Texas to reinstate work-search requirement for unemployment benefits

Shuttered businesses in downtown Austin during the coronavirus pandemic. Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune

Texans receiving unemployment benefits will once again have to prove they have searched for a job or tried to reopen their business if they want to continue receiving aid starting next month.

The Texas Workforce Commission decided Tuesday to restore its work search requirement beginning July 6.

That means when individuals request unemployment benefit payments, they will have to prove that they engaged in at least three work search activities. Self-employed workers will have prove they took at least three steps to reopen their businesses.

The move comes as Gov. Greg Abbott continues to reopen businesses during a surge in Texas coronavirus cases that has led to record numbers of hospitalizations over the past several days.

“As Texas begins to recover and Governor Greg Abbott works to reopen the Texas economy, so must the TWC take steps to facilitate this reopening,” Cisco Gamez, a TWC spokesman, said in a media briefing Tuesday afternoon.

The TWC also noted that work search is federally required for unemployment benefits, and that such benefits are intended to provide temporary relief, rather than a permanent solution, to jobless individuals.

“The work search requirement does not mean workers must take the first job available,” according to a TWC press release. “It means that they must show an active effort to obtain new employment to continue benefits. As long as they do this, their benefits will continue for up to 39 weeks, in accordance with state law and the federal CARES Act.”

Furloughed employees with set return dates are exempt from the work search requirement.

More than 2.3 million Texans have filed for unemployment since mid-March – amounting to four typical years’ worth of unemployment claims – as statewide commerce suffers. The oil and gas industry – which largely fuels the state’s economy – has also been crushed by a reduced need for production, putting thousands of Texans out of work. And the statewide unemployment rate hit an all-time record high of 12.8% in April.

Despite the commission’s addition of four call centers, fifteen computer servers, and new staff members to its operations, the agency’s phone lines have remained inundated, which has left an unknown number of unemployed Texans often waiting for weeks to get in contact with a TWC representative.

The Commission encourages Texans who may need to receive benefits in July to maintain records of their efforts to look for work in case such documentation is requested.

“Keep good records and save your work search documentation,” the Commission wrote in a Tuesday press release. “Your work search efforts do not need to be sent in unless it is requested by the Commission.”

Work search activities could include searching for employment on the Texas state job portal, applying for a job, or attending a virtual job fair, according to Gamez.

“Three work search activities could be going on WorkinTexas.com and searching for jobs three different times,” he said.