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Tennessee unemployment system struggles to keep up with brutal job loss cycle

Jeff Keeling • Jan 25, 2009 at 12:00 AM

Brutal job loss figures have left Tennessee’s unemployment insurance system unable to keep up with demand, but the state’s commissioner of labor and workforce development told local human resource managers Friday his department is working overtime to keep up.“There’s no way we could have anticipated what has hit us in regards to the mass increase we’ve had,” James Neeley said, citing claims increases of 115 percent in 2008 over 2007, and up 190 percent since 2006.Neeley met with the group at the behest of state Rep. Dale Ford, R-Jonesborough.“I kept getting calls that some guys were having to wait five weeks to get a check,” Ford said before Friday’s meeting at a local hotel.“When you get laid off, you have maybe two kids and a wife and you have car payments, a house payment, you need money now.”Ford said he appreciated Neeley’s willingness to travel here (he also brought several staff members) to try and help human resources managers find a more efficient way for their laid-off personnel to get unemployment checks as soon as possible.“The influx of claims has been so heavy that we’ve had backups, and we’re going to have delays, but they’re going to show us how to avoid that,” said Ford, who was joined at the meeting by Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, and state Sen. Rusty Crowe, R-Johnson City.Neeley cited a variety of obstacles as his department tries to keep up with demand, from a 30-year-old mainframe computer to frequent changes at the federal level. He said a fourth federally mandated extension of benefits is expected, and would be met with a fourth reconfiguring of the state’s system.“There’s also a possibility of an extra $25 a week for people, all federally paid, but if that happens we’ve got to reprogram everything to take care of it, and that’s going to cause us a problem,” Neeley said.

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