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Erik Schelzig

Editor, The Tennessee Journal

State launches $180M public-private pilot program for welfare services

The state Capitol on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The state Human Services Department is accepting applications for its Tennessee Opportunity Pilot Initiative that will invest $180 million in public-private partnerships developing programs to move vulnerable Tennesseans toward self-sufficiency.

The program is part of the TANF Opportunity Act passed this year.

Here is the Human Services release:

NASHVILLE – With the launch of the Tennessee Opportunity Pilot Initiative the Tennessee Department of Human Services (TDHS) is taking a groundbreaking step to transform the way Tennessee serves its most vulnerable families. Over the next four years, this initiative will provide up to $5 million in Planning Grants and $175 million in Implementation Grants to further the Department’s vision of fundamentally changing the way government assistance is delivered to families in Tennessee.

This first phase will award Planning Grants of up to $500,000 each to public-private partnerships dedicated to developing innovative strategies that will move Tennesseans with economic, social, and developmental vulnerabilities beyond their current circumstances and on to self-sufficiency. With the Tennessee Opportunity Pilot Initiative, we have an unprecedented opportunity to create a new vision of government support. This new vision will shift the focus from the quantity of benefits, goods, and services provided to the quality of life for those served. TDHS invites Tennessee-based collaborative groups – large and small – that fall into one of the following categories to apply:

— Tennessee Nonprofit organizations

Development Districts (city/county economic planning organizations)

— Local government agencies (political subdivisions)

— Human Resource agencies created pursuant to the Human Resource Agency Act of 1973

Planning Grants will provide the resources needed for grantees to develop their vision, overall design, budget, and other important aspects required for their Tennessee Opportunity Pilot Implementation Grant proposals. Planning Grant applications must be submitted online no later than Friday, October 15, 2021 at 5PM CST. Next spring the Families First Community Advisory Board will select the 6 Pilot Program grantees (2 in each grand division) to receive up to $25 million in Implementation Grants over a three-year period. TDHS will also operate a pilot. Collaborative groups must be selected for a Planning Grant to be eligible for the larger Implementation Grants.

“The Tennessee Opportunity Pilot Initiative Planning Grants offer an entry point for public- private groups to work together to form new ways of helping our citizens grow beyond life’s current challenges,” said TDHS Commissioner Clarence H. Carter. “We are putting an important stake in the ground for how Tennessee addresses our vulnerable citizens. To make this vision a reality, we need partnerships from across all regions and sectors of Tennessee – partners committed to transforming the lives of those in need so that dependence on government support is a mile marker in their life’s journey, not a destination unto itself.”

More information on application requirements, including applicant eligibility, can be found in the 2021 Tennessee Opportunity Pilot Program Planning Grant Application Guide.

Funding for the Tennessee Opportunity Pilot Initiative is provided through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. TANF is a federally funded program that emphasizes work, family strengthening, and personal responsibility to empower families for long- term success.

The Tennessee Department of Human Services is dedicated to making our state a place where all Tennesseans can move beyond the barriers they may face, to self-sufficiency, and on to new heights.

Vital wins 80% of vote in special election to succeed Carter

Republican businessman Greg Vital won 80% of the vote in the special election to serve out the term of the late state Rep. Mike Carter (R-Ooltewah). Democrat DeAngelo Jelks’ bid was rocked by an 11-hour rape allegation made against him by a woman who had worked with the campaign.

Jelks resigned from his leadership position with the Hamilton County Democratic Party, but denied the rape allegation. Jelks said he had been involved in an extramarital affair, but stressed the relationship had been consensual.

Amazon to hire 6,600 in Tennessee

Amazon announced plans to hire 6,600 full- and part-time workers in Tennessee. That’s on top of the 25,000 jobs the online retailer has created in the state since 2010.

Here’s the release from Amazon:

NASHVILLE – Amazon continues to provide opportunities for full-time and part-time jobs in logistics as it expands its footprint to better serve customers in communities where they live. Today the company announced that it is providing an additional 6,600 local employment opportunities throughout Tennessee on top of the 40,000 corporate and technology jobs recently announced. The roles in fulfillment and transportation offer an average starting wage of more than $18 per hour—and up to $22.50 per hour in some locations. The company also provides full-time employees comprehensive benefits from day one, worth an additional $3.50 per hour. They include health, vision, and dental insurance, 401(k) with 50% company match, up to 20 weeks paid parental leave, and Amazon’s Career Choice program, in which the company will pay full college tuition for its front-line employees as part of $1.2 billion investment to expand education and skills training benefits for its U.S. workforce.

