As the novel coronavirus slowly turns all of our lives into a dreary hellscape, one of the few bits of good news for workers in Texas has been Gov. Greg Abbott's decision to make the state's byzantine unemployment insurance system a little easier to navigate. It's about the least he could have done, but small favors are still favors.
In brighter time, like, say, early March, anyone laid off and seeking unemployment would've had to wait at least 10 days after getting laid off to see if their claim was approved, and then had to document job search activity in any week he or she hoped to get a check. Abbott has waived those requirements in response to COVID-19.
That's the good news. It's easier to get through the line. The bad news is there are going to be a lot of Texans queued up with you if you need benefits.
Here are the basics of applying for employment: In order to make a successful claim, you have to have gotten paid by your employer in at least two of the quarters in the year preceding the most recently ended quarter. That's means if you got laid off now, in March, you'd skip back to Jan. 1, the beginning of the current quarter, then Oct. 1, the beginning of the previous, which would leave you at Sept. 30, 2019. Then you have to have earned wages in two quarters of the year that began on Oct. 1, 2018, and ended Sept. 30, 2019. If it sounds complicated, it is.
Here's a chart:
Then the Texas Workforce Commission takes your highest quarterly wages from the benefit period, divides that number by 25 and comes up with your weekly benefit amount. There are about 16 weeks in a quarter and the commission is dividing by 25, so your weekly earnings are going to take a hit.
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Assuming you meet all the requirements, you'll start getting weekly disbursements from the state, either by direct deposit or a state-issued debit card.
Texas is going to be sending out a lot of those payments.
According to data from the TWC, 61,541 Texans applied for unemployment benefits between March 15 and March 18. Over the same period last year, 5,623 Texans applied for benefits. Locally, 27,180 people have applied for unemployment benefits so far in March, compared with 9,495 over the same period in 2019 and 9,406 over the same period in 2018.
More than 19,000 Texas residents applied for unemployment on March 17. That's more than the total number of people who sought benefits during the first week of March.