In partnership with The National Institute for Health Care Management Foundation, The Texas Tribune is producing a limited series of Spanish podcast episodes focused on providing accurate information about the pandemic.
Cientos de miles de tejanos han presentado una solicitud de desempleo desde que la pandemia llegó a Texas en marzo de 2020.
La Comisión de la Fuerza Laboral de Texas, la agencia estatal encargada de administrar los beneficios del seguro de desempleo, organizó que un empleado de habla hispana respondiera las preguntas más frecuentes para The Texas Tribune.
Escuche el segundo episodio de esta serie de podcasts.
María Isabel Gonzales: Currently one of the issues of greatest concern for Texans, undoubtedly, is unemployment benefits. That’s because since the federal assistance programs ended, approximately half a million people have been affected — that is, they lost their benefits or had them reduced. The Texas Workforce Commission officials told The Texas Tribune that portals such as WORKinTEXAS.com and MyTxCareer.com have posted nearly 1 million jobs.
To answer some of the frequently asked questions about the unemployment benefits the commission provides, our guest is Alejandro Espinoza, operations coordinator of the commission’s West Texas telecenter. He joined us from El Paso to answer our questions and provide relevant information on how to apply for unemployment benefits.
What happens when my benefits run out?
Alejandro Espinosa: If you were receiving benefits, check your correspondence or your portal, which would have been created when you opened your claim. If you qualify for state benefits or some other type of benefit, that’s where we’ll let you know. We send you information on what to do, so that we can then renew any other type of benefit or assistance that may be available to you.
We have to remember that although many federal programs ended, we are still managing state benefits. We check to see if a person who has already run out of federal benefits can now apply for other assistance. It’s very important for people to know that we have to open a claim to find out whether the person is eligible or not.
Gonzales: Alejandro, when you say correspondence, are you referring to a document that comes to my house by snail mail, or are we also talking about email?
Espinosa: People can choose to receive emails. This [email] is something we used a lot during the last 15 months. That’s because if other services were not working for whatever reason, email seems to still work very well. All you have to do is go on the website, register and set up your own portal. In the portal, you’ll receive the same documents that would have been sent to your home address by snail mail.
Gonzales: How long can you receive regular state unemployment benefits?
Espinosa: The total length of time you can receive state benefits is 26 weeks. The weekly amount you receive depends on your past wages. So remember that a claim for benefits lasts for one year. That means that depending on the specific situation of the applicant, the total balance of the 26 weeks could run out before the benefit year expires. The Texas Workforce Commission will always notify you by correspondence if any other benefits are made available that may apply to your case.
Gonzales: What are the requirements to receive regular unemployment benefits?
Espinosa: Unemployment benefits are provided based on certain criteria. The four general points that a person needs to take into account when applying for eligibility are as follows:
- The person applying must have sufficient wages in what we call the base period. Enough past earnings are needed to be eligible to open a claim.
- You must complete the assigned work-search requirements. That's for anyone who opens a claim.
- The type of separation from the last job must be eligible. The reason for the separation from the last job is something we look at on the claim. So depending on the reason for the separation, that’s how it is decided on whether the claim is eligible or not. Of course, all of it is defined by the state’s unemployment law.
- And lastly, you have to be available and be able to work.
These are the four general points. If any one of these are not met, it can result in no benefits, no money for the claim.
Gonzales: What is the base period for unemployment benefits? Can you give us some examples to get an idea for how to determine the base period?
Espinosa: The base period is the first four of the last five completed calendar quarters before the person's initial claim is opened. The base period is divided into quarters, OK? January, February, March is a quarter. Depending on when the claim is opened, that’s the time from when the base period is determined. The effective date of a claim is always the Sunday of the week in which you apply for benefits, so that's where the base period is determined.
There is a chart on our website to figure out what your base period would be. For example, if a claim is opened in the month of August, the base period would be April 2020 to March 2021. The fifth quarter is not used to determine the base period. Something that’s very important to remember is that the base period changes as the quarters change. That’s important because if a person doesn’t have enough earnings in one base period for the current quarter, they may be able to add the earnings from the previous quarter to the new one.
We recommend that people who may not be eligible for one quarter reapply to see if the earnings that they have once the base period changes will make them eligible.
Gonzales: What do we mean when we say that you are assigned job searches? Does that mean the commission looks for jobs for the applicants?
Espinosa: What it means is that anyone who opens a claim for unemployment is assigned job searches that they have to do as part of the benefits requirements. These are assigned to a person once the claim is set up. The number of searches the person is assigned depends on the county where they live. It’s something that must be done on a weekly basis in order to continue to be eligible for benefits. You have to document all your work-search activities. So, for example, if you are assigned three work searches, that’s the number of searches you have to do per week. Basically, any attempt to get a job is considered a work search. The number of assigned job searches are not the same for everyone, but it is a requirement.
We have local Texas Workforce Solutions offices where you can go to do those job searches. They offer many other services as well. But it doesn't necessarily mean people have to go through the Texas Workforce Solutions offices to do their job searches.
