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Unemployed Tennesseans Sue State, Governor to Reinstate Federal Jobless Benefits

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Seven Tennessee residents filed a lawsuit this week against Governor Bill Lee after the Republican pulled out of the federal unemployment benefits program earlier this month, more than two months before it was set to expire.

Tennessee was one of several states to cut off the $300-per-week unemployment bonus early over concerns that it was serving as an incentive for residents to remain unemployed.

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

However, some residents have said they are struggling to make ends meet on state-funded benefits alone, which amount to roughly $275-per-week. 

While Fox 17 News reported that there are roughly 270,000 job openings across the state, the plaintiffs in the suit say they have unsuccessfully applied to hundreds of jobs. 

The suit, filed Monday in Middle Tennessee District Court, asks the court to order Lee to immediately reinstate the benefits.

Other states that have pulled out of the benefits program have faced similar lawsuits. Residents in Indiana and Maryland won their legal battle, while cases in Florida and Texas are pending.

A judge in Arkansas ruled on Thursday that the state must restart the federal unemployment benefits while the lawsuit winds its way through the court system. Also on Thursday, an Ohio state judge denied a request to restore the $300 weekly benefit while he considers the case.

Dee Bowen, a member of the Facebook group “Tennesseans Against Ending Benefits Early,” told the outlet that cases where residents have successfully fought to restore benefits give “a little hope that we can win too because we have similar laws.”

Nashville attorneys W. Gary Blackburn and Bryant Kroll argue that the federal program “has served as a lifeline for thousands of Tennesseans who remain affected by the benefit.”

A spokesperson for Lee’s administration told Fox 17 News that the governor is “focused on helping Tennesseans find meaningful employment and moving away from short-term, federal fixes. There are no plans for that to change.”

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