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How the Texas unemployment agency is now preparing for the next mass job loss

Thanks to federal COVID funding, the Texas unemployment agency will be erasing the $6 billion in debt and refilling its trust fund.

DALLAS — It wasn’t that long ago that we were off the charts. They had to adjust the whole graph to make room for the unprecedented spikes in initial unemployment claims and continued unemployment claims in Texas early in the pandemic. 

Now that the unemployment trend lines have settled back down to their pre-pandemic levels, the state agency credited and criticized for the mass joblessness response during the pandemic is getting back to pre-COVID normal, too.

After record number of unemployment calls, extra call centers wind down

The Texas Workforce Commission was swamped with a record number of phone calls from desperate out-of-work Texans. The agency reports that it logged an astonishing 173 million calls from March 15 to Dec. 31 of 2020. TWC staffed up four extra call centers and still couldn’t keep up with demand. 

Even with the extra centers, TWC reported it had 10,328 call lines, compared to just 1,263 call lines pre-pandemic. Now that the phone has stopped ringing as much, they confirm they have shut down two of those phone banks and reduced staff at the other two. TWC plans to eventually close those as well.

TWC (finally) improving outdated computer systems

Hopefully Texas workers will not go through mass job losses again like we saw in 2020. But if it does happen again, hopefully fewer people will have to call in to TWC about their benefits. 

TWC expects to do a better job of handling claims online than they did in this pandemic. They had just started replacing their terribly outdated computer systems when COVID-19 started wrecking the economy, so they had to stop the transition. 

TWC says earlier this year, they were able to start rebooting that $36 million upgrade. They say the enhancements will:

• Improve customer service and quality

• Reduce costs

• Eliminate manual, error-prone, labor-intensive processes

• Increase data accuracy

• Improve security and privacy

• Enhance system usability including accessibility

• Seamlessly integrate with other internal/external IT assets

• Easily and securely share data

• Improve access to historical data and generate reports

• Reduce maintenance and support time and costs

• Incorporate technical standards (e.g., software development standards, database standards, and user interface standards) and modern technologies.

Thanks to federal COVID money, TWC's billions in debt just got erased

On the subject of big money upgrades, TWC is about to get out of debt. After the agency burned through its pre-pandemic trust fund of about $1.77 billion, it started borrowing billions to keep paying unemployment benefits. The agency was recently $5,930,040,080 in debt. 

But now the state has approved using federal COVID relief money to pay off that debt and on top of that, they will be able to put about $1.27 billion back into TWC trust fund

TWC offering billions in child care assistance

One of the reasons unemployment stayed stubbornly high for so long is that many families lacked child care. That is still a struggle for many working parents.

Many child care providers have struggled as well. In January 2022, TWC will start awarding billions to child care providers. Click here to learn more about that.

Also, for low wage earners in the service industry, TWC has a program that can provide free child care for up to 12 months. Click here for more information about that program.

Want more stories like these? Watch our Right on the Money series during WFAA News at 10 p.m. Check wfaa.com/RightOnTheMoney for the latest segments.