'I’ve Given Up Hope' - Texas Unemployment System Still Overwhelmed Even As More Return To Work

Since the start of the pandemic, more than 7.3 million Texans have applied for unemployment benefits. For some perspective, that’s a 948% increase from 2019 to 2020.

Video Transcript

BRIAN NEW: For the past year, we've heard hundreds of your stories of the frustration of navigating the state's unemployment system. You tried calling, but couldn't get through. You were mistakenly denied benefits, and could never get an answer why. So we're looking at why the state was so unprepared, and why now, a year later, many of the issues are still not fixed.

It all seemed to happen so quickly. One day, life was normal. The next--

- I literally lost all my revenue, all my income, in one day.

BRIAN NEW: Millions were out of work.

- It's caused a strain. Caused a strain.

BRIAN NEW: Since the start of the pandemic, more than 7.3 million Texans have applied for unemployment benefits. For some perspective, that's a 948% increase from the year before. The Texas Workforce Commission, which handles the state's unemployment claims, has been overwhelmed. Last spring, its computer system crashed, and its phone lines were flooded.

- I called at 7:58 this morning, and it was already busy.

BRIAN NEW: People kept calling again and again.

- It was over 1,000 times.

BRIAN NEW: Hoping to finally get through.

- And the worst part was, when you finally got through, they sent you to another area and then it dropped that call, too.

BRIAN NEW: This past summer, the Workforce Commission added four new call centers, hired thousands of extra call-takers, and quadrupled its server capacity. But it wasn't enough then--

- I called them 1,500 times.

BRIAN NEW: --and it's still not enough now.

- It's incredibly frustrating, and you lose hope with it.

BRIAN NEW: Elizabeth Gatewood lost her job in April. It took her five months to get through to the Workforce Commission. She says she was then given the wrong amount of benefits because of a missing tax document. She appealed, and to this day, is still waiting to hear back.

- It's pretty frustrating. I mean, at this point I've kind of given up hope.

ED SERNA: The TWC staff have been working nonstop-- and by nonstop, I mean literally nonstop, since mid-March.

BRIAN NEW: Earlier this month, executive director Ed Serna told state lawmakers his agency is building a new cloud-based computer system. It will be faster, and be able to handle more claims than the current outdated system that was built in the 1990s.

ED SERNA: We're not rebuilding it, and we're not modernizing the existing system. We're completely replacing it.

BRIAN NEW: Serna says the new system will also allow people to fix more issues online, eliminating the need to call. But for millions of Texans, this upgrade comes too late.

- You expected some delay with, you know, them trying to make all these changes and accommodate the volume of unemployment that they were having. But I mean, at what point should they have gotten it together?

BRIAN NEW: While new filings of unemployment claims have slowed in recent months, the unemployment rate here in Texas is still double of what it was pre-pandemic. Despite all of these struggles with the state's unemployment system, tonight at 10:00, we'll share stories of Texans who have reinvented their careers, and businesses to make it through the pandemic In Frisco, Brian New, CBS 11 News.