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'I really just want to go back to work' | Laid-off workers struggling to apply for unemployment amid COVID-19 crisis

One expert said Houston could lose up to 300,000 jobs if things don't turn around soon.

HOUSTON — Fountains are still flowing outside Landry’s Houston headquarters. But some 40,000 jobs within the giant company have reportedly ceased thanks to COVID-19 related closures.

"We were let go with no pay,” said employee Jennifer Sidman.

She said she lost her job as a server at a Landry’s-owned Rainforest Café.

"They did tell us that we could use our PTO, but that has not been approved,” Sidman said.

But challenging times are not limited to the restaurant and hospitality industry.

John Stabler, a pipeline inspector, told us he was laid off last week until further notice.

"It means my bills are going to back up, and I’m going to be in trouble here in a couple of weeks,” Stabler said.

They’ve had difficulties applying for unemployment benefits because physical offices are closed. The Texas Workforce Commission has been overloaded as it works to address issues while ramping up staff dedicated to processing claims.

"It tells you to go online, and when you go online, it tells you you can’t do it online and it gives you a number to call," Stabler said. "And you call the number and it tells you to go online.”

"Be persistent. Try to have a good attitude about it,” said UH energy fellow and economics expert Ed Hirs.

Hirs knows that’s easier said than done. However, he believes patience and endurance are key as the COVID-19 crisis continues.

"We could lose two, three-hundred thousand jobs in Houston over the next 3 to 4 months if we don’t see a quick turnaround,” Hirs said.

Laid-off employees would be happy with some temporary relief while they wait.

"You know, I really enjoyed my workplace,” Sidman said.

“I really just want to go back to work, honestly,” Stabler said.

The Texas Workforce Commission sent this statement, which includes answers to some questions:

"The Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) is committed to providing services for Texans in need. With the impacts of the COVID-19 virus, TWC is experiencing a significant increase in the number of people calling the unemployment insurance number and visiting the TWC website which includes information for citizens about TWC programs, such as Unemployment Insurance (UI).

"We recognize the inconvenience this is causing for our customers and are working quickly to resolve issues for Texans trying to connect online or over the phone. We are working with our agency partner, the Texas Department of Information Resources (DIR) to resolve website issues and accommodate the increased number of users. Working with DIR we have increased the memory to accommodate the number of users on the server.

"The system that handles UI claims is a completely separate application and on a different server, but is also experiencing higher than normal traffic due to a significant increase in COVID-19 related claims. TWC is actively working with the DIR to make ensure the server can accommodate the number of people filing claims.

"An individual may apply for benefits or check the status of their existing claim online at ui.texasworkforce.org any time 24/7. If they do not have internet access, they may call 1-800-939-6631 M-F 8 am to 6 pm CST and Saturday 8 am to 5 pm CST.

"The Texas Workforce Commission has over 1,000 staff helping support unemployment insurance services, and we are committed to helping Texans in need. People that qualify for unemployment insurance will receive benefits."

Delivery services, healthcare and social services are among the industries that may continue to hire during the slowdown.

Coronavirus symptoms

The symptoms of coronavirus can be similar to the flu or a bad cold. Symptoms include a fever, cough and shortness of breath, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Most healthy people will have mild symptoms. A study of more than 72,000 patients by the Centers for Disease Control in China showed 80 percent of the cases there were mild.

But infections can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death, according to the World Health Organization. Older people with underlying health conditions are most at risk.

The CDC believes symptoms may appear anywhere from two to 14 days after being exposed.

Human coronaviruses are usually spread through...

  • The air by coughing or sneezing
  • Close personal contact, such as touching or shaking hands
  • Touching an object or surface with the virus on it, then touching your mouth, nose or eyes before washing your hands.

Help stop the spread of coronavirus

  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Eat and sleep separately from your family members
  • Use different utensils and dishes
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with your arm, not your hand.
  • If you use a tissue, throw it in the trash.

Lower your risk

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
  • If you are 60 or over and have an underlying health condition such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes or respiratory illnesses like asthma or COPD, the World Health Organization advises you to try to avoid crowds or places where you might interact with people who are sick.

Get complete coverage of the coronavirus by texting 'FACTS' to 713-526-1111.


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