DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – 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.READ MORE: Customs Agents Seize $50K+ In Meth Hidden Under 18-Year-Old's Clothing At Texas/Mexico Border
The Texas Workforce Commission (TWC), which handles the state’s unemployment claims, has been overwhelmed for the past year and, despite efforts taken to process claims and resolve issues faster, out-of-work Texans continue to find the state’s unemployment system frustrating to navigate.
Last spring when new unemployment claim filings peaked, the TWC computer system crashed and its phone lines were flooded.
When calling the TWC hotline, many Texans received a busy signal so thousands kept calling again and again further jamming the already stressed phone system.
This past summer, the TWC added four new call centers, hired thousands of extra call takers, and quadrupled its computer server capacity; but it wasn’t enough then and is still not enough now.
Last week, the TWC reported 1.9 million incoming call attempts from 268,000 unique callers – meaning the same people were calling again and again because they were unable to get through.
At the height of the pandemic shutdowns in April, the TWC was averaging 17 million call attempts per week.
“Somedays I called them 1,500 times,” said Elizabeth Gatewood, who lost her job in April.
It took Gatewood five months to finally get through to the TWC. She said 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,” she said. “At this point I’ve kind of given up hope.”READ MORE: Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office Seeks A&M Kwik Mart Armed Robbery Suspect
Earlier this month, speaking to the Texas Senate Committee on Finance, TWC Executive Director Ed Serna said the state agency has been working non-stop.
“And by nonstop, I mean literally non-stop since mid-March,” he said.
Serna told lawmakers, in hopes of never being in this predicament again, his agency is building a new cloud-based computer system.
The new system will be faster and be able to handle more claims than the current outdated system that was built in the 1990s.
Serna said the new system will also allow people to fix more issues online – eliminating the need to call.
“We are not rebuilding it. We are not modernizing it. We are completely replacing it,“ Serna told lawmakers.
Funding for the project was approved before the pandemic but the project was put on pause as all of agency’s employees were needed deal with the crisis.
Converting the entire agency over to a cloud-base system could take two to three years.
For many Texans, the upgrade comes too late.MORE NEWS: Texas Among 16 States Backing Alabama's Challenge To Census Privacy Tool
Gatewood said, “You expected some delay because the call volume of unemployment claims but at what point should they have gotten it together.”