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Texas unemployment claims skyrocketing as furloughed workers seek financial assistance

HOUSTON – For only the second time in his life, 57-year-old Benny Compton of East Bernard is trying to apply for unemployment.

It's not going well.

Compton, a retail manager with 35 years of experience, has been trying to apply for help from the Texas Workforce Commission for three days after he was furloughed from his job Monday.

So far, he hasn't even been able to log into the website to apply.

"You try to go online. You go through the steps and fill out your login... You fill out like three personal questions, and then it just kicks you back out, and it absolutely does nothing," Compton said.

He said he tried calling the state agency instead. He said he called at least 100 times Monday and got nothing but a constant busy signal.

“Nothing but a good busy signal and I’m talking all day,” Compton said.

Texas Workforce Commission is overwhelmed with employment claims since the coronavirus crisis has caused some businesses to shut down operations and lay off staff.

In the last six weeks, more than 725,000 people have applied for unemployment in Texas. That represents more than the total number of people who requested funds in 2019.

Cisco Gamez, who is the TWC, said the agency is working hard to serve everyone as quickly as possible.

"We are working extended hours (and) working on the weekends to try to meet the demand," he said. "We have over a thousand people working in unemployment services right now and we've moved an additional 200 people from other departments to that department."

State Senator Carol Alvarado, who represents Southeast Houston and parts of Pasadena, said the federal government secured the funds to pay furloughed workers.

"With the stimulus package that was passed by Congress, the money is there. That is not the issue," Alvarado said. "The issue is just a large amount of people calling at the same time or logging on the website at the same time."

Despite the delays, Texans are getting signed up for unemployment, the TWC said.

Gamez said even if it takes you longer to sign up, each individual will get all the money that allocated to them.

As for Compton, he said he needs to see that money at some people.

"I'm not asking for a miracle," he said. "I'm asking for help and for whatever we can do to get this thing done."

The best time to sign up for employment benefits online is between 1 a.m. and 6 a.m., according to TWC.