TEXAS -- As Texas cities conduct ground-level response to COVID-19, the number of people in the Lone Star State who suddenly find themselves without work is steadily rising, and that means more Texans are filing for unemployment.
- Many unemployed Texans frustrated trying to get through to Texas Workforce Commission
- Commission currently fielding 100,000 calls a day
- Plans call for increased staffing
More than 155,000 Texans filed for unemployment last week, according to statistics from the Bureau of Labor, an 860 percent increase from the little more than 16,000 Texans who had filed for unemployment benefits the week before. But the astronomical increase doesn't even account for the hundreds of thousands of Texans who are still attempting to submit a claim and can't get through to the Texas Workforce Commission.
Texas Workforce Solutions remains open for business across the state. The TWC website is now marked with a disclaimer alerting users that the page is experiencing a high volume of users and that if they "are experiencing issues with this site, we ask that you try back later."
"The websites kept crashing and you had to keep resending and reloading all your information," said Krista Van Liew, who started trying to apply for benefits on Sunday.
Van Liew said she kept reloading her information onto TWC's website for two hours, only to end up being told she had to actually call TWC instead.
"I think they just weren't expecting this," said Van Liew. "They weren't prepared for it."
Finally, after three days of attempts, Van Liew was able to get through to a TWC call center, but she said that was only after she tried a different phone number she had seen in a post on social media.
"I honestly wasn't even that mad that it took me three days - or the waiting - because I was expecting not to get through at all. So I feel grateful for that," she said.
Chantel Greer of Gatesville wasn't as fortunate.
"There's like five different numbers that you can call," said Greer. "But all of them are either a busy signal or an answering machine will come on and say that their call volume is too high right now and to call back later."
Greer found out she was furloughed from her job as an officer manager for a general contractor in Bell County on Monday night. She started trying to file for unemployment the next day.
"That's all I've been doing since Tuesday morning," said Greer, begrudgingly chuckling.
Ed Serna, executive director of the Texas Workforce Commission, apologized to frustrated Texans in a Facebook Live video on Wednesday. He said on a typical day, TWC will field about 13,000 calls - that number is now up to 100,000 calls a day.
Serna said the state agency is planning to move 200 employees from other departments to help increase staffing at TWC's four call centers across the state, in addition to hiring an additional 100 temporary employees to help keep up with demand. TWC has also extended call center hours of operation, now taking calls from Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
TWC is also working to increase the size of its servers to accommodate more people online.
While the actions TWC is taking now is welcome news to people like Greer, she said the relief can't come soon enough.
"I have some compassion for them because I understand that everyone is filing for unemployment right now, but the problem needs to be fixed. The longer everybody waits to file their unemployment, the longer it's going to take to get here, and people have bills to pay, we have food to put on the table," she said.