Gonzales: What would be examples of eligible reasons for benefits?
Espinosa: To be eligible for unemployment benefits, there must be an eligible job separation. These can vary, but basically the reason for the separation must be, for example, a break from the company, reduction in hours or wages that are not related to misconduct.
The important part is that there is no misconduct on the person that was separated from the job. Now, there are several types of separations where the reason is not necessarily misconduct, and those reasons are eligible. For example, if you simply run out of work. There is not enough work to sustain employment.
If you decide to terminate your employment, then that means you quit. Most people who quit do not receive unemployment benefits. For example, if you quit your job for personal reasons such as lack of transportation, staying home with your children, we cannot pay you benefits.
You may, however, be eligible for benefits, if you quit for a reason such as unsafe working conditions.
Gonzales: So, what documentation do I need to file an unemployment claim?
Espinosa: We highly recommend that you have your last employer's information handy. This way we can correctly identify your claim. It prevents delays on a claim. For example, a check stub or something that identifies the employer.
Often an employer may not be identified correctly, and it leads to delays in processing the claim because we then have to get in contact with people to verify the information.
It is also good to have your ID or permanent resident card, if it applies to you. All of that information is requested when you open your claim. It will all help the claim process be more efficient. This way you won’t need to call back with information you didn’t have when you first filed your claim.
Gonzales: What is the processing time like, so people can get an idea for how long they’ll need to wait to hear back?
Espinosa: It takes approximately 21 days from the date the claim for benefits was filed to know whether or not you are eligible. We use this time to gather information about your wages, your job separation and your overall eligibility.
We advise people to follow the instructions provided when they first apply, which is to check your correspondence, whether email or physical mailbox, in case we are trying to reach you for any additional information.
Also when you open a claim, something that I was explaining a moment ago is that it is very different to open a claim and to ask for the benefit check to be sent to you. The benefit request has to be done every two weeks. So, you open the claim and in two weeks you have to then — either through the internet or Servitel [automated line] — request that the benefit be sent to you for the previous two weeks. That has to be done every two weeks.
Gonzales: What happens when my application/claim is denied? What is the appeal process? What is the first thing I should do?
Espinosa: The appeal can be made through our website. You can also mail it or fax it to us with the information requested. You must have your Social Security number, your address and the reason you are submitting your appeal.
It is very important to know that you only have 14 calendar days from the date the Workforce Commission notifies you that you are not eligible for benefits. Whether it is an email or a letter, this notice comes with a deadline for filing an appeal.
Once you submit your appeal, it will be scheduled and you will be sent a packet of information on the steps to take when you have an active appeal in the system.
Gonzales: I wanted to ask you how you would compare last year to other years in terms of the level of need for Texas Workforce Commission services? What has the demand looked like in terms of the need for services?
Espinosa: I have been working with the agency for several years now, and last year was like nothing I’ve ever seen. In my experience while on this job during catastrophes, natural disasters, changes in the economy, I have never seen anything like this. The number of people needing unemployment benefits multiplied by the thousands.
The volume of calls we had resulted in change for the better in the agency because we had to hire additional staff. We had to make adjustments to be able to serve the people who needed the services.
One of the most noticeable things was the call volume. We had never seen the volume of calls that we had at that time because there were so many people who needed the benefits.
It also meant the Texas Workforce Commission team had to adapt and change how we did customer service by internet and by phone. We had volunteers from other agencies who helped us provide that service. We are still working seven days a week because we are still so busy.
Gonzales: How can people reach the Workforce Commission?
Espinosa: You can reach the telecenters through our helpline Monday through Sunday. We are currently at extended capacity, working from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. The phone number is 1-800-939-6631. We have staff ready to assist with any questions, whether it's to open a claim or if you already have an existing claim that you want to reactivate.
People also have the option to get information through our automated line called Servitel. The number for Servitel is 1-800-558-8321. We also invite you to go to our website, www.texasworkforce.org. Once there, you go to the top of the page and click on the Spanish option to see all the information in Spanish.
Gonzales: Alejandro, another question. Will any of the numbers you just mentioned provide an option that will take me directly to a Spanish-speaking agent?
Espinosa: The first number, which is the one for the telecenters, 1-800-939-6631, is the number to access a representative. There may be a little bit of a delay, but eventually you will get through to an agent and a Spanish-speaking one if that's what you choose when prompted. That’s the number for claims and general questions. The Servitel, the second number I provided, is more for messages. That number is helpful if you have an active claim and you want to get updates.
Alejandro Espinosa, operations coordinator for the West Texas Telecenter of the Texas Workforce Commission, joined us for this episode of news reports in Spanish.
At the time of this recording in August 2021, the commission told The Texas Tribune that approximately 344,000 Texans are receiving unemployment benefits. Espinoza concluded by saying that people should verify the requirements for unemployment benefits, file an application, and watch for correspondence, calls or emails from the commission.
If you need more information, visit www.texasworkforce.org and choose the 'En Español' link at the top.