Need advice on filing for unemployment during coronavirus outbreak? Be patient

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- More and more people are feeling the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. For the hardest hit, they've lost their jobs and aren't sure what to do next.

In west Houston, the doors are locked to the Workforce Solutions office. It's one of 180 unemployment assistance offices around the state.

Most are closed because of the pandemic, but the people who come there need help. Among those who tugged on the locked door was David Thompson.

He lost his job as a mover Monday morning and doesn't have internet access at home.

"I was coming up here to see if I need to file unemployment or find another job," he said. "It's difficult right now. Everybody is nervous about the coronavirus so nobody is hiring right now, and a lot of people are getting laid off."

Also at the site was Jessica Bishop Foster. She was furloughed and is looking for work.

"It's difficult in trying times when you're working paycheck to paycheck, which I am," she said. "I take care of myself. I don't have any kids, but it's still difficult for a person who is single by themselves."

If you're among those who've lost work or seen a reduction in hours, you can apply for help online or on the phone.

The state has more than 1,000 people manning the system, though it is somewhat overwhelmed with high demand.

"We are working around the clock," said the Texas Workforce Commission's Cisco Gamez. "We are working extended hours. We are working over the weekend."

Gamez, who spoke to ABC13 from his office in Austin, said the first step in filing for help has always been online or on the phone and not in person.

The system is clogged right now with the increase in people out of work. The only thing the state can say is "Be patient. They will get to you. All you need to have ready is your social security number and address. That's it."

You can easily start the process and it's faster online than on the phone if you have access.

"If you're having trouble getting through, we understand your frustration," said Gamez. "We want to help you. We want to help people in need, and we just ask you to be patient."

The numbers of newly unemployed won't come out until next month, but we know they will increase significantly. That means long after the doors are unlocked at Workforce Solutions, people will still be coming for help.

It's not only individual workers suffering, small businesses are struggling as well. Ray Moon has been in business for 30 years, but he's not sure how much longer he can keep his auto repair shop open or keep his one employee on the payroll.

"Customers are not stopping by," said Moon. "They're not coming in," he said. "I've got plans for keeping my employee employed as long as we can. Probably the next 30 to 60 days. After that, I don't know what's going to happen."

He'd like to think Washington is going to provide much needed small business relief, but he's not convinced.

"I don't know if Washington is ever going to get together and come up with something," said Moon. "In [2008], they said they were going to help small businesses and they didn't help."

In Washington Monday, the back and forth between chambers and parties on Capitol Hill dragged into the early evening.

It adds to the uncertainty inherent with the pandemic and doesn't help stabilize the markets or people's fears. During a conference call with reporters on Monday, Houston Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia said congress must do something bold and fast.

Congressman Al Green said the American people need certainty. They need to know their government is doing everything they can. It may not be enough regardless.

Patrick Jankowski is an economic forecaster for the Greater Houston Partnership. He said Houston's losses could be worse than the rest of the country because of the low price of oil.

"We were going to lose jobs in energy this year regardless and now we're going to lose even more," he said. "This is going to be very tough for Houston. It's probably going to be somewhere between what we experienced with the fracking bust and what we experienced in the 80s."

The hope for Moon and for those out of work is that the trends aren't that bad and both help and the customers show up sooner than later. Because later may be way too late.

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