Lawsuit Filed Over Lee Dropping Federal Unemployment Aid

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Seven unemployed Tennessee residents have filed a lawsuit over Gov. Bill Lee's decision to opt out of the federal unemployment benefits programs earlier this year.

They said in a federal complaint filed this week against Lee and Department of Labor Commissioner Jeff McCord that they struggle to survive on state unemployment funds as they look for work, news outlets reported. They are asking a federal judge to instruct Lee to reenter the federally funded pandemic unemployment compensation programs run by U.S. Department of Labor.

“This program has served as a lifeline for thousands of Tennesseans who remain affected by the pandemic,” Nashville attorneys W. Gary Blackburn and Bryant Kroll wrote.

State officials declined to comment on pending litigation.

Lee announced in May that Tennessee would withdraw from federal unemployment programs that would pay an additional $300 a week in benefit payments. The state reverted Sunday to benefits through Tennessee’s Unemployment Compensation program, which pays up to $275 per week.

“We will no longer participate in federal pandemic unemployment programs because Tennesseans have access to more than 250,000 jobs in our state,” Lee stated in May. “Families, businesses and our economy thrive when we focus on meaningful employment and move on from short-term, federal fixes.”

The lawsuit says the unemployed Tennesseans have submitted hundreds of applications, mostly without getting any response. A filing on Monday asks the court to consider opening the suit to all Tennessee residents receiving unemployment assistance due to the pandemic.

Tennessee's unemployment rate was 4.9% last month, down from 9.3% in June 2020.