TWC works to handle hundreds of thousands of unemployment benefit applicants

The Department of Labor says a record three million Americans applied for unemployment insurance last week as the COVID-19 outbreak continues to throw people out of work.

The Texas Workforce Commission says that it included 150,000 Texans, plus hundreds of thousands more trying to apply this week, overwhelming its website and phone lines.  Many recently laid-off workers say they've struggled to get through to apply or check on their claims.

"I get on there to check the TWC  website, and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. Depends on the time of day," said bartender Nick Coradetti.

Rebecca Sharon says she hadn't worked long enough at her restaurant job to apply for unemployment but has friends who can't get through. 

"One of them, she says it goes to an automated system it's almost like a broken record," said Sharon.

Hundreds of thousands of Texans are suddenly out of work and many say they're struggling to get through online or by phone to apply for unemployment benefits. 

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"It seems like we're doing a year's worth of work in a month's time.  It's that there are a lot of people applying for unemployment insurance and we want to help them," said TWC's Francisco Gamez.

Gamez says 1,000 Texas Workforce Commission workers are aiming to help each applicant. To serve more people, the TWC says it is increasing its website server capacity, hiring 100 additional, temporary workers, and opening its call center on Saturdays. 

We asked if the high volume of applicants might slow the rate people could be paid.  

"What I can tell you is from that from the moment you apply, it takes about 21 days for benefits to be received. And that's either through direct deposit or a debit card you receive in the mail," answered Gamez.

Workforce Solutions says there are currently job openings in retail, construction, and security. They recommend workers apply and use the downtime to upgrade their skills.

"You have the time now, so go out and learn how to do it.  There are plenty of resources available online for free.  Download those books, do those webinars, watch those online training videos," said Michelle Castro, Strategic Planning Manager with Workforce Solutions.

Congress is working to pass a bill to boost unemployment insurance funding.

The TWC says it will open its call center on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. starting this weekend.  That's in addition to Monday through Friday hours from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. 

Unemployed or underemployed workers can apply by calling 1-800-939-6631 or go online.  The TWC says the website receives the lowest traffic between 1 a.m. and 6 a.m.

LIVE MAP: Track COVID-19 cases across Texas