Tennessee unemployment payouts sent to 290K people last week

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee distributed unemployment benefits to more than 290,000 people last week as the number of jobless workers remains high due to the new coronavirus outbreak.

The Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development reported Thursday that more than 21,000 people filed new claims for unemployment benefits during the week that ended last Saturday.

The amount of new claims filed has remained relatively steady in the past four weeks, and last week's number is way down from a high of more than 116,000 new claims filed the week ending April 4.

Unemployment has skyrocketed since March, when Gov. Bill Lee and city and county officials began managing public safety concerns raised by the pandemic by closing or limiting access to businesses. Memphis and Nashville have delayed plans to increase capacities at restaurants, retail stores and other businesses after the number of cases and hospitalizations increased in the past two weeks.

More than $298 million in unemployment benefits was paid out last week in Tennessee. The entire total came in the form of federal funds distributed under the federal CARES Act.

Tennessee reported a record high unemployment rate in April of 15.5%, and the rate in May was also in double digits.

In Memphis on Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland signed an ordinance requiring people to wear face coverings while inside businesses, government buildings, health care facilities and public transportation in the city of about 650,000 people.

Employees of essential and nonessential businesses also must wear masks if they work near other people.

Some exemptions listed in the ordinance include children 12 and under and workers who perform their duties away from other people. Wearing a face covering is recommended but not required for people engaging in outdoor recreation, such as jogging or bicycling.

The ordinance was passed by the Memphis City Council on June 16. Violations are a class C misdemeanor, but the ordinance does not spell out a specific punishment other than a warning and court fees of no more than $20 per violation "which may be waived upon completion of the community service requirement."

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and those with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness and even be fatal.

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