Editor's note: On Aug. 21, federal officials gave Texas the green light to provide $300 in extra weekly unemployment benefit payments. The Texas Workforce Commission said that money could start showing up the week beginning Aug. 23. While states can contribute another $100, Texas does not plan to do so.
On Thursday, Gov. Greg Abbott said Texas will apply for federal funding to provide an extra $300 every week for people who have lost their jobs. More than 10 states have already been federally approved for the additional jobless relief, providing an extra $300, and in some cases, $400 in unemployment checks.
The directive from Abbott comes as 61,416 Texans applied for unemployment relief in the week ending Aug. 15. In total, more than 3.2 million Texans have applied for jobless assistance since the coronavirus pandemic began. In March, Congress passed a broad coronavirus relief package that added $600 to people's weekly unemployment checks, but the benefit expired in July leaving many people already reeling from the pandemic deeper in the lurch.
In early August, President Donald Trump issued an executive order that he said would add $400 to people’s unemployment checks to help them weather life upended by the coronavirus. The White House later clarified that the federal government would provide $300 per week, and states could decide whether they wanted to contribute an additional $100.
Abbott on Thursday did not indicate that the state intended to boost the payment with an additional $100 per week, as other states have done. He said the federal funding, if approved, will “provide an additional $300 per week in benefits for qualifying Texans receiving unemployment benefits.”
Abhi Rahman, spokesman for the Texas Democratic Party, said "$300 a week is not enough."
"It is time for Trump and Abbott to stop nickel and diming our families," Rahman said in a statement Thursday. "We need real relief right now. Texans can’t take this president and this governor’s incompetence any more.”
Since Trump’s announcement, state officials have been confused about whether the executive order authorizing the payments was legal and whether states will be able to afford to implement it. Trump also required states to administer the additional payments, and governors across the country have warned that they don't have the capacity to do so. The initial $600 weekly benefits were paid by the federal government.
"The Lost Wage Assistance program will provide crucial financial support to Texans who have lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic," Abbott said in a statement Thursday. "Texas is grateful to President Trump for making these funds available to individuals and asks that our federal partners quickly grant this request so that TWC can swiftly administer this funding to Texans."
The Texas Workforce Commission, the state agency in charge of unemployment relief, has struggled to keep up during the pandemic and been bogged down by large waves of Texans seeking jobless assistance since March.
The agency has also been set back by an outdated unemployment benefits services system — the online platform providing a safety net for Texans affected by the pandemic. The program is stored on a mainframe computer system built in the early to mid-1990s.
The outdated system coupled with a severe understaffing at the agency facing a crush of calls and applications from jobless Texans earlier during the pandemic left many without assistance for weeks or even months.
Now, if the extra jobless funding the state is expected to apply for is federally approved, the workforce commission will have another task — distributing the money.
“Claimants currently receiving unemployment through TWC should continue to request payments as normal,” according to Abbott’s office. “Eligible claimants should expect to receive the additional benefits on their first payment request on or after Aug. 23. These funds will be backdated to the benefit week ending Aug. 1.”
This would help Anissa Dwiggins, a single mother from The Woodlands who has worked at an extracurricular program for Houston-area children since 1998. Dwiggins was forced to dip into her savings in August after extra $600 weekly jobless payments expired in late July.
After the payments expired, the president and both parties in Congress have been unable to come up with a deal to reauthorize them.
“Everything's kind of just come to a halt,” Dwiggins told The Texas Tribune.