HOUSTON — The Texas Workforce Commission was overwhelmed by thousands of Texans are applying for unemployment benefits because of layoffs and reduced hours due to COVID-19.
TWC said it is experiencing 'extremely high' call volumes and hold times on its Tele-Center phone lines, and urged people to go online.
The TWC is waiving work search requirements for all claimants and the waiting week for those claimants affected by COVID-19. Federal law allows "significant flexiblity" for states to provide Unemployment Insurance (UI) services related to COVID-19, according to the Department of Labor.
Even online, people were met with error messages, prompting the TWC to remind people that its staff is working around the clock to help those whose paychecks have been affected by COVID-19.
The TWC urged employers to enroll in a 'Shared Work' program as an alternative to laying off employees.
Shared Work allows employers to supplement their employees’ wages lost because of reduced work hours with partial unemployment benefits.
Under the program, employers can reduce normal weekly work hours for employees in an affected unit by at least 10 percent but not more than 40 percent.
Shared Work unemployment benefits are payable to employees who qualify for and participate in an approved Shared Work Plan. Workers may choose not to participate. Employees who qualify will receive both wages and Shared Work unemployment benefits.
The employer can use the Shared Work Plan only for employees whose hours have been reduced. Shared Work benefits can be paid only for wages lost because of a reduction in the employee’s regular hours. Regular hours may not exceed 40 hours. An employee who normally works overtime may not receive shared work benefits for a reduction in their overtime hours.
Tammy Morales is one of the people who stands to benefit from a Shared Work program.
After 15 months as a temporary receptionist at D.B. Schenker, she was laid off, and told she would still have a job when the company's business picked back up.
She was laid off over a conference call as the company practiced social distancing.
"I was in tears," she said. "It was very upsetting. It was my only income."
Morales is looking for work so she can pay her bills, such as credit cards, car payments, and rent.
Thousands of Texans are in the same position. Rich Rosso, Director of Financial Planning for RIA Advisors, said his clients are calling him with questions about how to handle their budgets.
"It’s falling like dominoes. People are getting notices, getting furloughed, and they’re coming to me and don’t know what to do," said Rosso.
Rosso advised asking credit card companies to lower your interest rate. He also advised cutting as many costs as possible while you are out of work.
Morales spent Saturday going to grocery stores looking for work.
"I live paycheck to paycheck, so if I don’t get work soon, I’m in trouble," she said.