May 25, 2020 – NewsChannel5 (WTVF) by Levi Ismail
Rep. John Ray Clemmons has become a household name across Tennessee unemployment forums, as he continues to bring attention to hundreds who once considered themselves forgotten.
What Clemmons has done is practically turn the many emails and calls into another job. Clemmons spends eight to nine hours every day combing through the messages.
“You read 10 of these, 20 of these and then 1,000 of these heartbreaking stories, it weighs on you,” said Clemmons.
From his state-issued iPad, Clemmons sits at his kitchen table and begins taking notes from each message. He worked late into the evening Wednesday night. He woke to find 162 new emails.
“I just got off the phone with a young lady – four children, rent has been due for two months,” said Clemmons.
What Clemmons lacks in his ability to actually process claims himself, he more than makes up for by sharing stories with the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
“I turn around and type that into this legislative portal we have and that then goes into the department of labor,” said Clemmons.
Clemmons says he hasn’t noticed too many similarities between claims that are easily processed, compared to those that take time.
He says early on, the biggest difference was between the self-employed and those with more traditional jobs. Now weeks later, and with a new program for processing self-employed payments, he says it’s harder to spot what claims will draw a flag.
Up until this week, only Clemmons and one other aide committed their time to doing this. Now 30 more aides are being assigned to at the very least reassure you something is being done.
According to Clemmons, many of these aides have little to no experience dealing with unemployment cases. Clemmons has heard that some of the calls made by these aides amount to not much more than a pat on the back for encouragement.
“They’re calling people saying, ‘hey we’re thinking about you and we will get to you when we can.’ Then they’re clearing their name out of the system. So we’re having to start from scratch,” said Clemmons.
That’s compared to Clemmons who says he was helping families navigate the unemployment process, long before COVID-19. At a time when getting a claim processed would take one day and not three weeks.
What Clemmons says will make the biggest difference is making sure state leaders understand these claims aren’t just boxes to check off.
“That’s why I serve and I’m happy to do it. I just regret that people are having to go through this process. The state is failing people when they need help the most,” said Clemmons.
Clemmons says people should begin by reaching out to their state representative or state senator for help. If they haven’t heard back or received any assistance, they’re welcome to email Clemmons at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To request a claim for assistance, Clemmons needs your full name, email address, phone number and the last four digits of your social security number.