“Before Amazon, I was at a car wash making nine dollars an hour. Then I came to Amazon and I started earning $15 an hour—it was life changing for me,” said Leonardo C, an operations employee at an Amazon fulfillment center in Miami. “This is the first time in my life that I’ve had dental insurance, visual insurance, life insurance. And now that I have it here, I feel really good.”

Hiring for the new roles is already underway. Interested candidates can visit www.amazon.com/apply to learn more and apply.

Tennessee is home to more than 30 Amazon facilities – from delivery stations to a book store. These are investments that can unlock opportunity, helping to revitalize cities and neighborhoods. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Amazon has hired over 450,000 people in the U.S., and one-in-10 hourly employees who have been with the company six months or longer have been promoted. Amazon is now the largest job creator in the U.S. and was recently named by LinkedIn as the No. 1 company where Americans want to work and develop their careers.

“We are proud to offer opportunities for people from a range of backgrounds, from furloughed workers to former military personnel,” said Dave Clark, CEO Worldwide Consumer at Amazon. “We take our responsibility as an employer seriously and want our employees to succeed and thrive. That’s why we offer an average starting wage of over $18 per hour, provide a great range of comprehensive benefits—including health care coverage, parental leave, career training, and ways to save for the future—and have a team of thousands working to build a safe and inclusive work environment. Whether you’re looking for a short-term job to make money for the holidays or a long-term career, you’re welcome here, and we look forward to having you on our team.”

Jobs are available across the state. Interested candidates can see all the regions with open positions at www.amazon.com/apply.

In addition to hiring employees for its operations, Amazon is also supporting the growth of small and medium-sized businesses and helping to create tens of thousands of additional jobs, including many in Tennessee. Amazon works with more than 2,500 Delivery Service Partners, enabling these aspiring entrepreneurs to build their own delivery companies by leveraging Amazon’s experience in operations and logistics. These partners plan to hire more than 50,000 delivery associates by the end of the year. Interested applicants can find out more information here.

To help job seekers around the country, Amazon is hosting a Career Day—America’s biggest recruiting event—on September 15. The free virtual event will offer 20,000 individual career-coaching sessions with Amazon recruiters to help participants land their next job, as well as thousands of additional sessions for Amazon employees looking to transition to higher-paying roles within the company or elsewhere. Attendees will have access to personalized career coaching, insights, advice, and learning opportunities from Amazon CEO Andy Jassy and industry-leading experts, and tactical training through coding workshops and breakout sessions. The event is open to all, regardless of their level of experience, professional field, or background. Register for free here.

Democratic nominee for open state House seat accused of rape (UPDATED)

DeAngelo Jelks, the Democratic nominee to fill an open state House seat in Hamilton County, has been accused of rape during his campaign, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports.

Jelks, 40, resigned as vice chair of the Hamilton County Democratic Party after a rape report was filed with the Chattanooga Police Department on Sunday. Jelks declined to comment when the newspaper visited his home on Monday.

UPDATE: Jelks admitted to having an affair, but denied the rape allegation, the newspaper reports, calling it “a consensual yet inappropriate relationship.”

City Council member Demetrus Coonrod said she was contacted by the alleged victim last week. Coonrod said she did not previously know the woman who had worked with Jelks during the campaign.

“I told her the only real way we can do anything is if she comes forward and goes to the police,” Coonrod told the paper. “So she went Sunday and met with a detective at the Family Justice Center and got a DNA swab.”

The election to serve the remainder of the term of the late Rep. Mike Carter (R-Ooltewah) is Tuesday. Jelks was unopposed in the Democratic primary, as was the Republican nominee Greg Vital.

Jury seated in Democratic Sen. Robinson’s fraud trial

Katrina Robinson (Image credit: Tennessee General Assemlby)

A jury has been seated in the federal fraud trial of state Sen. Katrina Robinson. The Memphis Democrat is charged with spending more than $600,000 in federal grant money meant for her nursing school on personal expenses.

Opening statements are expected to take place on Tuesday. The trial could last more than three weeks.

Students at Robinson’s Healthcare Institute gathered outside the courthouse.

“We’re here to support her. She’s been nothing but great and amazing and we’re just going to support her,” Jennifer Taylor told WREG-TV. “But to be here together, standing for her, I’m very proud and very honored to be a part of the Healthcare Institute.”

The judge last week denied prosecutors’ motion to move the trial to Jackson or to bring in a jury pool from outside Shelby County.

Robinson, who was elected to the Senate in 2018, has pleaded not guilty.

