The unemployment numbers are coming down, but they’re still bad. Another 141,672 Texans filed for jobless benefits last week.
In two months, just under 2 million unemployment claims have been filed in Texas.
But many jobs that might have been lost were saved this year because of the Shared Work Program. Around 1,500 Texas employers, with a combined 55,000 workers, have participated in the arrangement that allows businesses to cut employee hours by 10 to 40%.
The Texas Workforce Commission then supplements the income that employees lose from the reduction in hours.
Possible exemptions when work search requirements are reinstated
Since the pandemic has caused such tremendous job losses and shuttered much of the economy, the TWC has been waiving the usual requirement that people receiving unemployment search for new jobs.
Recently, the head of the agency indicated that work search requirement could be reinstated once many Texas businesses are allowed to open to 50% capacity. That could come as early as the week of May 18.
The TWC assures it will give beneficiaries at least two weeks of notice before enforcing the job search rule again.
Many people who have been temporarily laid off or furloughed have expressed concern about having to conduct job searches when they already have a job.
TWC Spokesman Cisco Gamez says when the work search rule is reinstated, the agency will allow exceptions.
Gamez said they're still working out the details, but prior to COVID-19 people who had a definite date for returning to work were exempt from the work search requirement.
About those additional 13 weeks of unemployment benefits
Many Texans have received letters and emails that they may be eligible for an extended 13 weeks of unemployment benefits provided for under the recent CARES Act.
Those are benefits go beyond the traditional 26 weeks of unemployment offered in Texas. The payments can include 13 weeks of state benefits and the additional $600 weekly federal unemployment benefit, if any of those 13 weeks include the period between the first week of April and the end of July.
Some people could still receive a letter or email in the days ahead.
For those whose 26 weeks of benefits have not yet been exhausted, Gamez says TWC is moving to a more “seamless" transition, to start the additional 13 weeks of payments without a delay.
Gamez says the agency will contact you if you are eligible for the extended benefits.
Issues for '1099 employees'
Many self-employed, contract and gig employees who are newly eligible for unemployment benefits because of the pandemic have been asked to provide TWC documentation of their wages.
Some of these so-called ‘1099 workers’ have complained that they sent in the requested documents but haven’t heard back or noticed any adjustments to the base state benefit amount of $207 per week.
Gamez says the agency has been receiving a lot of paperwork and that they “need time to review those tax documents.” That comes as little comfort to many who have been anxiously waiting.
But Gamez has a note of caution for some who may be sending in paperwork unnecessarily.
“If you earned less than $20,800 in 2019 there is really no need for you to send in a tax form, because you won’t be receiving more than that $207 base,” he said.
As for those who do qualify for additional money, but haven’t yet received it, increases will be backdated.
“We will adjust those weekly benefit amounts…and moving forward once it increases you will be notified, and we will backdate (with the extra pay) any of those payments that were sent out previously,” said Gamez.
Getting through (or not) to TWC by phone
Despite the fact that the Texas Workforce Commission has added call centers and call takers, and has expanded its hours to 7 days a week from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., getting through by phone has continued to be an epic struggle.
Everything is relative, but that struggle is getting better.
In April, TWC had two weeks where calls spiked to 16 million each week. Many of those were repeat calls by the many people who kept encountering a busy signal.
Last week, that call volume had dropped by half, to about 8 million calls. That situation is improving but getting through to the more than 1,000 call takers can still be a time-consuming and frustrating ordeal.
More Right on the Money:
- Dallas-based accounting firm CEO offers advice on PPP loans
- How a Dallas company is helping the PPE fight
- If you sent in a paper tax return, it might take longer to get a refund
- How to get up to 13 more weeks of benefits from the Texas Workforce Commission
- How online ordering has saved Dickey's Barbecue Pit