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Will job search requirements be restored as Texas reopens? More questions answered on unemployment benefits

Usually to get jobless benefits you must declare you are actively looking for work. That requirement has been waived during the pandemic.

It is a tale of two economies. 

During trading Thursday, the Nasdaq surged to a point where it had erased all the losses it had suffered since the COVID-19 pandemic began. 

And then, there is that other economy -- the one where over a seven-week period, more than 33 million Americans have lost their jobs. That includes another 247,179 Texans who filed for unemployment last week

Job search requirements coming back soon, as a condition of receiving unemployment benefits? 

Usually to get jobless benefits you must declare you are actively looking for work. That requirement has been waived during the pandemic. But now that the economy is reopening, the Texas Tribune reports the Texas Workforce Commission’s Executive Director, Ed Serna, recently briefed lawmakers and suggested the job search requirement could be reinstated when many businesses are allowed to expand their capacity to 50% in the next phase of reopening. 

Previously, the governor set the earliest date for that 50% occupancy phase for May 18. Cisco Gamez, a spokesman for TWC, assures that bringing back the work search requirement wouldn’t happen that soon. 

RELATED: Texas hair salons, barbershops, nail salons cleared to reopen Friday, Gov. Greg Abbott says 

“If we were going to reinstate the work search there would be plenty of advance notice. For sure at least two weeks advance notice…there would be press releases, there would be social media…we would be talking to you about it and going into more details. But as of right now, we do not have a date or specifics. Any details like that would need to be reviewed by the commissioners and then we would go forward and give out advance notice on all those details," Gamez said. 

WFAA will keep updating this situation.

Important information about the extended 13 weeks of unemployment benefits

Another area that is a source of great interest and confusion is the allowance for the additional 13 weeks of unemployment that was provided for in the CARES Act. Those extra weeks of benefits are available after a recipient exhausts the usual 26 weeks of Texas unemployment benefits.

Earlier this week, TWC began sending out email notices to people in its system who have been identified as possibly eligible for the additional benefits. 

Note: TWC says those people who typically receive correspondence from the agency via email should also be checking their spam folder in case this notice about extended unemployment may have been swept into that folder.

RELATED: Right on the Money: How to get up to 13 more weeks of benefits from the Texas Workforce Commission 

For the benefits recipients who get their correspondence from the TWC via regular mail, the agency says notices about the 13 weeks of extended benefits should start arriving in mailboxes by Saturday, May 9. 

Note: If you received benefits from TWC dating back to July of 2018, the agency recommends you access your account online and look at your profile to make sure your home address is correct and current. 

For the extended 13 weeks of unemployment, the agency is looking at people whose initial unemployment claim goes back to July 8, 2018 all the way to current day. Eligible recipients during that time period who exhausted their traditional 26 weeks of benefits, or are due to exhaust those benefits soon, will receive notice that they may be eligible for the additional 13 weeks. That notice lays out instructions for what to do next.

Important note: Although TWC has started sending emails and letters to Texans who are potentially eligible for the extended 13 weeks of unemployment benefits, the process of notifying everyone in the agency’s system who is eligible could take up to two weeks. Gamez advises anyone who thinks they are eligible for the additional 13 weeks of benefits to call TWC at 800-939-6631 if they have not received notice by about May 17. 

If you are eligible for the additional weeks of unemployment, and you have already exhausted your usual 26 weeks of benefits or you are close to exhausting your usual 26 weeks of benefits, you could receive a state unemployment benefit and the additional federal benefit of $600 per week through the week ending July 25, 2020. 

Anyone who exhausts their usual 26 weeks of unemployment benefits after the week ending July 25, 2020, could still be eligible for the extended 13 weeks of state benefits, but would not be eligible for an additional $600 per week of federal benefits. 

Eligibility for the extended 13 weeks of unemployment benefits will continue for anyone whose benefits are set to be exhausted by December 20, 2020. 

Why does my unemployment account say I get $0 in benefits?

Many applicants are still seeing a “$0 benefits” notification on their accounts. Gamez says this simply means the agency is still reviewing that application. While you can log on to your account and request an appeal about that, Gamez says that could produce a longer delay than just waiting for the review to be completed. Often, he says the agency is still trying to verify with an employer the reason for the separation or the wage amount. 

Also, Gamez says there can be longer waits for people who also earned money in another state or in the military. 

Gamez also notes, “If you are self-employed or an independent contractor, initially your claims will be denied because we don’t have those wages in our system. But then your claim would be converted to PUA (Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, and then we would notify you of your eligibility."

Regardless of your situation, if you are seeing the “$0 benefits” message, Gamez says, “We encourage you to continue to request payment”. 

By doing that, he says you will greatly speed up your payments once your case has been processed.

Why did my benefit payments start the day I filed, instead of the date of my job loss? I thought they were supposed to be retroactive. 

Many Texans have complained that their unemployment payments have been based on the date they were finally able to get through the TWC’s jammed system to file their claims. The agency has assured claimants that their payments were going to be retroactive to when they lost their job or income, if it was after about the first week of March.

Gamez says the TWC is aware of this issue and has recently gone in to add a feature to some account dashboards near the link that users press to request payment every two weeks. He says those accounts that have been adjusted now have a feature that specifically allows the user to request back payments. If a user doesn’t see that feature, Gamez advises to keep looking for it to appear for the next week or two. 

Additionally, he says some users may notice when they go in to their traditional request payment process, those retroactive weeks might automatically start to appear in the weeks ahead. 

If neither of those scenarios takes place, Gamez says users will need to call in to request payments for those backdated weeks. He says the same remedy is necessary for anyone who didn’t get paid for their "waiting week." That is traditionally the first week of your unemployment, when you do not receive benefits. But that has been waived during the pandemic. 

Note: If you did not check the box that your loss of work or wages was due to COVID-19, you did not qualify for the waiting week to be waived. Some have also noted that they have erroneously claimed wages when requesting payment, and that those errors have diminished or erased their benefit for that week. For all these issues, Gamez says the only remedy is to call 800-939-6631. 

I keep calling and can’t get through

Getting through to a human has been a real problem for many callers. Gamez says an additional 500 call takers will soon be brought in. He also suggests the best times to call are when the call centers first open or when they are about to close. And he says weekends are lighter call load days than weekdays. The call centers are open right now seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

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