HOUSTON - The Texas Workforce Commission says it has processed 700,000 applications since March 14 by adding more staff and call centers. But many jobless people say they're still struggling to get through by phone or online.
TWC says it is updating its system to help people in two new ways.
It will soon start approving self-employed applicants. And it will pay recipients retroactively to the date they lost their jobs because the rush of applicants prevented so many from getting through.
For many people like Tiffany Burks, the struggle is still real. "I've been calling for three weeks now, sometimes in excess of three hundred times a day," said Burks.
As an independent travel agent, she is one of the self-employed now eligible for unemployment benefits through new federal stimulus dollars. Benefits she needs.
Said Burks, "I have two children, I have a mortgage, I have utilities."
The Texas Workforce Commission says it's updating its system to approve self-employed applicants.
"We're looking at a target date of April 12th to have that system ready. But certainly, if they're available now, if they like they can go to ui.texasworkforce.org and apply now," said TWC spokesperson Fracisco Gamez.
Another applicant, Britney Adams, told us she's already been approved for benefits but couldn't get the required phone call through the busy lines to receive her first check. Instead, she received a letter from TWC saying, "We can't pay you, you did not contact us as requested."
"The only number I can get to request a payment, I can't get through to a live person," said Adams.
But the TWC says recipients will be paid retroactively to the date they lost their jobs.
Explained Gamez, "I know it may say you must call by this time, but really they're not going to be penalized if they're having trouble getting through. They will receive benefits."
Their best advice is to apply online rather than by phone.
"The number of people getting through to apply over the phone is 3000 to 3500 a day, where online we're working at 30,000 up to 70,000 a day," said Gamez.
Both unemployed and self-employed applicants will be eligible for the extra $600 federal stimulus funds per week. Self-employed workers can also apply for help through the Small Business Administration.
To help reduce the rush of calls, the TWC recently issued times for applicants to call by area code.
Area codes beginning with 9 should call Monday, Wednesday or Friday between 8:00 a.m. and noon.
Area codes beginning with 3, 4, 5, or 6 should call Monday, Wednesday or Friday between 1:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m.
Area codes beginning with 7 or 8 should call Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday between 8:00 a.m. and noon.
Area codes beginning with 2 should call Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday between 1:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m.