With unemployment claims skyrocketing since mid-March, the Texas Workforce Commission said it has doubled the number of call centers from four to eight. The agency reports there are now more than 1,000 people answering calls from unemployed Texans.
Still, many people continue to contact NBC 5 to say they’re waiting as long as three months for benefits.
“My mortgage isn’t getting paid, my water, things like that. I’m having to reach out to them and let them know what’s going on,” said Tarrant County resident Kristen Herrera.
Herrera worked for a medical spa in Fort Worth for seven-years until the pandemic put her out of work.
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She said her unemployment benefits claim was denied - the TWC showed her previous income was zero.
Herrera told NBC 5 she could easily prove that wasn’t accurate, so she appealed. She said she applied for benefits every two weeks and tried to reach someone with the TWC to plead her case.
“I have called them thousands and thousands of times,” Herrera told NBC 5 Responds. “I know there is a problem with the application, but nobody there to fix it.”
NBC 5 Responds continues to hear from people who report long hold times or struggles reaching someone who can resolve their disputed claim. We’ve reported the agency’s aging computer system, which was due to be updated, compounded the problems of a pandemic forcing millions into unemployment.
Cisco Gamez, spokesperson for the TWC, said the agency has responded by expanding its hours from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., seven days a week.
“We are hustling, we’re working extended hours, it’s all hands on deck. We brought in volunteers and moved staff from other departments to help with unemployment insurance,” explained Gamez.
Some of the volunteers are staffers, borrowed from Texas lawmakers – who are also inundated with calls from frustrated Texans.
State Representative Michelle Beckley of Carrollton said her office averages 300 calls a week from people in her district who need help with unemployment benefit claims. She said her staff tries to connect callers with the correct person at the TWC to answer their questions. Keeping up with demand remains a challenge, well into month three of the pandemic.
According to data published by the TWC, it processed 6,368 unemployment claims the week ending March 7. The following week, claims more than doubled to 16,176. The week after that, claims shot up to 158,364. The TWC said it has processed four typical years’ worth of claims in just over three months.
Calling first thing in the morning or during weekends improves a caller’s chances of reaching a representative, according to Gamez. For simple questions Gamez recommends trying the online virtual assistant, a chatbot that can help reset passwords or pins.
It should typically take three weeks to receive benefits.
Last week, after NBC 5 Responds reached out to the TWC about Herrera’s case, Herrera said she saw a resolution.
Herrera said someone from the TWC called and explained the agency did not have her updated, married name. The TWC helped Herrera fix the discrepancy so she can now get her benefits.
“It should be in the bank within two or three days,” said Herrera in a follow-up interview with NBC 5 Responds. “Everything is going to get paid and that is such a blessing and such a relief.”
Herrera offers this piece of advice, “Just make noise, just keeping making noise.”
“If you need to call your Texas House representative, call them. If you need to call the news station, call them. You need to get help, that is your money,” Herrera added.
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*Map locations are approximate, central locations for the city and are not meant to indicate where actual infected people live.