KXAN investigation uncovers new TWC hurdles to unemployment checks

Investigations

AUSTIN (KXAN) – Hundreds of thousands of unemployed Texans filed unemployment applications with the Texas Workforce Commission.

Weeks into the COVID-19 job losses and thousands of people still can’t get claims filed—the first step in receiving an unemployment check.

Our investigation into the problems plaguing the TWC found those whose unemployment claims have gotten approved are forced to contact the TWC a second time to file what’s known as a “payment request.”

Susan Livitz filed a payment request with the TWC on March 29, but the agency told her to call because it needed “more information” despite approving her for benefits last month. (KXAN Photo/Jody Barr)

The requests are supposed to be filed strictly online, but evidence we uncovered shows that’s not happening for some.

“That’s what is says, investigation found your employer laid you off from you last job because of natural disaster declared by the president and that they can pay benefits,” Susan Livitz said, reading from a letter the TWC sent her last month.

The letter was to inform her of the TWC’s decision to approve her unemployment claim and detailed the amount of payments.

She filed her claim March 18 and the TWC sent her a message telling her to file her first payment request so her first check could be sent.

Livitz went to the TWC’s online portal to file the request. But, she said she wasn’t able to finish the request and the commission told her she’d have to call.

Susan Livitz has tried hundreds of times to call the TWC to figure out what the agency needs from her to unlock her unemployment checks, despite telling her she was approved in mid-March. (KXAN Photo/Jody Barr)

“I was told to make my first payment request on March 29, I did that and after that call was told that they needed more information because it was all automated and after that I haven’t been able to get in,” Livitz said.

Livitz said she also checked with her bank to see if the TWC had processed her direct deposit information. The TWC had not, she said.

“I’ve called five business days with calls over 100 times a day and I can’t get though to anyone,” she said. Livitz is right back to where she started when she initially filed: waiting in line to get her call answered by the TWC.

The total calls climbed to 1.7 million on March 26, according to the TWC.

“To be asked for more information, I think right now, is unnecessary. If they already sent a letter and they know that they’re going to pay benefits, which they clearly do because they sent it to me, then the benefits should be pushed out. They don’t need anything else from me,” Livitz said.

The payment request is the second step to collecting an unemployment payment. Once an applicant is approved, the TWC requires the applicant to file a request for payment every two weeks. The request contains a series of questions that include whether the applicant is actively searching for work and whether they’ve found a job within the past two weeks.

The requests can be filed online and don’t require a call to the TWC to complete, according to TWC spokesman Cisco Gamez. Gamez said the payment request number is also overloaded with people trying to reach the commission.

We’ve fielded multiple complaints from KXAN viewers who said they were unable to complete their payment requests online because the TWC needed “more information.” That requires a call to the TWC to sort out.

“That was on Monday, 332 calls,” Megan Donaldson told KXAN as she scrolled through her phone log standing outside her Georgetown apartment.

Megan Donaldson said she was approved for unemployment, but the TWC entered the employer information from her previous unemployment filing. Donaldson said she’s had to file an appeal to correct that information. (KXAN Photo/Jody Barr)

Donaldson said she got a notice from the TWC that her unemployment application was approved, but she noticed the commission entered a previous employer’s information into her current claim, which means she had to file an appeal to have that undone.

She’s followed the TWC’s suggested call schedule, which asked that applicants call on days and times according to their area code. But, she hasn’t been able to get through on the phone.

“I’m literally sitting in this apartment all day hitting redial, refresh. From 8 o’clock to 5 o’clock every day,” Donaldson said, “It’s pretty much all day, every day just hang up, call again, hang up call again.”

“Now, I’m sitting here with a mistake that they did and not being able to get a hold of anybody to fix it,” Donaldson told KXAN.

Donaldson, who said she was homeless after her last layoff a little more than a year ago, is afraid she’s headed there again. “What are you most afraid of,” KXAN investigator Jody Barr asked Donaldson.

“Honestly, losing my home, being back on the streets, not being able to just have a normal life again,” she responded.

Megan Donaldson made several attempts to log into her TWC account on April 8, 2020, but the agency’s website continued to crash. (KXAN Photo/Jody Barr)

The TWC is making some progress on processing unemployment claims. The agency said its six call centers have processed more than 700,000 claims in the past two weeks—more than it processed in all of 2019.

“We are helping some Texans, I’m sorry it’s taking longer—we want to help them and it’s all hands-on deck. We are all working extended hours, we are working through the weekend, we are all working to meet the demand and help Texans in need,” TWC spokesman Cisco Gamez told KXAN.

The agency is looking to add a seventh call center in the coming weeks. Governor Greg Abbott, who appoints the agency’s three commissioners, told reporters Wednesday legislative staffers have been reassigned to help process unemployment claims.

 “They will get help. If they qualify for unemployment insurance, they will get benefits. With some people, it’s just taking longer, and we are working on that now,” Gamez said.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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