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Updated: Even more of your Texas unemployment questions answered

Have you been having trouble reaching the Texas Workforce Commission? Wondering if you qualify for unemployment? We got answers to the questions you've been asking.

Updated at 8:30 p.m. with more information about Zoom.

I've received so many questions from people on a variety of money-related topics, I went out to find answers for you.

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted numerous companies and lives, but there are resources available. 

Scroll through for a comprehensive look at job resources, key information about applying for unemployment, and what you need to know about Zoom meetings and your privacy.

More jobs resources

Recently, we talked about our jobs list at WFAA.com.

Here are some more resources:

monster.com has a list of part-time jobs available right now.

Careerbuilder.com has a filter at the top of the page to allow you search “work from home jobs”.

And the Dallas Regional Chamber has launched sayyestodallas.com to connect displaced workers to jobs. ­

Filing for unemployment with TWC

Unlike so many of you, I was able to get through to the Texas Workforce Commission! Their phones and website have been blowing up. They told me in one 24-hour period they had 1.5 million calls. 

And I told you recently to try filing on the website at 3 a.m. when no one else is on. TWC confirmed the best times to file online are between 1 and 6 a.m. 

They say it takes about seven minutes to apply, and you only need your social security number and home address. 

An individual may apply for benefits or check the status of their existing claim online at ui.texasworkforce.org any time 24/7. If they do not have internet access, they may call 1-800-939-6631 M-F 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. CST and Saturday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. CST.

Here are answers from TWC to more of the questions you have been asking:

1. Have you all increased call capacity and/or internet capacity since TWC began to be flooded with requests weeks ago? And are you adding more capacity going forward? What other changes have you made to increase your ability to meet demand?

TWC has over 1,000 staff helping support unemployment insurance services, and has upgraded and expanded telephone infrastructure and website capacity.  

The commission is actively hiring emergency hires and receiving volunteers from other TWC departments and external partners. Hardware upgrades have been made to TWC’s Benefits System, and TWC is working to add two third-party call centers to help take claims. Artificial intelligence-enabled chatbot has been added to the TWC homepage to provide answers to UI (unemployment insurance) questions 24/7. 

  • 100 emergency staff hired to work call centers. We are also working to hire more staff to take unemployment claims in each of its unemployment benefits call centers. 
  • 200 staff transferred from other departments to help take claims.
  • 250 additional staff being transferred over this week.
  • 2 third party vendors being added soon to help take claims.  
  • Artificial intelligence chat bot added to TWC website (already helped 43,817 folks and has answered 98,065 messages)

2. Many people have been struggling to get through. What kind of volume has the Texas Workforce Commission been dealing with and how does that compare to normal -- or to previous high-volume numbers?

In the last 19 days, the Texas Workforce Commission has helped over half a million people file for unemployment benefits, and if we continue at this pace, we are on track to help the same number of Texans that filed for all of 2019 in just a little over a month’s time, which is over 700,000 claims.

Prior to COVID-19, the average number of calls into the Texas Workforce Commission was around 13,000 and the record number of calls in a day was 60,000. Last week, over 1.7 million calls were made to our 800 numbers in a 24-hour period. That number does not reflect the number of people applying for unemployment benefits, but the number of times people are calling.

3. What is the average wait time to get through? Is there a better time to call or go online?

The best way to apply is online at ui.texasworkforce.org. The least amount of traffic online is from 1 to 6 a.m. It only takes about seven minutes to apply online, and you only need your social security number and home address.

If you do not have internet access, you can call 1-800-939-6631 Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. CST and Saturday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. CST. 

4. Are benefits still taking about four weeks from the time of application to actually arrive to applicants? Or has that increased as the volume of people seeking help has increased?

On average, it takes about 21 days for a person to receive benefits from the time they apply and qualify. Some people receive benefits sooner and for some it might take a little more time.

5. Timeline for when you may reach out to the people getting error messages about their pins.

TWC is working to resolve issues that some people are having with PIN numbers.

In response to a high number of PIN retrieval requests, TWC updated our PIN retrieval policy. PINs created prior to 2015 have been removed from the system effective March 22, 2020. Individuals needing to retrieve a PIN that was created prior to 2015 are asked to please login again online and reset their PIN. 

Please note, claimants who meet these requirements but have an overpayment will still need to call to retrieve their PIN.

If an individual has never filed for unemployment before, they do not need to reset a PIN or establish a PIN before filing a claim online. The PIN set up will occur during the claims filing process. 

If the individual tried to file online but got a message saying their PIN and SSN is not a valid combination, they get 3 chances to enter the correct PIN. 

If they receive a message that they are revoked, they will be advised to call the PIN reset department (number is displayed on the page to call). At this time, that is their only option.

