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Economy Project: Filing for Unemployment

By BJ Austin, KERA News

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/kera/local-kera-849992.mp3

Dallas, TX –

In the past year Texas has lost more than 266,000 jobs. The unemployment rate in North Texas has now climbed above eight percent, and the Texas Workforce Commission is struggling to process new unemployment claims.

In KERA's Monday economy report BJ Austin takes a look at how Texans can apply for unemployment benefits, and why they need to be patient.

Applications for unemployment must be made on the telephone or online. Ann Hatchitt, with Texas Workforce Commission, says the agency's call-takers are swamped.

Hatchitt: In the last year, we have added 300 call center workers for a total of 900 call center workers. We've added phone lines. And we are at capacity. So, we are really recommending that people file online. If they don't have access to a computer, we have 240 Workforce Centers around the state where they can use our computers there.

Outside the Workforce Center on Stemmons Expressway in Dallas, Travis Alvarez waits for access to one of two dozen COMPUTERS to use for his job search. But, he used the TELEPHONE to file for his unemployment benefits when he lost his construction job eight months ago. He says patience is the key.

Alvarez: You know, it's all automated, so if you don't know who you need to talk to or what you need to find out, it can be frustrating. But, as long as you have a little bit of patience and you listen to what they're telling you the help is there, it's definitely there.

So, if you get past this:

(Busy Signal)

To this:

Welcome to the Texas Workforce Commission's Tele-Serv. You must use a touch tone phone with this system.

You will be given further instructions, and need to have your personal information ready; social security number, last employer's name and address, dates of employment, and pay information.

The next few questions will help us route your call to a representative who can complete your application.

Then you will hear this:

Your call may be monitored or recorded. Estimated wait time is 29 minutes.

Debra Cox Wright filed for unemployment benefits the on the phone because she wanted to TALK to someone to know for certain her information was getting into the system.

Wright: I ended up waiting 19-18 minutes. It all depends on the time of day you call. If you call anytime after three o'clock, then the wait is shorter. But everybody call in the morning so the wait is longer.

Wright says she has filed online in the past, and found it easy to do. She does NOT believe telephone or online filing-only should be a hardship on anyone.

Wright: Seems like everybody in the world has a cellphone. Neighbors got a cellphone. Somebody's got a phone. And the online thing makes it much easier. And, it really puts it at a convenience for people.

After you qualify for unemployment benefits, you will get your first payment in about six weeks. That's longer than the previous three to four week estimate because of the large volume of claims. You will also receive a Texas Workforce Commission debit card. You must also register for work within three business days of the date you submitted your application. Register at a Workforce Center, or WorkInTexas.com. Every two weeks, you must request your unemployment benefit payment online or by phone, and be prepared to submit your work-search log.

Travis Alvarez says it may seem complicated, but it's not.

Alvarez: There are certain steps and procedures that you have to follow. And as long as you follow them everything will work out for you. But if you try to do things your own way, or the way you think is right, it's not going to work out for your benefit.

Alvarez says he's received a lot of help from Workforce Center counselors. Questions may also be submitted to the Texas Workforce Commission by email. A response is promised within 48 hours, but officials say it could be longer because of the large volume of requests for information.

You'll find the email address for contacting the Workforce Commission below. For additional information and resources go to our special webpage, kera.org/economy.

To Request a Workforce Commission call, please email: ui_info@twc.state.tx.us