New TNJ edition alert: Durham attorney targets Registry, committee changes in House

The state Capitol on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

In this week’s print edition of The Tennessee Journal:

— Registry on trial? Durham lawyer blames ‘scorched-earth’ treatment for record fine.

— House holds redistricting meeting, but big decisions remain a ways off.

— Lawmaker no longer on House Government Operations after diatribes over COVID-19 policies.

— House GOP lands big haul at caucus fundraiser.

Also: Katrina Robinson’s federal fraud trial gets underway next week, Gov. Bill Lee says he is vaccinated and acting like it, U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper ruminates on the passage of time in the General Assembly, and the return of Chick-fil-A at the Tennessee Tower has Capitol denizens rejoicing.

Access the your copy of the TNJ here or subscribe here.

Tennessee launches updated unclaimed property portal

The state Department of Treasury has updated its online search portal for unclaimed or missing money in Tennessee. We went through the motions and found out we had $27 with our name on it lying around somewhere. We’re told the check is now in the mail.

Here’s the full release from Treasurer David Lillard’s office:

The Tennessee Department of Treasury Unclaimed Property Division has launched exciting enhancements to ClaimItTN.gov, the online portal where anyone can search and claim missing money they may have in Tennessee. As of June 30, 2021, there is $1.2 billion waiting to be claimed.

The Unclaimed Property Division is a consumer protection program of the Tennessee Department of Treasury that works to reunite the millions of missing dollars turned over every year with its rightful owners. Treasury estimates that one in six Tennesseans could have missing money.

ClaimItTN.gov is now mobile-friendly, improving online searches for unclaimed property in Tennessee on any internet device. The claims process has also been streamlined, including enhanced communications within the portal. Claimants can now file multiple properties on a single claim, greatly reducing the time it takes to claim and receive property.

In response to a customer service survey sent to each claimant, Tennesseans are praising their claim experience in the new portal.

“I love how the status of each step of the process was self-explanatory. I will definitely refer others to search your website! Thanks!!”

“This was a very easy and pleasant experience. I have told everyone I know about it. Who knew there was lost money out there. Thank you so much!”

“This Unclaimed Property was a total surprise to me. And during this difficult year of the COVID-19 virus, the lockdowns and unfortunate deaths of so many people, this small unexpected ‘gift’ lifted my spirit, and made me smile with gratefulness.”

“It was fast and the staff I spoke with were always helpful and so kind. Thank you for this service; this money was truly needed right now.”

From July 1, 2020, through June 30, 2021, 188,704 properties totaling about $60 million were returned by the Unclaimed Property Division to the owners or their heirs, local governments, and reciprocal states.

“It has been rewarding to see millions of dollars put back into Tennesseans’ bank accounts during such a critical time,” State Treasurer David H. Lillard, Jr. said.

Unclaimed property is money that has been turned over to the State by businesses and organizations unable to locate the owners. This includes intangible assets such as utility or business refunds, unclaimed wages, credit balances for overpayments, gift certificates, securities, bank accounts, etc.

The Treasury Department utilizes various methods to locate owners of unclaimed property, including mailing letters to the address provided when the property was turned over from the business (holder), and sending letters to employers of potential claimants whose Social Security Number has been matched with records from the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development. On average, the Unclaimed Property Division sends hundreds of thousands of letters each year to potential claimants. If you have received a letter, you can verify the information by visiting ClaimItTN.gov.

There is never a fee to claim your missing money in Tennessee, nor is there a timeframe to claim. Anyone can see if they are owed any missing money by searching their name at ClaimItTN.gov, and may file a claim online if they find unclaimed property belonging to them. The online database contains all unclaimed property in Tennessee dating to the beginning of the program. Treasury recommends searching for common misspellings of your name and addresses as well, as that may be why the business was unable to return the money to you initially. Our website also includes a link to help you search for missing money in other states.

Memphis Councilman Smiley announces Democratic bid for governor

JB Smiley Jr. (Image credit: City of Memphis)

Memphis Councilman JB Smiley Jr. is officially joining the 2022 governor’s race in Tennessee. Smiley announced his bid for the Democratic nomination on Wednesday, joining Nashville physician Jason Martin, Greensboro pastor Casey Nicholson, and Memphis activist Carnita Atwater. Republican Gov. Bill Lee has yet to draw a primary opponent for his reelection bid.

Here’s the release from the Smiley campaign:

Memphis, TN — Today, Memphis City Councilman JB Smiley Jr. announced his campaign for Governor at the Orpheum Theatre in Memphis and through the release of a launch video.