For any other scenarios where their PIN is revoked, their only option is for the PIN to be reset. However, we are pulling a list of individuals whose PIN is currently revoked and we will be resetting their pins and reaching out to them to let them know their pins have been reset.

Instruction for setting up and resetting TWC PIN numbers

Once you apply for unemployment benefits, you should set up a Personal Identification Number (PIN) if you have not already done so.

Call our automated phone system, Tele-Serv, at 800-558-8321. Select Option 4. Enter your Social Security number (SSN), confirm your SSN, then enter your chosen four-digit PIN, and confirm your PIN. Wait for the message “Your new PIN has been accepted.”

Resetting Your PIN

If you revoke your PIN and you are eligible for self-serv reset, on the same call you may be able to reset your PIN on Tele-Serv by providing personal information from your claim, such as:

· Date of birth

· Texas driver license or ID number

· Telephone number

· Amount of your last benefit payment

· Part of your bank/credit union account number

If you hang up from Tele-Serv, you will be unable to reset your PIN. Tele-Center staff are pulling reports of customers who have revoked their PIN and reaching out to them to verify their identify and reset their PIN. 

6. Some who have been trying for more than a week to get through are wondering whether their benefits will be backdated, or if they won’t accrue until they get through and apply?

TWC understands their internet system and phone lines are overwhelmed. 

The governor declared the COVID-19 pandemic a disaster March 13, 2020. Therefore, we can backdate a claim to the prior Sunday, which is March 8, 2020, if an individual was unemployed and has been trying to file but has not yet been successful. 

If the individual became unemployed subsequent to March 13, 2020, and has been attempting file but not yet successful then their claim will be effective the Sunday prior to the date they were separated from work.

7. A lot of people have asked if self-employed, contractors, of gig workers are now eligible for benefits. Would these people file under disaster assistance? And if so, is that already set up? I saw that it was included in the stimulus bill.

If you are self-employed, a contract worker or previously worked in a position that did not report wages, you may qualify for unemployment.

If you applied for unemployment benefits but lacked the necessary wages to qualify, no action is needed. We will determine if you qualify under the new stimulus bill and notify you by mail or electronic correspondence of your eligibility. 

We are upgrading our system to adapt to the new legislation. If you attempt to access the system or call prior to receiving notification, we will not be able to assist you.

An individual may apply for benefits or check the status of their existing claim online at ui.texasworkforce.org 24/7, which allows us to more quickly handle their claim needs. If you don't have internet access, you may call 1-800-939-6631 Monday to Friday 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. CST and Saturday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. CST.

8. Are food service workers, such as waitresses and bartenders, able to file for unemployment?

Employers should be reporting tips as wages to TWC, which increases potential for benefit amounts. You can estimate your potential benefit amount on the TWC website. The answer to this question will vary from person to person.

RELATED: Unemployment Benefits Estimator

9. Can small business owners qualify for unemployment assistance? If so, should they apply through Disaster Assistance? 

If you are self-employed, a contract worker or previously worked in a position that did not report wages, you may qualify for unemployment!

If you applied for unemployment benefits but lacked the necessary wages to qualify, no action is needed. We will determine if you qualify under the new stimulus bill and notify you by mail or electronic correspondence of your eligibility. We are upgrading our system to adapt to the new legislation. 

If you attempt to access the system or call prior to receiving notification, we will not be able to assist you.

10. I have also heard from a number of people who wonder if they can file for unemployment if they have already received their maximum benefit but can’t find work because of the current situation. Can they re-file for the expanded number of weeks provided for under the stimulus bill? If so, do they use their old login or start all over? And is there a cutoff depending on the last time they received benefits?

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation began on March 29, 2020 and ends July 25, 2020.

The maximum amount of Texas unemployment insurance is 26 weeks. For people that qualify, the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance can extend benefits to a maximum of 39 weeks.

Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) is 13 weeks.

If you recently exhausted Texas unemployment benefits, no action is needed from you. We will determine if you qualify and notify you by mail or electronic correspondence of your eligibility. We are upgrading our system to adapt to the new legislation. If you attempt to access the system or call prior to receiving notification, we will not be able to assist you.

11. Do people have to apply separately for the federal supplemental unemployment?

People that qualify for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation are eligible to receive $600 per week in addition to the persons regular unemployment compensation for people who are eligible for REGULAR state UI Benefits.

TWC is taking action to implement the new law and working with the Department of Labor to implement the act while continuing to work tirelessly to process unemployment insurance claims caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

If you are already signed up and qualified for Texas unemployment benefits, no action is needed from you. We will determine if you qualify and notify you by mail or electronic correspondence of your eligibility.

12. When might we see the rules kick in for the federal unemployment match? What is the timeline for when people can apply under disaster assistance?

