AUSTIN, Texas — Unemployment claims are soaring across the country as closures continue with no end in sight. The Texas Workforce Commission reports from March 8 to March 14 it received 16,038 unemployment insurance claims, up about 38 percent compared to the same week in 2019. 

“The Texas Workforce Commission has over 1,000 staff helping support unemployment insurance services, and we are ready to help Texans applying for unemployment benefits," a spokesperson for the Texas Worforce Commission said. 

Last week, full-time yoga instructor Gillian West was supposed to be preparing for an international retreat, what she called a career goal, but instead she filed for unemployment.

That retreat has been postponed to next year. West, who has been teaching yoga for the past six years, said on a normal week she would teach up to 16 classes plus additional private classes. The two Austin-based studios where she worked are now closed indefinitely because of coronavirus concerns. 

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“It’s a weird mixture of understanding that it's for the greater good and understanding that we're doing it to keep people safe, which is obviously my number one priority, and also a feeling of just complete devastation,” West said.

While West waits for her claim to process, she still wants to be there for her students and has been filming yoga sequences in her living room to roll out some online classes people can rent or buy. She believes even though people are practicing social distancing, it does not mean they cannot connect emotionally. West said she is a survivor of trauma and came to yoga as a way to help manage anxiety. 

“It helped me exponentially, especially in conjunction with mental health care. When I started teaching yoga, that was something that I really wanted to bring to my community, that support and relief when you're going through something difficult. I think especially in this time, it's important for us to feel there are still people there to support you,” West said. 



Yoga instructor Gillian West practicing in her living room. (Reena Diamante/Spectrum News)  

Leaders of Workforce Solutions Capital Area, which works to connect locals to job opportunities, tell Spectrum News in these past two weeks they have seen an increase of employers reaching out to them about outplacement services, layoff assistance, layoff aversion services, and other options to help affected workers.

“People are realizing the economic impacts and people are scared for their jobs, understandably. But businesses are facing very difficult realities about how they keep the doors open and keep their workforce employed. I think what we're seeing is the rolling ripple effect of what's happening across our country,” Tamara Atkinson, chief executive officer for Workforce Solutions Capital Area, said. 

Atkinson said as of Wednesday, March 18, in Austin-Travis County alone, 24 companies contacted the local office indicating that they were going to lay off employees, which almost altogether affects 1,500 individuals. In addition, they have been working with 45 local restaurants and bars, with more than 1,800 employees impacted workers. Atkinson said those numbers are “rolling.”

“There's hope. We have staff here, we have trained experts that can help individuals navigate what's next for them. We can offer real-time support and finding a job connecting to emergency support services if appropriate for them, as well as helping them understand what their career pathway may be into their next opportunity,” she said. 

This week, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott instructed TWC to waive the waiting week, where under normal circumstances the state cannot pay the first week of someone’s claim until that person receives twice their weekly benefits and returns to work full time or exhausts their benefits. TWC is also waiving unemployment insurance work search requirements immediately. 

People can apply for unemployment assistance online by visiting the Texas Workforce Commission website or by calling 1-800-939-663.

In order to apply you will need:

  • Last employer's business name and address
  • First and last dates (month, day and year) you worked for your last employer
  • Number of hours worked and pay rate if you worked this week (including Sunday)
  • Information related to your normal wage
  • Alien Registration Number (if not a U.S. citizen or national)

Job seekers can also contact their local Workforce Solutions office for job-search resources, job postings and training programs, and other career development assistance.