Hundreds of thousands of Texans prepare to lose unemployment benefits after Christmas

Texas Politics

Allan Mayes, a musician from Liverpool, has been playing gigs in Austin for 20 years. He and hundreds of thousands of other Texans could lose unemployment benefits after Christmas.

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Christmas Day will bring more anxiety than joy to Allan Mayes, a musician in Austin, because of what comes next.

“My worry, 24 hours a day in mind, is what’s going to happen after December 26th?” Mayes said.

On Dec. 26, hundreds of thousands of Texans will lose unemployment benefits that were extended and expanded during the coronavirus pandemic through the CARES Act, if Congress doesn’t approve new legislation.

Under the CARES Act, Mayes was able to access unemployment benefits for self-employed and gig workers who aren’t normally eligible for Texas unemployment benefits. Texans covered by state unemployment received 13 additional weeks of benefits on top of the 26 weeks typically paid for by the Texas Workforce Commission.

“Food banks in Austin, Texas. Tent Cities. It’s scary,” Mayes said. “There’s people worse than me. I cannot imagine what some of these people are going through with two kids and nothing.”

Allan Mayes (left) performs with Elvis Costello (right) at Book People in Austin in 2015

Originally from Liverpool, England, Mayes was in a duo with Elvis Costello in the 70s.

He had been playing gigs around Austin for more than 20 years until the coronavirus pandemic put live music on pause in March.

Because he moved from Austin to Cedar Park before the pandemic, Mayes wasn’t eligible for financial assistance for musicians impacted by closures.

“It’s not like I’m waiting for the phone to ring tomorrow,” Mayes said. “I can’t go to H-E-B and ask them, ‘can I stack boxes,’ they’re going to laugh in my face. 67 years old?”

Nearly 6 million Texans have applied for unemployment since March. The Texas Workforce Commission has been rife with technical challenges due to the volume, including hours-long wait times, dropped calls and overpayments.

Mayes, however, was complimentary about his experiences with the agency, which has no control over the expiring federal benefits.

The Texas Workforce Commission is encouraging those who lose unemployment benefits to continue applying, should Congress approve new relief. Some workers who have already exhausted their 26 weeks of state unemployment benefits will still be eligible for a 13-week extension.

“If Congress passes new legislation that brings back the CARES Act or extends it, and if they make it retroactive, then those benefits will be available,” said James Bernsen, deputy communications director for the Texas Workforce Commission.

The Texas Workforce Commission has job training and placement resources available to unemployed workers who lose benefits.

For Mayes, a lifelong musician, he’ll instead wait for the music to play again, whenever that is, and hopes Congress will help him get there.

“They’ve got to do something, haven’t they? This is the richest country in the world. They’ve got to do something. Surely,” he said.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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