TWC is taking action to implement the new law and working with the Department of Labor to implement the act while continuing to process unemployment insurance claims caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. 

We are upgrading our system to adapt to the new legislation.

If you recently exhausted benefits, no action is needed from you. We will determine if you qualify and notify you by mail or electronic correspondence of your eligibility.

If you applied for benefits and were monetarily ineligible, again, no action is needed from you. We will determine if you qualify and notify you by mail or electronic correspondence of your eligibility.

13. If your hours or pay is cut but you are still employed are you eligible for benefits? Can part-time employees who have lost their jobs qualify for benefits? Can workers who are dependents (like high school age) qualify for benefits if they have lost a job?

If someone has not been laid off, but has reduced hours or no hours because of COVID-19, they may qualify for unemployment insurance. The same is true of part-time employees who have lost their jobs or workers who are dependents.

TWC evaluates your unemployment benefits claim based on:

Past Wages

Your past wages are one of the eligibility requirements and the basis of your potential unemployment benefit amounts. We use the taxable wages, earned in Texas, your employer(s) have reported paying you during your base period to calculate your benefits. If you worked in more than one state, see: If You Earned Wages in More than One State.

Types of Job Separation

To be eligible for benefits based on your job separation, you must be either unemployed or working reduced hours through no fault of your own. Examples include layoff, reduction in hours or wages not related to misconduct, being fired for reasons other than misconduct, or quitting with good cause related to work.

Ongoing Eligibility Requirements

In addition to the past wages and job separation eligibility requirements, there are requirements you must continue to meet to stay eligible. See: Ongoing Eligibility Requirements for Receiving Unemployment Benefits.

You must meet all requirements in each of these three areas to qualify for unemployment benefits.

14. If someone receives a ‘not qualified’ message because they don’t work enough hours, but they work 40+ hours per week, how can they have that looked at again? 

Unemployment benefit eligibility is based on past wages, job separation and ongoing eligibility requirements. 

Before April 5 of this year, past wages are calculated on a base period of October 2018 to September 2019. However, starting on April 5, 2020, the base period changes to January to December 2019. 

If you were previously denied unemployment benefits due to monetary ineligibility and worked during the new 2019 base period, TWC encourages you to visit the unemployment benefit services portal on April 5 to reapply online.

You can also find information on how to appeal a denied claim here.

15. If someone previously collected benefits while laid off, and now they have been laid off again and are getting a message to call, do they have to wait to reach TWC by phone or can they take action online?

If they applied online and were asked to call, it may be because of a discrepancy that must be clarified over the phone.

16. People who have old TWC accounts for former unemployment claims have asked whether it would be easier if they just set up a new account

If they already have an account, they need to use it. If they tried to create a new account, it would appear as if someone else was using their social security number and would be denied.

17. What does someone do if they get a message that their claim was on hold and to call 877.892.3024 to resolve issue…but they call and can’t get through?

They will need to call unemployment insurance at 1-800-939-6631. 

18. What if someone is asked to pick an employer from drop down and has to select 'not listed.' But when they type in the name of the employer, they get an error message saying it cannot be accepted?

They will need to call unemployment insurance at 1-800-939-6631.

19. What does someone do if they are told their social security number is not associated with their username?

They will need to call unemployment insurance at 1-800-939-6631.

Zoom Meetings: privacy and security

Next topic: Have you been in a Zoom meeting lately? Probably. 

The company that’s been connecting gobs of people in video calls is now being sued. A user has filed a class-action lawsuit against Zoom for allegedly passing on data to third parties, like Facebook, without properly notifying users. 

WFAA has reached out to Zoom for comment about the lawsuit. In a March 27 blog post from Zoom founder Eric Yuan, the company acknowledged the problem:

"Our customers’ privacy is incredibly important to us, and therefore we decided to remove the Facebook SDK in our iOS client and have reconfigured the feature so that users will still be able to log in with Facebook via their browser. Users will need to update to the latest version of our application that’s already available at 2:30 p.m. Pacific time on Friday, March 27, 2020, in order for these changes to take hold, and we strongly encourage them to do so."

As that goes through the courts, you should know you can opt-out of your info being shared. You start by going to your settings. Once there, click “About."

Credit: WFAA

Then select “Privacy Policy”

Credit: WFAA

Scroll all the way down to the bottom and you should see the button to “Opt-Out” of making portions of your information available to third parties.

Credit: WFAA

Unrelated note: Also down in those policies is a notice that if your meeting host has activated “attention tracking,” they will know when they are sharing a screen with you if you are actually in a different window for more than 30 seconds. 

Though, I tried catching someone paying attention to a different window and the attention tracking feature didn’t work for me. But  beware-- in case your boss is keeping close tabs right now as so many people are working remotely.

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