The Texas Workforce Commission decided Tuesday to postpone reinstating a work-search requirement for out-of-work Texans receiving unemployment benefits.
The requirement that Texans be actively searching for a job in order to receive benefits was initially slated to go into effect Monday. But agency officials cited rising numbers of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations across Texas — as well as Gov. Greg Abbott’s June 26 executive order scaling back the reopening of Texas businesses — in the commission’s decision to postpone the reinstatement.
"Due to the resurgence of COVID-19 cases in Texas, TWC has decided to pause the return of work search requirements at this time," Ed Serna, the TWC's executive director, wrote in a press release. "We will continue to monitor the situation and make further recommendations in late July."
The mandate would have required out-of-work Texans requesting unemployment benefits to prove they engaged in at least three work-search activities. Self-employed workers would have had to prove they took at least three steps to reopen their businesses.
"From the outset, TWC has stated that bringing back work search would be conditions-based," the press release said.
Texas' May unemployment rate was 13%, and more than 2.6 million Texans have filed for unemployment since the pandemic began — flooding the TWC with claims as businesses closed and coronavirus cases skyrocketed.
TWC officials originally defended the July 6 reinstatement of the work-search requirement, noting that job searches can be performed remotely in order to avoid exposure to the coronavirus.
“Work search activities can be completed at home without potential exposure to COVID-19,” TWC spokesperson Cisco Gamez wrote in a June 16 email to the Texas Tribune.
Abhi Rahman, a spokesperson for the Texas Democratic Party, applauded the TWC's decision to postpone reinstating its work-search requirement, which he said should have never been an issue.
"Doing the right thing shouldn't be this hard," Rahman wrote in an email. "The fact that workforce requirements was even a question shows exactly what [Gov. Greg] Abbott and the Texas Workforce Commission's think about our current crisis. There are still thousands of Texans waiting for their workforce claims to be processed."
The Texas AFL-CIO also praised the TWC's decision but said it believes more is needed from the agency to protect workers, including making it easier for out-of-work Texans to reach the agency by phone or online if they have concerns about unemployment or other matters.
"TWC employees have risen to the occasion mightily," the labor group wrote in a press release. "They are doing their utmost to serve the state, but they are digging out from an avalanche with a teaspoon. Until TWC ramps up public access to acceptable levels, the agency needs to dispense with administrative requirements that are not essential to the task of verifying eligibility and making payments. The agency should go further and suspend the bi-weekly 'request for payment' required of workers who have already been deemed eligible for benefits."
The TWC defended its biweekly payment requirement.
"TWC would be out of compliance with federal law if claimants did not request payments every two weeks," Gamez wrote in an email. "The process of requesting payments every two weeks is also used to help prevent fraud and overpayment. Texas would also lose administrative grants provided by the social security act if biweekly payment requests were not required."