How Do You Cope When Unemployment Hits?

/ April 7, 2020

By Janet Shouse

I feel certain that many, if not most, of us are feeling fairly uncertain at this time. While there have been other pandemics in my lifetime, this is the first time we have been asked/urged/ordered to stay at home. And staying at home, working from home, closing non-essential businesses, keeping “social distances,” have all led to a great many people being laid off. Given the sheer numbers of people now unemployed, I’m guessing those numbers include many individuals with disabilities, some of whom may have been employed for the first time in their lives.

I know losing a job can be upsetting, even when you understand why that’s happening. But if you had waited 10 or 15 years to get a job, and then you lose it, I believe that would be much more difficult. As Tennessee has become an Employment First state, and all of our state agencies, the TennesseeWorks Partnership, disability organizations and Medicaid provider agencies have focused on getting people with disabilities employed and keeping them employed, this massive disruption to our economy feels like the rug has been pulled out from under us. Plus, there is the fear of the coronavirus itself, of getting sick or of making others ill.

On April 2, the federal government announced that 6.6 million people had lost their jobs, which when added to the previous week’s job losses, totaled 10 million, in just two weeks. Previously, the worst week for U.S. unemployment filings was 695,000 in 1982.

When I say I know that losing a job can be upsetting, I’m speaking from personal experience. A little over 10 years ago, I was laid off from a job I loved. A job that I expected to do until the day I retired. But, as you know, the American economy took a beating in 2008 and 2009, and many folks lost their jobs or had to take furloughs. I had to learn how to apply for unemployment benefits, and while I thought my experience might allow me to share useful information today, after going to the website for the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development, I realized that my information is probably out of date. So I thought I would check it out.

Applying for Unemployment Benefits

To apply for unemployment benefits in Tennessee, go to Under the big blue box, you will find the words “Unemployment Benefits.” Click on that, and a drop-down menu will offer “File a Claim,” “Weekly Certification” or “Check the Status of Your Claim.” You’ll want to select “File a Claim,” and then you’ll see.

Welcome to Reemployment Assistance, formerly Unemployment Compensation!

On the next screen you will be given information about what you need to do to complete the Registration process. This is a requirement for you to fully complete the Reemployment Assistance claims process.

Next, you will be asked to enter your Social Security number to determine if you are already in the system. You MUST use your correct Social Security number, name, date of birth, and gender to complete the Registration process.

If your Social Security Number is in the system, you will be taken to the login screen. Upon login, click “File a Claim” if you wish to proceed with the Reemployment Assistance process.

Click Next to proceed to the next screen.

Then you will complete the application, which asks about your eligibility for unemployment benefits, your work history and such.

Once you are determined to be eligible, you need to “certify” each week that you are still unemployed and still looking for work. (I’m honestly not sure how that works during a pandemic, so you may need to check about that.)

If you have a smart phone, you may want go to, where you can find a video that explains how to use an app for your phone to “certify” your status each week. You will also find additional information there, including:

  • You are required to certify online each Sunday to notify the state you are still not working.
  • If your place of employment is temporarily closed due to COVID-19, please indicate a return to work date. If you are unsure of the return to work date, use the date 16 weeks from the day of filing.
  • The state can provide your weekly benefit payment through direct deposit or debit card. You can choose which method when you file your claim.
  • Your unemployment benefit is considered taxable income. You can choose to have federal taxes deducted from your weekly payment.
  • The maximum weekly benefit in Tennessee is $275 before federal taxes are deducted.
  • The state determines your weekly benefit based on your earning over the past 18 months.
  • The COVID-19 emergency has created an enormous demand on the unemployment insurance system. The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development is doing everything possible to process claims.

For additional information, you may want to check out Tennessee Unemployment FAQs.

Will Getting Unemployment Benefits Affect Your SSI?

As of this writing (April 6), the question of whether increased unemployment payments could put SSI and Medicaid in jeopardy isn’t clear. We know that unemployment benefits are “unearned income,” and it appears that such “unearned income” can affect the SSI benefit payment, but may not affect Medicaid or TennCare, as it is known in Tennessee. When I get more concrete information about this concern, I will share it.

Here is additional guidance about the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance for Tennesseans.

News from Project SEARCH at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital

I talked with Brandon Pflug, who leads the VUMC Project SEARCH, about how the pandemic has affected his program. He said the in-person classes and on-site work rotations that interns normally take part in have been suspended, but he and his team are still connecting with the interns through phone calls, ZOOM videoconferencing and email to help them find employment.

Brandon also told me that two individuals who had graduated from the Nashville Amerigroup Project SEARCH program, Rashad Ward and Symphanie Parker, have been hired to serve as job coaches for the VUMC program.

“Who better to help our interns learn the necessary jobs skills than people who have been through a similar program and are peers,” Brandon said.

Brandon said Project SEARCH at VUMC is still recruiting for its August group of interns, and they are hoping to have as many 12 individuals join the program. If you are interested in learning more about the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital Project SEARCH site, please contact Brandon at

How Has the Coronavirus and Resulting Fallout Affected You?

Have you or a loved one been laid off? Are you feeling the financial pinch? Are you tired of being cooped up at home? What information or resources do you need now? If you have a story to share, please email me at I will try to answer questions and share concerns in a future post.

Like all my colleagues here at the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center, we’re mostly working remotely and want to make sure that we’re providing you with information and resources that are helpful during this time. The team at Tennessee Disability Pathfinder continues to compile the most up-to-date disability-related information at Pathfinder and continues answering calls and emails. TRIAD  is sharing a series of webinars and trainings for individuals on the autism spectrum and their families. At the IDD Toolkit, I’ve compiled a list of resources to help health care providers and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities deal with the coronavirus and related issues. Transition Tennessee is sharing multiple resources for educators and families.

Thanks for reading! Wash your hands, keep your distance and use the necessary precautions. I hope everyone stays safe and well!

Janet Shouse smilingJanet Shouse is a parent of a young adult with autism, and she is passionate about inclusion, employment of people with disabilities, medical issues related to developmental disabilities, supports and services, public policy, legislative initiatives, advocacy, and the intersection of faith and disability. She wears many hats at the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center, including one as a disability employment specialist for TennesseeWorks.

April 7, 2020

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