Legislative Update from State Senator Joey Hensley: Schools to Remain Closed for Rest of Academic Year

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   Governor Lee called on schools to remain closed for the remainder of the school year. Although this was a tough decision, it was made with the student’s best interest in mind. Students have missed a significant amount of learning time in the classroom and the State of Tennessee remains committed to continuing to provide resources to keep our students involved in their studies.

   Education resources provided through innovative partnerships – The Tennessee Department of Education is working to provide resources to students during the COVID-19 pandemic to keep them moving forward in learning. The department worked out an agreement with Tennessee’s Public Broadcast Stations (PBS) to offer 1st -8th grade students 30 hours of instructional lessons each week. The instructional programs are made possible by Tennessee teachers who are teaching the state’s curriculum through this partnership. The department has also worked to ensure instruction for early childhood literacy through an early education app that plays short videos and provides free resources for Tennessee families with children from birth to 3rd grade.  These videos focus on topics like literacy and math. Both of these learning resources work to assist parents and caregivers as the state navigates a pause from the classroom.

   Tennessee’s Department of Education prepares to serve students with new funds provided through CARES Act – The Tennessee Department of Education is preparing to receive funding from the CARES Act to bolster student learning across the state. They are preparing to deploy one-time relief funds to school districts as soon as the federal government makes the money available. These federal funds will support meal preparation and distribution, extends learning opportunities for all students, provides Internet and hardware accessibility, and addresses student needs related to homelessness in high mobility populations.

   State reprograms Jobs4TN as unemployment spikes due to COVID-19

   The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development is reprogramming the state’s Jobs4TN program to help with a sharp spike in the number of unemployed Tennesseans as a result of the coronavirus. The reprogramming will help ensure that self-employed persons affected by the pandemic gain access to unemployment benefits. The efforts are in concert with the federal CARES Act program, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), and the new $600 weekly federal benefit.

   Claims filed statewide for unemployment have risen from 2,702 new claims per week on March 14, to 112,438 new claims on April 4. The Department of Labor added 200 more workers to answer phone calls regarding unemployment. They plan to add more employees to cover weekends. The department has encouraged people to use their online system off hours for better results due to the surge in the number of claims. To better accommodate the influx of claims, the department is expanding hours from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm, seven days a week.

   These changes are being made as quickly as possible so Tennesseans can start receiving both the state and the federal payment. Self-employed or an unemployed workers who have already submitted a claim do not need to reapply. All Tennesseans receiving unemployment or Pandemic Unemployment Assistance will automatically receive the weekly $600 federal benefit, in addition to their unemployment benefit.

   The CARES Act provided the state more funding and greater flexibility to respond to unemployment resulting from the pandemic. Certain CARES Act provisions are on track to be implemented as early as next week. Tennessee is also working closely with the federal government to ensure Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation for the self-employed or those who file 1099 forms is available as quickly as possible. Tennesseans out of work can apply at www.Jobs4TN.gov<http://www.jobs4tn.gov/>.
   Tennessee State Parks closure extended – The closure of Tennessee’s state parks has been extended according to the Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC). State officials are continuing to monitor health and safety guidance related to COVID-19 and will notify the public when the parks are reopened. “We want to make sure that when we do reopen, visitors and our park staff can feel confident in their safety,” said TDEC’s Deputy Commissioner of Parks and Conservation Jim Bryson. “With health and safety at the forefront, we look forward to getting people back into the outdoors – beyond their backyards and neighborhoods – to experience the natural wonders our state has to offer.”