Texas unemployment agency expands hours to 7 days a week amid increase in claims during coronavirus pandemic

HOUSTON – Since March 14, the Texas Workforce Commission says it has helped more than 700,000 Texans apply for unemployment insurance. That is equivalent to the number of people who applied for benefits in all of 2019.

However, with the increased demand, out-of-work Texans have been finding it difficult to file claims over the phone. Before COVID-19, the commission received an average of 13,000 calls per day. Since the “Stay Home, Work Safe” orders were put in place, the number of calls to the commission has increased by nearly 23,000%.

“On April 2 (and) April 4 we reached up to over 3,000,000 calls in a 24 hour period,” said commission spokesperson Cisco Gamez. “I don’t know any call center that can handle 3,000,000 calls in a 24 hour period.”

Antoine Hackett has been trying to reach the TWC for over three weeks. Hackett works in the display show industry and was laid off on March 20th. He said he could of never imagined such a long wait.

“In my mind, mentally I gave it a week because I knew Texas was affected by this but after the week passed and 10 days passed the stress level went higher and higher,” said Hackett.

To deal with the increased volume in the effort to assist Texans filing claims, the TWC has brought in 450,000 employees from other departments, hired 100 new employees, and enlisted the services of two third-party call center vendors.

“We’re just asking them to be patient with us and we will help them,” Gamez said.

Hackett contacted KPRC a short time after his interview Tuesday and said he was finally able to get through and file for his unemployment benefits.

Millions of others like Mark Radizeski an It Specalist are still waiting though.

“I have a son, right and I have an Ex-wife I got to pay child support. There’s all those things that are just piling and piling and piling up,” Radizeski.

On top of adding more staff, the TWC also announced that it would be expanding call center hours in order to accommodate the call volume.

The commission says despite the improvements, the system still likely won’t work as quickly as normal, but people can rest assured they will receive their benefits if they qualify.

"We're going to backdate their claim to the time that they lost wages, stopped working, or got reduced hours," Gamez said.

To file for unemployment insurance go to ui.texasworkforce.org.

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