Tennessee hopes to help businesses and workers struggling in the wake of the COVID-19 virus spread, with increased personnel to handle a surge in jobless claims and announcement of disaster loan assistance for small businesses.

Gov. Bill Lee announced Friday small businesses and nonprofit organizations suffering economic injury due to the COVID-19 virus could apply for up to $2 million to meet financial obligations and operating expenses during the ongoing pandemic. 

“I applaud the efforts of the [U.S. Small Business Administration] in swiftly processing and approving Tennessee’s request for economic injury disaster loan assistance,” Lee said in a statement. “Small businesses and nonprofits across the state are suffering greatly in the wake of this pandemic, and these loans will help overcome the temporary loss of revenue companies are experiencing during this difficult time.”

The loans are administered and processed by the SBA, and applicants may apply online at sba.gov/disaster. Applicants may also call SBA’s Customer Service Center at 800-659-2955 or email disastercustomerservice@sba.gov for more information.

Interest rates are 3.75% for small businesses and 2.75% for nonprofit organizations. The funds may be used to pay fixed debts, payroll, accounts payable or other bills. Terms can be up to a maximum of 30 years, determined on a case-by-case basis. 

More than 94% of Tennessee’s private sector businesses have 50 or fewer employees. This represents 151,000 businesses that employ more than 1 million Tennesseans. 

“We have been in contact with business and community leaders across the state who are concerned about the toll COVID-19 is placing on their businesses and workforce,” said Bob Rolfe, Tennessee commissioner of Economic and Community Development. “We are pleased to see that these loans will act as a source of relief for so many of Tennessee’s small businesses in the months ahead.”

The SBA also announced Monday it would defer existing disaster loan payments through the end of 2020. 

 

The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development announced last week it would devote more resources to processing an increasing number of unemployment claims in the state. 

“As a department, we are shifting resources to align with our greatest need,” said TDLWD Commissioner Jeff McCord. “The changes we are making will go a long way in keeping up with the demand created.”

The Chattanooga Times Free Press reported last week the state saw more than 6,000 new unemployment claims between March 8-17, compared to 2,000 claims from March 1-8.

American Job Centers have extended their customer service hours from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, but centers are offering only limited access to the public at this time, conducting most business via phone and the internet.

The majority of employees processing claims will be able to work from home.

The department has also provided updated information for employers and workers at www.tn.gov/workforce to provide easy access to frequently asked questions. Employers can find information on how to complete lists from mass layoffs, which help the department process unemployment claims faster. 

Employees can learn more about benefits and apple for unemployment benefits at www.Jobs4TN.gov. 

Benefits depend on several factors and eligibility. The maximum weekly unemployment benefit in Tennessee is $275, and the benefits are subject to federal taxes.