As restaurants and other retailers begin reopening, the number of weekly certification claims for unemployment has gone down.

Chris Cannon, Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development Communications Division assistant administrator, said the downward trend is a good sign.

Weekly certification claims allow workers to certify for the next week to be eligible to receive benefits.

“We saw a peak in that number back for the week ending May 9 at 325,000 continued claims,” Cannon said. “For this last week, June 27, that number was down to 262,000. So we’re definitely seeing that downward trend of fewer people collecting unemployment benefits or continuing their claims to collect unemployment benefits, which is a good indicator that people are getting back to work.”

New claims have risen in the last two weeks despite the fall in weekly certifications, he said.

“We hit a low of 19,000 new claims filed for the week ending June 13, but we’ve added approximately 1,100 new claims to that total each week, so we’re still seeing 22,000 new claims come in each week, and that’s unprecedented,” Cannon said.

The week ending March 14 saw 2,700 new claims filed, which Cannon reports as a typical number in a normal week. The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development is still seeing three months of new claims filed each week.

“We’re actually seeing an uptick in calls in the last few days, but it is much less than it was before,” he said. “So people are getting through. We have started a live chat. We also have voicemails people can use now, so we’ve added additional communication lines that folks can get through.”

Cannon said unemployment offices stay open during holiday weekends, so that could be a good time to call since call volume should be lower.

“But getting someone to actually look at your claim to possibly find out what the latest on your claim is,” Cannon said. “We understand that’s still difficult. We’re adding more call center agents, and we’re trying to ramp those up continuously even to this day because we know we still have to provide that customer service and make it available to claimants who have questions about their claims.”

Donna Ingram, owner of Donna’s Diner in Lenoir City, said she didn’t let anyone go during closures because she only has two employees plus herself.

Larger restaurants like Aubrey’s in Lenoir City had a harder time when general managers like Bradley Westenhaver had to lay off practically the whole staff.

“It was difficult,” Westenhaver said. “You know, initially when all this happened, we had to lay off all but a skeleton crew, because we were so limited with what we were able to do with carry out. A lot of the people that work in this restaurant have worked here for years. So it was definitely difficult. Now at this point, we have brought everybody back, but it was a slow process.”

Westenhaver said at first he thought layoffs would last for two weeks. All of the staff is now back at the restaurant.

“We brought everyone back in phases, because once we were able to have people in the building, we obviously had to have servers and little things you don’t think about,” he said. “We didn’t necessarily need the dishwasher when we were doing to-gos. So as business increased, we kind of got a hold on what we needed and brought people back accordingly.”