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‘People are left stranded’: Surge in unemployment creates roadblocks for Texans applying for benefits


EL PASO, Texas -- Nearly 17 million Americans have lost their jobs during the coronavirus pandemic. The surge of unemployment applications has created problems for some of those looking for help.

"All of a sudden I was just out of a job," said El Paso resident Hector Fierro, who had worked in an oil field before the pandemic. "They just totally shut it down, so everybody was laid off."

Fierro said he has applied for unemployment before, but this time was different.

"Every time I became unemployed, I always actively went out and looked for more employment," Fierro said. "At this time, a lot of doors are closed. I guess that's where anxiety kind of set in."

Fierro said when he tried to apply online, the Texas Workforce Commission's website would frequently crash. When he tried to call to ask for help, he said he would spend hours on hold or could not get through at all.

"I was beginning to wonder, 'Am I going to get this process done in time to put food on our table?'" Fierro said.

Fierro began his application on March 24. As of April 13, he said it was still not complete.

Fierro's complaints are similar to those of dozens of ABC-7 viewers who have emailed and called to discuss similar roadblocks.

Claims for unemployment benefits have surged in Texas, skyrocketing 2368% from the end of February to early April, based on Department of Labor estimates.

"If we keep on this track, we'll have done a year's worth of work in just a month's time," said Cisco Gamez with the TWC.

The Texas Workforce Commission has added hundreds of workers to assist.

"We're working extended hours," Gamez said. "We're working into the weekend."

Gamez said the commission used to take an average of 13,000 calls each day. Now, that number has grown to 1.7 million.

"I don't know any call center that can handle that in a 24-hour period," he said.

The commission is also asking Texans to stagger their call times based on area codes. Residents with 915 area codes are asked to call Mondays, Wednesdays or Fridays between 8 a.m. and noon.

"At some point things will get better. We were really strong before this started in February," Gamez said. "We had a 3.5% unemployment rate."

While the commission is doing its best, many people don't have the luxury of being able to wait for help.

"People are left stranded, helpless until, and that's all you can do. Nothing you can do," Fierro said.

Gamez said it takes an average of 21 days to receive benefits once an application is submitted. The Texas Workforce Commission said it will backdate claims to the day a worker was laid off. The commission is also encouraging many to reapply for claims, even if they have been previously denied.

Madeline Ottilie

Madeline Ottilie is a reporter on Good Morning El Paso and co-anchors ABC-7 at noon.


1 Comment

  1. Very sad, but it’s like everything in nature, you can only force so much through a single point, before it starts backing up on you. Water through a pipe, air through a tube, and thousands trying to use a website designed for a few at a time.

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