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Unemployed struggle to file for benefits during coronavirus pandemic

As the president promises to boost benefits for people out of a job, here in Texas, 10 times as many people as normal have filed for unemployment.

HOUSTON — Unemployment claims are soaring in Texas, but we’re hearing from many of you with trouble filing those applications.

“It’s pretty frustrating," said Steven Westlake, who said he was laid off from Premier Coil Solutions in Waller. “I was a designer in the engineering department."

Westlake got all the way through online, but got stuck at the end of the application when it asked for a pin number.

“The phone number that you call I’ve been trying 3 to 4 times a day since Monday,” Westlake said.

RELATED: Coronavirus updates: Houston woman with underlying health issues dies from COVID-19 at hospital

RELATED: Officials stress patience as jobless claims hit record levels during coronavirus pandemic

He’s not alone.

“Now for three days, I’ve been calling this number with the same recording every time,” said Mary Mott, a bartender.

She worked full time at the Watering Hole in Palacios.

“A cute little neighborhood bar that’s been open for about two years now,” Mott said.

As the president promises to boost benefits for people out of a job, here in Texas, 10 times as many people as normal have filed for unemployment.

"We are asking people to be patient with us. We understand their concerns," said Cisco Gamez, a spokesman for Texas Workforce Commission.

He said for people not getting through on the phone lines, keep calling.

They’re bringing in more call takers, and on the pin number, they know there’s confusion.

“People that had pin numbers before 2015, those were reset, so we are trying to make some changes to help them," Gamez said.

They suggest trying to make a new pin, and if it doesn’t let you, call.

For people like Mott, everyday she waits on hold is another day without a paycheck.

“Well, it’s the difference between paying my own bills or living on the street," she said.

The Texas Workforce Commission sent us the following statement:

"The Texas Workforce Commission is working to resolve issues that some people are having with PIN numbers.

"In response to a high number of PIN retrieval requests, TWC updated our PIN retrieval policy. PINs created prior to 2015 have been removed from the system effective March 22, 2020. Individuals needing to retrieve a PIN that was created prior to 2015 are asked to please login again online and reset their PIN. Please note, claimants who meet these requirements but have an overpayment will still need to call to retrieve their PIN.

"If an individual has never filed for unemployment before, they do not need to reset a PIN or establish a PIN before filing a claim online. The PIN set up will occur during the claims filing process.

"If the individual tried to file online but got a message saying their PIN and SSN is not a valid combination, they get 3 chances to enter the correct PIN. If they receive a message that they are revoked, they will be advised to call the PIN reset department (number is displayed on the page to call). At this time, that is there only option.

"For any other scenarios where their PIN is revoked, their only option is for the PIN to be reset. However, we are pulling a list of individuals whose PIN is currently revoked and we will be resetting their pins and reaching to them to let them know we reset it.

Instruction for setting up and resetting PIN numbers

Now that you’ve applied for unemployment benefits, you should:

Set up a Personal Identification Number (PIN) if you have not already done so.

Call our automated phone system, Tele-Serv, at 800-558-8321. Select Option 4. Enter your Social Security number (SSN), confirm your SSN, then enter your chosen four-digit PIN, and confirm your PIN. Wait for the message “Your new PIN has been accepted.”

Resetting your PIN

If you revoke your PIN and you are eligible for self-serv reset, on the same call you may be able to reset your PIN on Tele-Serv by providing personal information from your claim, such as:

  • Date of birth
  • Texas driver license or ID number
  • Telephone number
  • Amount of your last benefit payment
  • Part of your bank/credit union account number

If you hang up from Tele-Serv, you will be unable to reset your PIN. Tele-Center staff are pulling reports of customers who have revoked their PIN and reaching out to them to verify their identify and reset their PIN.

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. Some patients also have nausea, body aches, headaches and stomach issues. Losing your sense of taste and/or smell can also be an early warning sign.

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 for becoming seriously ill. However, U.S. experts are seeing a significant number of younger people being hospitalized, including some in ICU.

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.
  • Follow social distancing

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.