TWC chairman responds a week after KXAN questions ongoing unemployment problems

Investigations

AUSTIN (KXAN) — “I do not find it an acceptable business practice for anyone to have difficulties receiving assistance from our agency,” Texas Workforce Commissioner Bryan Daniel wrote in closing an Aug. 25 letter to KXAN.

Daniel wrote the letter, which was sent via email on Aug. 26, in response to a series of questions KXAN posed to him and two other commissioners during an Aug. 20 TWC public meeting.

“We will continue to adapt our systems to ensure that does not happen in the future,” Daniel wrote, responding to a question about people still experiencing problems getting through to the agency’s 1,500 call center workers.

Texas Workforce Commissioners from left: Chairman Bryan Daniel, Commissioner Julian Alvaraz, III and Commissioner Aaron Demerson.

In the past few weeks, we’ve received nearly 400 emails, calls and social media messages from unemployed Texans detailing thousands of unsuccessful attempts to reach the TWC’s call centers. In July, we submitted to the TWC a list of 111 names of people who contacted KXAN asking for help getting in contact with the state’s unemployment agency.

The TWC claimed to have called all 111 and resolved various unemployment problems for 102 of the 111. However, 16 of the people on the list said they never received any contact from the TWC — by phone or by email.

At the time of the Aug. 20 TWC meeting, we’d received more than 300 new tips from unemployed Texans. Since that meeting, the numbers have grown to nearly 400.

“Unfortunately, the prescribed format for receiving public comments doesn’t provide an opportunity for detailed discourse; and I wanted to be sure to address the important issues you raised,” Chairman Daniel wrote in the letter to KXAN.

The chairman gave updated statistics on the call volumes at the agency’s eight call centers. The centers are open seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Daniel said those call centers “spoke with more than 240,000 individuals, and TWC processed more than 113,000 initial claims.”

The TWC also processed more than 900,000 payments last week, Daniel wrote in the letter.

The 1,500 call takers are still seeing periods during the day where the phone lines are maxed out as call times average 13 minutes, according to Daniel. Since mid-March, the agency reported fielding 4.4 million calls from unemployed Texans.

KXAN viewer Jon Landess told KXAN he called up to 50 times each day to reach someone in the TWC’s call centers. Landess said his claim was under review for nearly three months and was suddenly approved last week without explanation from the TWC.

“Jody, I would call anywhere from 27 to 50 times a day, I mean, a lot and I’m talking from 7 in the morning until past noon,” Jon Landess of Leander told KXAN in an interview on Friday. “Never got through.”

Landess, furloughed after Governor Greg Abbott shut down bars across Texas, was one of the nearly 400 people who wrote us detailing their unsuccessful attempts to reach a human in the TWC. Landess said he filed for unemployment on June 3 and got a letter from the agency on July 22 telling him he was approved for unemployment, but he never received a single payment.

The TWC then told Landess his claim was “under review.”

“I am becoming desperate for this money and do not understand why I have not received any benefits. Please help me KXAN, I don’t know what else to do. I would be forever grateful for any kind of assistance you might be able to provide,” Landess wrote in an Aug. 18 email.

Then, Landess said his account was unlocked and his benefits were paid last week, nearly three months after he initially filed. Landess said he never got anyone on the phone to explain why he was locked out and still doesn’t know how his problem got resolved.

The TWC asked for names and contact information of Texans who have contacted KXAN detailing stories of being unable to get through on the agency’s phone lines. As of this report, that number has climbed to nearly 400.

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