KXAN helps furloughed teacher reach TWC, fix her problem after unemployment benefit denial

Investigations

AUSTIN (KXAN) — An Austin preschool teacher said she was supposed to start receiving unemployment benefits on April 20. The child development center where she works, Child’s Day, made the tough decision to temporarily close its doors during COVID-19 and furlough its employees.

Christina Schroeder said her employer submitted a mass filing for unemployment benefits for all staff members, but Schroeder told KXAN she was denied those benefits because she misunderstood a question on the Texas Workforce Commission website, and answered it incorrectly.

The question was regarding her weekly take-home pay. She accidentally entered the amount she was making when she was working full-time hours before the pandemic, instead of entering her current reduced rate due to only working four hours a week.

Screenshot of Schroeder’s call history from 4/28/20, showing frequency of calls to all TWC numbers

When Schroeder tried to call the TWC to fix the problem, no one answered. She kept calling for about a week and got the same results. She tracked down every phone number on the TWC website and kept hitting redial hundreds of times a day, hoping to eventually talk to a human being. It never happened.

Schroeder said she either got a busy signal or heard ringing, but was then connected to an automated recording and the entire cycle repeated itself.

Many other unemployed Texans have reached out to KXAN with identical complaints since the flood of claims started hitting the agency during the COVID-19 crisis.

Tuesday morning Schroeder decided to email every member of the KXAN Investigative team individually to see if they could help. KXAN Investigator Erin Cargile reached out to the TWC communications team at 10:42 a.m. Tuesday.

Less than 20 minutes later, someone with the TWC called Cargile back and said they would be calling Schroeder. The Director of Communications Margaret Hession also emailed Cargile and said someone would be reaching out to Schroeder right away.

Around noon Tuesday, a woman named Irene from TWC called Schroeder and said the problem had been corrected, and that her benefits would be deposited into her bank account within 24 to 48 hours.

“I felt relieved and happy that someone had helped me get in touch with someone from TWC,” said Schroeder. “But I also am questioning why it took a news reporter to get a hold of someone there. I can only imagine how everyone else is feeling that’s been going through this a lot longer than me.”

TWC: Only call with problems

Hession said the TWC is receiving between 1.5 million and 3 million calls a day, and most are repeat calls from people checking on the status of a claim that is already being processed.

“That blocks the line for another caller to get through like these viewers who really need help,” said Hession.

The TWC is urging unemployed Texans to only call the agency if you have an issue with your claim.

Call center expansion

On April 17, the TWC told KXAN the agency had gone from 500 call takers originally to a total of 1500 staff and volunteers answering unemployment calls. They were in the process of adding another 350 by the next week.

The new numbers include permanent staff hired for expanded call centers, contract workers, TWC staff borrowed from other divisions and volunteer staffers from the Texas House of Representatives and Texas Senate.

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