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Struggling to apply for unemployment? Texas Workforce Commission increases hours, adds staff for historic call volume

Last week, 14 million calls came into Texas Workforce Commission offices.

HOUSTON — This week, Texans will start seeing an extra $600 on top of their usual unemployment benefits. Still far too many people are still struggling to get through and apply.

So far, 1.1 million Texans have filed unemployment insurance claims.

"To put that in perspective, that's a year and a half of claims in less than a month," said Cisco Gamez, a spokesman for the Texas Workforce Commission.

But one month after the coronavirus pandemic began crippling the economy, thousands, like Shaun Hurt, can't get someone on the phone.

"It is getting frustrating," Hurt said. "I keep getting a busy signal."

TWC admits phone lines are swamped. Last week, they took 14 million calls and broke a record with 3.4 million in one day. The average call load typically is 13,000 calls per day.

TWC now has an extra 1,000 employees and volunteers just to deal with unemployment insurance benefits.

"We've added 100 emergency hires into our call centers," Gamez said. "We've brought in volunteers from workforce boards across Texas, and just this week we are beginning to train some volunteer staff from the Texas House and Senate."

The computer servers handling online applications expanded from five to 20. That should help if you're applying online. Soon, a total of seven call centers will be up and running.

"I just don't think they're going to have the manpower to handle all these calls all at once," Hurt said.

For those counting on an unemployment check, every day that goes by forces them to make even tougher decisions.

"I feel more pressure, definitely the stress," Hurt said. "I'm trying to save what I have left for my basic necessities."

TWC says their biggest advice is if you can, definitely apply online. That process will be a lot faster than trying to do it by phone.

You can now call the Texas Workforce Commission to apply for benefits from 7 a.m to 7 p.m. You can call 800-939-6631. Gamez says the best time to apply online is from midnight to 5 a.m.

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