Haslam Uncertain If Unemployment-Benefits Abuse Widespread

Gov. Bill Haslam says he needs more time to determine whether he’ll support Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey’s call for requiring jobless Tennesseans taking government unemployment benefits to document they’re actively looking for work.

Under the current system, unemployed workers are required to show proof they are looking for jobs after about a year-and-a-half of collecting unemployment benefits.

“That’s probably something that we should be collecting data” on,  Haslam told reporters Monday after speaking at the National Governors Association’s regional summit on growing state economies in Nashville.

“Is that an issue right now or not in terms of folks who are unemployed?” Haslam said. “What percentage are saying, ‘I’m content where I am now. I’ll go to work when I get near the end of the line,’ verses those folks who are out humping it trying to find something but just haven’t been able to due to the economy.”

Ramsey, the speaker of the Tennessee Senate, said last week he’d like people on the unemployment rolls to show more proof they’re out searching for jobs after hearing from business owners that people have refused or delayed job offers until reaching the end of their unemployment benefits, which max out at $275 a week.

Unemployed Tennesseans can qualify for up to 99 weeks of unemployment, just short of two years. Claimants certify each week whether they were available for work and if they rejected an offer, but don’t have to provide evidence they’re out job hunting until reaching 79 weeks of benefits.

Last year, 308 people were denied benefits after rejecting a job offer, according to the Department of Labor. More than 400,000 Tennesseans filed for unemployment benefits.

The governor said he’s heard the same anecdotal evidence that some people have refused jobs or delayed searching for one until reaching the end of their unemployment benefits, but he isn’t sure it’s systematic.

“Is that 5 percent of the unemployed people, 50 percent? I don’t know. But are there some? Sure,” Haslam said. “But is it an overwhelming number enough to drive legislative need? I just don’t know that yet.”