Unemployed Texans offer hope to those unable to contact unemployment office

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Whenever Tina Gomez was laid off on March 27, she figured she would do what everyone else was doing and apply for unemployment.

Over the last four weeks, more than 1 million Texans have applied for unemployment benefits, according to the latest U.S. Department of Labor data released Thursday.

For Gomez, and hundreds of other Texans, applying wasn't as easy as she thought it would be.

"I started worrying about all my bills, and how I was going to pay them. How was I going to pay my car note," said Gomez, who was laid off but also is a freelance graphic designer. "I didn't want to have any late payments or anything to affect my credit score, so I just did what everybody else did and went to apply online."

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Gomez tried to apply online, the method that the Texas Workforce Commission encourages newly unemployed residents to use to seek benefits, but she got an error message saying her social security number was associated with another user ID.

So, she started calling TWC's 1-800 number to resolve the issue. A week went by and she couldn't get through, so she made a social media post asking if anyone had any advice.

One person told her to try calling 1-866-274-1722, which is the number set up for employers. Another person suggested she email the workforce at customers@twc.state.tx.us and ombudsman@twc.state.tx.us, so she sent an email.

"I did add a prayer hand emoji and a little sad face in my subject, so I'm wondering if that's why she called me," said Gomez, who is from the Clear Lake area. "I'm not sure, but it seemed to work."

A notice on TWC's website Thursday afternoon says the best time to apply online is between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m. Unemployment claims have been on the rise for the last three weeks but dipped to 273,567 claims last week.

Gregory "Scott" Jackson, of Mission Bend, also tried to apply online, but kept getting a notice telling him to reset his password. He said he called a couple hundred times, but when that didn't work, he reached out to Congressman Al Green and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

"It was really sad and depressing and frustrating that I just couldn't get through. I'd either get a busy signal or a message saying to call back," said Jackson, of Mission Bend, who was furloughed from his contractor position with Wood Group Mustang Engineering in March. "A day after (contacting lawmakers) I started getting emails from Texas Workforce Commission, from Austin, saying that they were going to put me in touch with a caseworker and help me through my issues and so they answered my questions."

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Jackson and Gomez both said they hope their methods will help other people find alternatives to get through if they're having difficulties applying.

Still, neither have received their first unemployment check.

"I won't be getting my unemployment check for probably about two or three weeks, but until then I have money in my savings. ... I'm just paying the bills that I can for now and I called my debtors, just to see if I could push back some of those payments. Luckily everybody's willing to work with you right now," Gomez said. "I know it seems scary, but just keep trying, you will get through."

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