Technical issues creating major hurdles for unemployment applicants on Texas Workforce Commission’s website

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — When Lissette Padro walked out of her dental office yesterday, she knew it would be the last time for a while. She left work an unemployed dental hygienist.

And for the first time in her life, she was about to apply for unemployment.

KXAN Investigator Jody Barr spent about 30 minutes with Padro, watching her frustration grow as she tried again and again to use the Texas Workforce Commission’s website to apply for unemployment.

Lissette Padro reacts after another failed attempt to reach TWC’s customer service center on March 20, 2020. Padro was laid off from her dental hygienist job the day before over shutdowns connected to the coronavirus outbreak. (KXAN Photo/Jody Barr)

“I tried yesterday, but the website was crashed,” Padro said as she once again tried to use the agency’s online application. Her efforts were met with a page telling her the TWC website had crashed.

During the 30-minute visit, it happened nearly 10 times.

It’s something tens of thousands of Texans are trying to do, but can’t.

Once Padro finally got past creating an account with her name and Social Security number, the TWC application site asked for a personal identification number. Padro tried every combination of numbers she could think that would be relevant, but none of them worked.

The website then told her to call the commission to get the PIN.

Multiple calls to the commission were useless. Padro was met with a voice recording telling her to go back to the website to apply for her unemployment benefits.

“I’m like a hamster in one of those cages, just running and running and not getting anywhere,” Padro told KXAN. As the TWC closed for the weekend, Padro still hadn’t been able to get through to file her application or to get anyone on the phone at the TWC.

The Texas Workforce Commission’s website continually failed to perform after multiple attempts by Lissette Padro to file an application for unemployment benefits on March 20, 2020. (KXAN Photo/Jody Barr)

Padro was one of multiple people filing complaints with KXAN’s investigative unit concerning the TWC’s system failures.

Each of the complaints detailed similar problems; most dealt with the commission’s website and a PIN identifier that required a call to the commission before an applicant could access the unemployment benefit application.

In an email sent to KXAN on Thursday, the commission’s spokesman said the agency was working with state internet technology workers to upgrade the agency’s servers to handle the influx of traffic.

The TWC told KXAN the agency saw 50,000 website visitors this past Wednesday. A typical day usually sees 10,000 visitors. Austin area unemployment applications between March 1 and March 18 have already climbed 450% higher than the same time in 2019.

The TWC reported 29,000 unemployment applications were filed between Monday and Tuesday of this week statewide.

Most of the complaints sent to KXAN was the requirement of a PIN before accessing the unemployment application. A filer had to call the TWC first to be assigned a PIN. (KXAN Photo/Jody Barr)

The TWC said that work was expected to be finished Friday morning. But when KXAN left Padro’s home at 12:30 p.m., it was apparent the fixes were not made.

KXAN requested an interview with the TWC so the agency could explain to taxpayers why this happened and what the agency did to prepare for what was coming.

The agency scheduled an interview for 2:30 p.m. Friday, but canceled the interview without giving a reason why.

“We recognize the inconvenience this causing for our customers and are working quickly with our agency partner, the Texas Department of Information Resources (DIR) to resolve issues and accommodate the increased number of users on TWC’s website. Working with DIR we have increased the memory to accommodate the number of users on the server.”

Cisco Gamez, Texas Workforce Commission Spokesman

“My biggest fear is not providing for my family. They depend on me,” Padro said.

“You know, I don’t think I’ve ever really been scared in my life…and yeah, I am scared,” Padro told KXAN.

As of this report, the TWC has not provided a timeline for fixing the website troubles or how the agency can guarantee this never happens again. Gamez also did not provide any information on how laid off workers are to file an application with the commission.

KXAN will continue to investigate the TWC system failures.

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