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Texans Filing For Unemployment Increase 1,600% Over Two Weeks Ago

Closed businesses in the Deep Ellum area of Dallas on March 31, 2020.
Cooper Neil for The Texas Tribune
Closed businesses in the Deep Ellum area of Dallas on March 31, 2020.

The number of Texans applying for unemployment relief continues to climb as more workers are laid off or furloughed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Last week, 275,597 Texans applied — a 1,604% increase over the 16,176 Texans who filed in the week ending March 14.

The week ending March 21 saw the first spike of the pandemic, with 155,657 out-of-work Texans applying for relief. Both numbers are miles higher than the worst week of the Great Recession, which saw 49,398 Texans file for benefits, and the 63,788 who filed after Hurricane Harvey devastated the Houston area. In the last year, the Texas Workforce Commission has typically fielded 13,600 individuals applying each week.

Those numbers are expected to rise, as Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday issued a statewide stay-at-home order, which allows only essential businesses to operate through April 30. Previously, many cities and counties had announced similar orders.

Meanwhile, many Texans who have been trying to apply for unemployment relief for days or weeks say they can't get through. The crush of people filing has overwhelmed the Texas Workforce Commission's capacity, leading to busy phone lines and website outages.

Both the commission and Abbott have assured worried Texans that all who need relief will get it.

"Just know that you're not going to be denied your claim just because you're having a hard time getting through," Abbott said at a press conference Tuesday.

Last Thursday, TWC Executive Director Ed Serna asked Texans to "have a little patience with us." The commission is hiring additional staff, extending operating hours and beefing up server capacity to address the increased need.

Some requirements have been relaxed: there is no longer a work search requirement, and anyone who was previously overpaid while receiving unemployment won't see their benefits reduced. But other Texans still fall through the cracks. Gig workers and those who are self-employed remain ineligible for state unemployment benefits, but they may be covered by the recently passed federal stimulus package.

Nationally, the employment situation is just as dire: 6.6 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week, doubling the previous week when 3.3 million Americans filed and again setting a new record, previously held by the 1982 recession.

This story was provided by The Texas Tribune.