More work coming for unemployed, many required to provide proof of work searches

Stephanie Myers-News-Herald

Unemployment benefits will now come with strings attached for Tennessee's unemployed.

Starting April 3, nearly 56,000 claimants receiving federal extension Emergency Unemployment Compensation must complete two work searches weekly and provide documentation to the Department of Labor and Workforce Development upon request.

EUC is a federal extension that provides additional weeks of unemployment benefits after residents have run out of "regular unemployment benefits," such as Tennessee's unemployment benefits program.

Claimants must also participate in case management at a Tennessee Career Center including orientation, eligibility review, assessment of skills, participation in remedial workshops and commitment to a work search plan.

Jeff Hentschel, Department of Labor and Workforce Development communications director, said the April change follows increased scrutiny of those receiving federal extended benefits.

"Now we are going to be verifying those work searches are taking place," Hentschel said.

All states will follow this change.

"The federal government has raised the bar on accountability for claimants," Karla Davis, commissioner with the Department of Labor and Workforce Development, said. "Claimants will be required to prove that they are looking for work, and they will be engaged face-to-face with our job service employees. If these requirements are not met they will no longer be eligible to receive benefits."

Hentschel said benefits will only be delayed until claimants are in compliance with the new documentation standards.

Claimants will log their job searches per week and employers will be randomly contacted to verify the authenticity of the job application log. Those unemployed still under the first 26 weeks of Tennessee's unemployment benefits currently do not have to provide work searches. Only those under federal benefits will be impacted.

"It is also important for claimants to understand there used to be possibly a false sense of security that you had a certain number of weeks available to you," Hentschel said. "That is changing. The total number of weeks is being reduced."

Federal legislation in February extended the deadlines for federally funded unemployment benefits through December 2012. A reduction from 99 to 73 benefit weeks will start in September.

"The bottom line is, as Tennessee's unemployment rate goes down, there will be fewer rates available, so they should ramp up their job searches," Hentschel said. "They should be doing consistent work searches each week anyway."

"These new requirements will make sure claimants are on track to find employment and not get caught off guard when their benefits expire," Davis added.

Loudon County came in with the fourth lowest unemployment rate in the state at 6.8 percent for January, which is less that neighboring Blount County at 7.4 percent and Anderson County at 7.8 percent. Knox County posted a 6.2 percent rate in January.