AUSTIN (KXAN) — Nearly a month after the first Texans started losing their jobs to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Texas Workforce Commission is making changes to when laid off workers can call the commission.

The commission published a schedule for those who’ve tried to call the TWC’s four call centers to use.

But, it’s only voluntary.

The commission has broken call times into area codes in hopes to give people a better chance of getting through to the 1,000 TWC staffers working to answer the thousands of phone calls coming in each day. Many people we’ve interviewed said they’ve started their unemployment claims on the agency’s online portal, but are forced to call the commission to finalize their unemployment application.

The TWC “recommends” people who live in area codes beginning with these numbers to call:

9Mon, Wed, Fri 8 a.m. – Noon
3, 4, 5, 6Mon, Wed, Fri 1 p.m. – 5 p.m.
7, 8Tues, Thur, Sat 8 a.m. – Noon
2Tues, Thurs, Sat 1 p.m. – 5 p.m.
The Texas Workforce Commission published this schedule in hopes to reduce the backlog of people trying to contact the agency to file unemployment claims.

The numbers of people filing claims has exploded over the past few weeks. The agency’s executive director told KXAN unemployment claims have come in “waves,” starting with the cancellation of SXSW and the large rodeo events in Austin, Dallas and Houston.

On Monday, the commission published an estimated claim count for the week ending April 4, 2020: a total of 361,000 people made claims in that week alone.

Feb. 22, 20207,053N/AN/AN/A
Feb. 29, 20207,393N/AN/AN/A
March 7, 20206,368N/AN/AN/A
March 14, 20206,0422,7311,3801,931
March 21, 2020158,364141,63213,6783,054
March 28, 2020292,522256,21420,64215,696
April 4, 2020**361,000321,00020,00020,000
**Estimates from TWC internal databases. These figures have not been reported by the U.S. Department of Labor.

For the past three weeks, the majority of the tips coming into the KXAN investigative team center on troubles filing unemployment applications with the TWC. Multiple people have complained unemployment applications can’t be finalized by using the TWC’s online application portal. Instead, the applicant is forced to call the TWC to finalize their applications.

Some complainants told KXAN they’ve tried calling the commission for two weeks and cannot get through to a customer service representative, even after hundreds of attempts.

Those complaints are still coming in to the investigates team.

TWC Executive Director Ed Serna told KXAN investigator Jody Barr last week, everything is up for consideration as his agency tries to figure out a way to handle the influx of applications.

This sign on the Texas Workforce Commission’s door asks people to call or to use the agency’s website for more information about filing for unemployment. (KXAN Photo/Jody Barr)

“We are looking at ways to push as much as we can online. We’re looking at ways to enhance the number of people and the number of lines that we have that are available to people calling in and the number of people taking those calls,” Serna said.

“While we had plans in place to address disasters successfully, none of them anticipated the magnitude of what we’re experiencing,” Serna told KXAN.

Serna said the agency is considering extending hours for its call centers and looking for ways to remove some of the fraud barriers in its online portal so people can better access the system to file claims without having to call the TWC. Serna said the delay in doing that is to figure out how to maintain information security if the agency removes some of the online protections.