemployment programs effective 11:59 p.m. on July 3 of this year.
Those programs include:
- Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, which provides for the additional $300 in weekly benefits
- Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, which provides benefits for those who typically wouldn't qualify such as self-employed, gig and part-time workers
- Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, which provides for an extension of benefits once regular benefits have been exhausted
- Mixed Earner Unemployment Compensation, which provides an additional $100 in benefits to those with mixed earnings
Lee's latest announcement marks the second blow to unemployment in recent weeks, with state legislators voting on May 5 to reduce the length of time Tennesseans may receive unemployment benefits by half.
Tennessee Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson, who represents Williamson County, said in a statement that he supports the governor's decision.
“The federal pandemic unemployment program was meant to be short-term until our economy reopened and jobs returned," Johnson said.
"We are fully reopened and Tennessee is seeing a surge in business prospects who are building and expanding in Tennessee, providing tremendous opportunities for our citizens. We now have 250,000 jobs available to workers in Tennessee. At the same time, businesses across the state are scrambling to find workers to fill them. This action helps move these workers into meaningful employment that will sustain them and their families over the long term.”
While not saying whether he supported Lee's decision, state Rep. Sam Whitson, who represents Williamson County as well, wrote in a message that he had heard from small business owners about their struggles in finding employees both in Franklin and statewide.
This story was updated on May 11, 2021, to include state Sen. Jack Johnson's statement.