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'You should not have to worry': Texas Workforce Commission explains issues with unemployment process

Unemployment benefit claims have increased by 5,000% in less than a month's time. The Texas Workforce Commission is making changes to help the process go smoother.

Many people in North Texas aren't able to work or are completely out of a job because of the way COVID-19 has changed the workplace model.

The Texas Workforce Commission is also having to adjust the way its employees are handling unemployment benefits due to a rise in claims.

Last week, there were 150,000 unemployment claims from Texans, according to Executive Director Ed Serna. The week before, there were 9,000 claims. Then the week before that, there were 3,000 claims. 

That is a 5,000% increase in less than a month's time.

"We know that it is very frustrating, and it is also at times very scary for individuals who have been let go from work," Serna said.

Wednesday afternoon, Serna talked in a live video on the Texas Workforce Commission's Facebook page. He said the department's system has struggled to handle the number of claims recently, which is why the department has added server capacity to its internal computers.

His team is also working with AT&T to increase the number of calls employees can take at one time. Serna is asking people to try getting online or calling at a different time of the day if there are delays.

"Talking about improvements in days, not in weeks or in months, as is typical with state government," Serna said.

Many people online asked Serna if the mandated 26-week period of benefits would be extended.

Serna said The Texas Workforce Commission doesn't have the ability to do that, as it is something that would come from Washington D.C.

"That's going to take some addition declarations from the federal government," Serna said.

There are some requirements that have changed to make the process easier.

The Texas Workforce Commission has eliminated a work search requirement along with the one-week waiting period. Any debt owed from past unemployment benefits will not be deducted from new benefits. 

"Your benefits start with the time that you get the application finalized, not the time that you finally talk to somebody to get your application in," Serna said.

Workers who receive tips will have that income included if the Texas Workforce Commission is determining the range the person qualifies for.

RELATED: How to file for unemployment during the coronavirus pandemic

Serna said there will not be issues with the amount of money his department needs for the increase in claims and potential people getting unemployment benefits.

If the department needs to, Serna said it will seek additional funding from the federal government.

"You should not have to worry," Serna said. "The individuals that need help will get the help that they need."

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