141,672 additional Texans filed for unemployment for the week ending May 9 bringing the total number of Lone Star state residents seeking relief benefits since the coronavirus pandemic began two months ago to a whopping 1.9 million people.
The good news is that for the first time in six weeks the weekly number of Texans filing for unemployment dipped under 200,000.
The bad news is that these “lower” unemployment numbers are unprecedented with applicants never exceeding 100,000 in a week during 2017 Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath or during the 2008 Great Recession, according to the Texas Tribune.
In fact, the surge in unemployment applicants in March and April darn near broke the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) jobless system help-line and call centers as workers tried to get through to it in record numbers.
On one day alone, March 26, the TWC received a record 1.7 million calls, according to TWC Director Ed Serna. Call centers and new employees were added, and hours were expanded to meet the demand during this COVID-19 crisis.
Serna said in a Q&A with the Houston Chronicle that those that had trouble getting through don’t have to worry about the delay: “You're not going to … lose any benefits if it takes you two weeks to get in. We are backdating the claims. When you got furloughed or laid off. So, you don't have to worry about that.”
While the normal state and federal unemployment rules on the books are unchanged there are new elements of pandemic unemployment benefits to navigate.
Workers are eligible for more weeks of benefits, an increase of 13 extra weeks, and federal assistance has raised the maximum benefits per week from $521 to $1,121 in Texas.
Also, the federal government has given states the leeway to waive the “work search” requirement for those filing for benefits, and to waive the “waiting week” requirement that normally delays compensation upon filing.
Let’s take a quick look at some specific changes.
Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC)
The federally funded Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) program extends unemployment benefits to Texans for additional 13 weeks after they have exhausted their regular 26 weeks of eligibility under regular benefits.
This gives the unemployed 39 weeks of coverage during the pandemic.
PEUC provides coverage for original claims filed on or after July 8, 2018 and to those not eligible for benefits in other states or U.S. territories.
The last payable week for the PEUC will be Dec. 26, 2020.
The state will notify individuals nearing the end of their unemployment benefits or who have recently exhausted their benefits, if they are eligible for PEUC, no additional application is needed.
Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)
Another federally funded program is the Pandemic Unemployment Assistant (PUA) program which is aimed at providing compensation to those not normally covered by unemployment benefits such as those that are self-employed or involved in the gig economy.
Benefits under PUA can be received for up to 39 weeks with the last payable week Dec. 26, 2020.
If you have already applied for regular unemployment benefits, then the state will automatically contact you about your eligibility for PUA. Otherwise follow the state instructions for applying for PUA here.
Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC)
The Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) program began supplementing Texans unemployment benefits by an extra $600 per week beginning with the benefit week of April 4.
No extra applications are needed by the program, being administered by the TWC, which is slated to end benefit week of July 25, 2020.
The full $600 is available to all employees receiving at least $1 per week in unemployment benefits.
Please keep in mind that legislation and rules are subject to change, especially during this time of pandemic. New benefits are being considered by Congress.
During these uncertain times Employer Flexible is here for you and your employees with adaptable Texas PEO services. Let us know how we can help you.