AUSTIN (KXAN) — Weeks after Texas workers began to take hits because of layoffs connected to the COVID-19 pandemic, the state agency responsible for approving unemployment claims still can’t handle the influx of applicants.
The Texas Workforce Commission told KXAN last week it hoped to have upgrades made to its website by Friday, March 20. As of Monday, March 23, the unemployed across Texas are still having trouble filing unemployment applications with the TWC.
“Trying to figure out can I get my money. Is I’m going to be able to get my money? Because it’s hard times, man,” John Johnson told KXAN outside the TWC’s Austin headquarters.
Johnson took the three-hour trek down I-35 Monday after spending days trying to access his unemployment information on the TWC’s website.
KXAN Investigator Jody Barr watched Johnson standing at the security desk inside the TWC office. The security guards handed him a phone. Johnson spent around 10 minutes inside before walking back out to his car.
“Did they fix it?” Barr asked Johnson.
“Nah, man,” Johnson said. “They gave me a number. Call the number and the number got a busy signal. No resolution.”
TWC Spokesperson Cisco Gamez told KXAN: “We have resolved some of the issues, we are monitoring it daily, hourly — as much as we can.”
“Did the agency do anything to prepare for what they knew was coming?” Barr asked Gamez.
“Yes, we made preparations. We were trying to prepare the best we can, but I don’t know that anyone expected it to play out this way,” Gamez said.
The TWC has 1,000 staffers working across the state to assist newly-unemployed Texans in setting up online accounts to apply for unemployment insurance benefits.
Those staffers are working overtime, according to Gamez, and the agency is requiring longer hours and additional days from its workforce to process the influx of coronavirus-related layoffs across the state.
“Please be patient with us. We want to help them. We are working long hours, we are working over the weekend, we going to reach out to them if they reach a machine, a message — if they’re having trouble on the web, again, please be patient with us,” Gamez told KXAN.
“If you don’t get through right now, please try again,” he added.
Some of the other complaints filed with the KXAN Investigative team have to do with some laid off workers not qualifying for unemployment benefits.
Gamez did not have specifics as to which workers would be disqualified, but said the TWC assesses benefits on a “case-by-case” basis.
“If you’re not sure if you qualify, just apply to find out what your situation is,” Gamez said.
RESOLUTION FOR ONE
The day after KXAN profiled Lissette Padro’s troubles in applying for unemployment benefits, the Texas Workforce Commission called her to make things right.
Last Friday KXAN aired an investigation into the technology troubles plaguing the Texas Workforce Commission’s website and how many people were having trouble setting up an account to begin the unemployment application process.
Saturday morning, Padro got a call from the TWC.
Within an hour, her unemployment application was on file and being processed.
“I think I got it because there was a story about the issue with the Texas Workforce Commission and I was part of the story. So I think that’s the reason why.”
Padro said she was extremely grateful to the TWC for helping her, but said she empathizes with Texans who are still trying to file their unemployment applications.
“Do you think had you not taken that step you would have still been in this shape today?” Barr asked Padro in a follow up interview Monday.
“I probably would still be struggling to file an unemployment claim,” Padro said.
Padro, a laid off dental hygienist, had a string of text messages from coworkers hoping to get the same results she did.
One of them sent Governor Greg Abbott’s office an email Monday morning complaining about the troubles they’re having with the TWC’s website.
That coworker got a call from the TWC minutes later, Padro said.
The TWC told KXAN the agency is still working to return calls from those who’ve attempted to file applications and continues working to upgrade its web traffic capacity so the problems people are finding online won’t continue.