AUSTIN (KXAN) – As if filing an unemployment claim hasn’t already been an impossibility for some, it could become much tougher for the 2.2 million Texans who’ve gotten through to the Texas Workforce Commission to file a claim.
Now, as Gov. Greg Abbott is set to loosen some of the emergency restrictions on the restaurant and retail industries, the TWC is looking to tighten some of its requirements for those depending on unemployment checks.
In a Wednesday private call with lawmakers and staff (which hasn’t been released to the public), TWC Executive Director Ed Serna discussed forcing laid off workers to once again prove to the agency every two weeks that they’re still eligible to receive unemployment — and if they’ve earned any money through work during the two-week period.
The requirement is a standard step in the process for those receiving unemployment claims.
Some of the verification required by the TWC include:
- date you applied for work
- the names and titles of potential employers you communicated with
- list of all applications filed — the agency refers to this as “a list of all your work search activities and the phone numbers, fac numbers, email addresses of each person you contacted. Unemployment claimants are also required to log the results of each search
The TWC could request an unemployment claimant to produce proof of these logs at any time during a benefit year, according to the TWC website.
“If work search requirements were reinstated, Texans would be notified well in advance, at a minimum, two weeks. At this time, we do not have a start date for reinstating the work search requirements. We do encourage people to visit WorkInTexas.com where there are over 480,000 jobs available right now, and we encourage them to visit their local workforce solutions office,” TWC spokesman Cisco Gamez wrote to KXAN in a statement.
“That was just a briefing, a starting point,” Gamez told KXAN. “At some point that work search requirement will need to go back into effect. I don’t know if that’s going to be 50%, 75%, 100%. There’s going to be plenty of advance notice when this goes out — two weeks minimum.”
Any change in the verification waiver would have to be made by the agency’s governing body during a public meeting, Gamez said.
Reinstating the verification requirement could mean even larger backlogs for those trying to apply for unemployment benefits and those trying to request payments.
“I’m both concerned that’s too soon and I’m concerned about the additional administrative burden that will put on Texas Workforce Commission when they’re still struggling to process all the unemployment applications that are coming forward,” Rep. Erin Zwiener told KXAN.
Zwiener was on the call with Serna on Wednesday. Zwiener said until the commission can expeditiously handle the current claims, adding another step for people filing and the agency’s workload does not make sense.
“I am concerned about what additional administrative barriers the work search requirement will create. I have yet to get a clear answer from Texas Workforce Commission on what that looks like for their internal workload and that’s something I want to hear about before they take any steps,” Zwiener said.
Hundreds of KXAN viewers have emailed the Investigative team with complaints of continued backlogged calls at the TWC, despite the agency putting more than 1,000 call takers to work.
The complaints KXAN receives each day are the same as the ones received in late March: people are unable to complete unemployment claims online and are forced to call the agency. Many people are still unable to get a call answered — some are nearly at the two-month mark.
Other complaints continue describing problems with the TWC initially accepting a claim and awarding benefits, only for the agency to deny the benefits days later.
These denials are forcing thousands of Texans back to the phone to attempt to get a TWC call taker to sort the conflict out.
Other people report that they were approved for payments but were then unable to complete the request for payment on the agency’s website.
When asked whether the commission had a plan to potentially continue waiving the verification requirement until Texans start returning to work and unemployment claims drop, Gamez did not have an answer.