7 tips you need to know now when filing for unemployment

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- The coronavirus outbreak has caused millions to lose their job. To get help, hundreds of thousands of people in Texas have applied for unemployment benefits.

ABC13 spoke with the executive director of the Texas Workforce Commission, Edward Serna, on Tuesday to get the top tips and latest updates for anyone who is applying for benefits and may be coming across issues.

Yes, there will be more workers to help take your calls

Serna said TWC is still looking to increase the number of people who can take calls. They're looking to move operations to seven days a week and expand the hours from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. They're also looking to possibly expand hours even further.

He said recently, TWC had AT&T add an additional 400 lines to the call center so less people would get a busy signal. They went from five servers to 10 servers and are working on adding 10 more to have a total of 20.

The TWC's Chatbot handled more than 37,000 inquiries within the first five hours of its launch. It was designed to support 2,000 users at a time. After the first hour and a half, there were more than 6,000 concurrent users.

TWC is also expecting another surge in applications from people who are self-employed and people working in the oil and gas industry.

Having trouble getting through by phone? They're working on it.

Many people have said when they finally got through to the TWC by phone, they were told they need to go online and apply.

"That is something we need to fix, because that sounds like it's a problem, because once we get someone, we should help them and take care of their problem and not ship them back online," said Serna.

What about PIN code issues?

Serna said the TWC originally established a PIN code process to help prevent fraud. Unfortunately, people may have received the code years ago and may not remember it now. To retrieve the code, the applicant must speak with a representative for assistance.

Now, TWC has designated 430 employees to solely address pin and password reset issues.

"We are looking at ways to address the pin reset online, or automatically, and we have gone in and done a mass reset of everybody who had pin numbers prior to 2015," he said.

Serna said they're working on fixing the issue to where the pin can be retrieved either in an online chat box or virtual representatives can correct the pin issue themselves.

What's the best time to file my claim?

The Texas Workforce Commission said the majority of people file their claims online, about 75 percent or more to be exact. The best time to apply online is between midnight and 5 a.m. Within the past 20 days, Serna said they've processed more claims than they did throughout all of 2019.

Will I be receiving an extra $600?

Yes. Those who qualify for the extra money will receive an additional $600. Serna said you don't have to do anything extra during your application process in order to receive it. If you qualify for it, you should expect to see the money soon.

"Within the next week or so, that $600 will be included in the regular checks that go out for unemployment insurance or pandemic unemployment assistance," said the TWC.

What's the payout break down?

According to the TWC, checks range from a minimum of $63 a week to a maximum of $520 per week (plus the extra $600 for those who qualify.) Regular unemployment insurance is 26 weeks. For people who qualify for pandemic unemployment assistance, such as self-employed or contract employees, unemployment insurance is 13 weeks.

If someone has reached the end of their benefits, 26 weeks after being laid off late last year, their benefits have been extended to add an additional 13 weeks, per the CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.)

Also, know the name of the employer as it is listed on your paycheck!

This is an important tip to remember because that's who submitted wage records for you. Be sure to use that name when you apply for benefits to avoid any issues. If you don't, the system will recognize this as an issue with your application, causing a delay the process. You'll eventually have to call to resolve it.

For more information, visit the Texas Workforce Commission website.
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