Coronavirus

Need Unemployment Benefits in Texas? Talk to Larry. Maybe He’ll Help.

Texas is seeking help wherever it can to deal with an influx of unemployment claims.
Texas is seeking help wherever it can to deal with an influx of unemployment claims. Wiki Commons
As thousands and thousands of Texans continue to lose their jobs as the state and the rest of the world suffer through the COVID-19 pandemic, the Texas Workforce Commission has been overwhelmed. The commission's phone lines have been overwhelmed, and its website huffs, puffs and stalls during high-traffic hours.

The frustration on social media and elsewhere is palpable. Texans need cash. They need unemployment insurance to access it. Doing so has been a struggle.

The agency is doing what it can to meet demand, trying to hire as many people as possible to work the phones and urging those seeking benefits to log on to its website between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m., when it sees less traffic.

Then there's Larry.

In an attempt to keep people with basic questions off the TWC's phone lines, the agency has created a chat bot to answer questions from visitors to the agency's website. It's not particularly helpful, but at least it's more interactive than an FAQ page.
Larry can't answer all your questions. - TEXAS WORKFORCE COMMISSION
Larry can't answer all your questions.
Texas Workforce Commission
According to the agency, Larry should get better with time.

"'Larry the Chat Bot' is an automated program that allows individuals to enter information relevant to their claims in a chat with a virtual assistant," the TWC said in a press release. "'Larry' was programmed to initially understand the most common questions that people using the UI website have. This small subset of questions consumes a large portion of the call center workload. With its artificial intelligence matrix, 'Larry' will 'learn' more questions and more ways to help Texans over time, resulting in a much more efficient UI application process."

If you've been laid off because of the coronavirus crisis, wading through the process is the hard part. If you can make it to the end of the TWC website's application and get confirmation, you are good to go, according to the agency, even if you receive a message to call in and provide more information. The agency will call you if it needs more information.
Once the commission signs off on your claim and determines your state benefit amount — somewhere between $69 and $521 per week — you'll get that amount along with an additional $600 in federal funds per week through the end of July. After that, you'll continue to receive your state weekly benefit until you find another job or receive 39 total weeks of benefits, whichever comes first.
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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young