MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Another 28,600 jobless Tennessee residents filed new claims for unemployment benefits last week, state officials said Thursday, as the country music capital of Nashville began to loosen restrictions on live music performances that have been curtailed during the new coronavirus outbreak.
The number of people who lost their jobs during the virus outbreak response and have been seeking or receiving payouts from the federal and state government in Tennessee has reached more than 532,000, the Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development reported.
More than $355 million in unemployment benefits was paid out during the week ending Saturday, the department said. More than $295 million of that total came in the form of federal funds distributed under the federal CARES Act, the emergency assistance package created to deal with financial effects from the virus response.
The rest of the money came from a trust fund used by the state to pay unemployment benefits, the labor department said. New claims filed last week dipped slightly from the week before, when more than 29,300 were filed.
The overall number of Tennessee residents seeking unemployment benefits surged after cities, counties and the state issued orders closing nonessential businesses in March. Only about 2,700 people in Tennessee filed for unemployment benefits for the week ending March 14, before the mass response to the virus outbreak.
The process of filing for and receiving unemployment payouts has frustrated jobless Tennessee residents who’ve complained about waiting more than a month to receive benefits. Problems include employers who were slow to respond to claims, confusion about who can receive funds, trouble with the state’s unemployment website, and an inability to get a claims agent on the phone in a timely manner.
Among the businesses laying off workers is The Guesthouse at Graceland, the hotel located at the tourist attraction centered on the life and career of late singer and actor Elvis Presley in Memphis. The hotel filed a notice with the department that it is letting go 101 workers as it converts furloughs to layoffs. The business may re-hire laid off workers if needed, the notice said.
Tennessee cities have begun a gradual process of reopening businesses shuttered for safety reasons under orders from local governments and the state.
Nashville Mayor John Cooper announced Thursday that the city will move to the second phase of its reopening plan starting next week. This means restaurants and retail stores will be allowed to open at 75% capacity on Monday. Salons, barbershops, gyms and other close-contact businesses can reopen at half-capacity, Cooper said.
Live music will also be allowed at restaurants, but only if there are no more than two performers on the stage and they remain at least six feet apart. However, bars and dance floors will remain closed.
“Nashville can have a bit of a graduation and move on to phase two of the road map for reopening,” Cooper said during a media briefing.
Gov. Bill Lee has already lifted similar restrictions for most of the state. Most recently the state issued new guidance that would allow large, noncontact attractions — such as concert venues, water parks, zoos and large museums — to reopen under warnings to protect employees and customers to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Tennessee has reported 18,532 cases of COVID-19 and 309 deaths.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up within weeks. For some, especially older adults and those with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness and be life-threatening.
Kruesi reported from Nashville
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