Working People Are Rapidly Losing Jobs; Abbott, Workforce Commission Should Act Now

As more and more working people are sidelined by the coronavirus, the Texas AFL-CIO called on Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas Workforce Commission to act immediately to remove unnecessary barriers to eligibility for Unemployment Insurance benefits.

Among the workers hit particularly hard in the pandemic: those in transportation, hospitality and restaurants,; tourism; entertainment; retail; and tradespeople who work festivals and other canceled events are just some of them. But many other job categories are at risk for temporary, if not permanent, unemployment.

"The system for delivering jobless benefits to Texans who lose work through no fault of their own is already one of the stingiest in the nation," Texas AFL-CIO President Rick Levy said. "In this disaster, however, Gov. Abbott and the Workforce Commission have the power to expand eligibility in several simple but meaningful ways."

"Waive the one-week waiting period for benefits and the work-search requirements. Unemployed workers need benefits now, and requiring work search in this contracting economy is meaningless.."

"At least seven states have already acted quickly to loosen these and other rules to get money into the hands of people who are out of work. It's high time for Texas to do right by families facing economic calamity in this disaster."

"Action on Unemployment Insurance alone will not be adequate to the task ahead. Sadly, our system remains outdated and is not built to address the needs of the modern economy, particularly for part-time workers, independent contractors or others who fall into loopholes in coverage. We believe other, larger relief, including national benefits, are warranted in this crisis. But Texas should act now to help more Texans navigate hardships related to the coronavirus. This is the right thing to do for working families."

Below is a primer on how the UI system works when someone loses a job.

The Texas AFL-CIO is a state labor federation that includes 245,000 affiliated members who advocate for working families in Texas.

Coronavirus and Unemployment Insurance
What Every Texan Needs to Know

How does Unemployment Insurance work?

Generally, under state and federal law, Texas workers who have been laid off or are working reduced hours through no fault of their own, may be eligible for unemployment insurance benefits.

Individual circumstances may vary, but workers are usually eligible for a weekly benefit amount of between $69 and $521.

Before receiving benefits, workers must navigate a number of bureaucratic requirements:

• The One Week Waiting Period requires unemployment applicants to be out of work for a full week before they are eligible for benefits.

• The Work Search Requirement requires applicants to prove they are searching for new work in order to receive financial support.

• And the Past Wages and Base Period formulas calculate unemployment benefits on the basis of a workers' recent wages and duration of their work.

Why Does This Matter Today?

- Our communities are hurting. Restaurants, factories, airlines, construction sites, and more are shutting down, limiting their hours, and cutting shifts. Workers who have been laid off, seen their hours cut, or are feeling other economic impacts of Coronavirus need financial relief today! But the unemployment insurance system red tape makes it harder to for workers to get this vital financial support.

What Could Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas Workforce Commission Do?

- Gov Abbott has declared a public health emergency, which permits him to suspend or waive various state requirements. That's what we need the state to do now. Governor Abbott and the Texas Workforce Commission should suspend the unemployment waiting period, the work search requirement, and adjust the past wages and base period formulas so that working families can get back on their feet.

Can They Really Do That?

- You bet they could! Governor Abbott and state agencies have suspended trucking regulations, they have suspended drivers' license and vehicle registration regulations, and they have even suspended portions of the Texas Open Meetings Act. Access to Unemployment Insurance will help Texas families pay their bills and avoid the worst financial consequences of the COVID-19 crisis.

In fact, states like California, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Ohio, North Carolina and Rhode Island have suspended their own requirements for unemployment work-search, waiting periods, and more.