Here are excerpts from Democrat JB Smiley’s remarks:

“After dedicating the last several months to listening to Tennesseans across the state, it’s incredibly clear to me that we’re all feeling the discomfort of failed policies and inaction from our Governor. Tennesseans deserve better. Tennesseans demand better. And today I’m excited and humbled to announce I am running for governor to help guide us to a better Tennessee.”

“I truly believe that we are more alike than we are different. I believe that we all want to create more job opportunities for our next generation. We all want equitable access to healthcare – whether you live in an urban community or a rural part of our state. We all want better roads, stronger bridges, reliable internet to connect us to the rest of the world and each other. We all want better for our children, our families, and our future.”

“I decided to run for Governor because right now – we have too many gun shots fired, not enough COVID shots given and too few shots for our young people to reach their potential.”

“As Governor, I’ll reduce crime by investing in robust community policing, and I’ll fund prevention programs focused on those most likely to commit violent crime, because everyone deserves to be safe in their homes and communities.”

“I’ll encourage folks across the state to do right by each-other. That means getting vaccinated. And I’ll ensure Tennesseans have access to health care no matter where they live.“

“And I will prioritize giving our young people a real shot to succeed — with state-of-the-art vocational training in every high school and partnerships with our business leaders to create pathways to the jobs that will help our young people stay here in Tennessee”

“So today I’m announcing my campaign for Governor and I’m inviting all of you to come and go with me to a better Tennessee.”

Background on JB

A native Memphian, JB Smiley Jr. is an attorney and a member of the Memphis City Council. The son of a social worker and a Bronze Star army soldier, JB Smiley, Jr. knows the value of hard work and a healthy, supportive community.

After JB’s collegiate and semi-professional basketball career, he pursued a legal education, and later, a political career. But his life in serving the most vulnerable, started from a young age.

As his father taught him to “never forget the bridge that brought you over,” JB decided to stay in the region to attend college and then law school at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. While in law school, JB served as a member of the Law Review, Moot Court Board, and as Vice President of the Black Law Students Association. JB successfully passed Arkansas and the Tennessee Bar exams, while writing his first book, Born With It: Unleashing Your Greatness.

In 2017, in Memphis, JB started his law practice, Smiley & Associates, PLLC. The following year, JB was named to Memphis Flyer’s Top 20, Under 30 class. During that same year, JB was appointed policy advisor to the Shelby County Clerk and served in such capacity until his election to the Memphis City Council in October. As a council member, JB is Chair of the Public Works, Transportation, and General Services Committee and the council liaison for the Urban Art Commission. On the City Council, JB has delivered for his community, implementing the Memphis Academy of Civic Engagement, the Memphis Police Department Transparency Portal, and amending the Eviction Set Out Ordinance.

In his spare time, JB likes to play basketball, work out, binge watch Netfilix shows, and keep his dog, Mighty Mouse, and his nephew, Bryson Maxwell Smiley, smiling!

Differing court rulings affect mask mandates in East and West Tennessee

Gov. Bill Lee speaks at a press conference in Nashville on Jan. 23, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

A federal judge in Memphis late last week granted a temporary restraining order against the state enforcing Gov. Bill Lee’s executive order allow parents to opt their children out of mask requirements in school.

But the Knoxville Compass reports another federal judge in East Tennessee declined to take the same step in a case filed by parents there. U.S. District Judge Ronnie Greer found the families of three students with disabilities hadn’t presented sufficient evidence of “immediate or irreparable injury or loss” by Knox County School’s refusal to enact a mask mandate.

In the Memphis case, mothers of two children with serious illnesses persuaded U.S. District Judge Sheryl Lipman to issue a restraining order against the opt-out provision after the Shelby County Health Department issued a universal mask requirement.

House redistricting panel to hold first meeting Wednesday

The House Select Committee on Redistricting holds its first meeting on Wednesday.

Anyone wishing to participate in the public comment section of the meeting must register by Tuesday afternoon.

Traditionally each chamber comes up with its own redistricting plan, while the House and Senate combine to draw new congressional maps.

Here’s the agenda:

Select Committee on Redistricting

Wednesday, September 8, 2021 – HHR I – 1:00 PM

Johnson C, Chair; Marsh, Vice-Chair; Camper, Crawford, Faison, Freeman, Hazlewood, Hicks G, Holsclaw, Lamberth, Parkinson, Russell, Vaughan, Whitson, Williams, Windle

I. Call to Order & Introductions

II. Presentation – Doug Himes, Counsel to the Select Committee on
Redistricting

III. House Redistricting Guidelines

IV. Submission of Redistricting Plans

V. Public Comments*

VI. Adjourn