By State Rep. Phil King
AUSTIN, Texas (Texas Insider Report) — Over half a million Texans have filed unemployment claims in the past three weeks as a result of the COVID-19 CoronaVirus. At this rate, the number of claims processed in the first few months of 2020 by the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) will soon outpace the total number of claims received during all of 2019.
This unprecedented increase has led to long wait times, overwhelmed call centers and technical issues with the Unemployment Benefit Services portal. TWC staff is working around the clock to expand the capacity to take claims but needs your support.
To help address the backlog and assist residents in a more timely manner, effective immediately the TWC is recommending that Texans stagger their calls and access to the online portal based on applicant’s area codes. (See schedule below.)
“Just as with the virus, we can treat this problem far more effectively if we work together and space out the demand (and incomng calls,) rather than having everyone call at the same time,” said TWC Executive Director Ed Serna.
"I know there are Texans worried about being out of work and missing their paychecks. The outbreak of COVID-19 has reminded each of us of the importance of acting with others in mind.
"We will keep working until every Texan that needs help, gets help – and we are asking for you to join the effort,” Serna said.
Effective immediately, TWC asks that Texans use their area code to find their proposed Call & Access Times. (See chart for recommended Call & Access times please.)
Texans will not be penalized for a delay due to call or user volume. Claims for individuals affected by COVID-19 are eligible to be backdated.
Staggering claims will provide help to reduce frustrations for many Texans, and provide better access to needed services.
Update from the Texas Education Agency (TEA)
Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) Waiver Approved: The Texas Education Agency (TEA) received approval from the U.S. Department of Education on March 30, 2020, to waive statewide assessment and accountability requirements under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), as amended by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), for the 2019–2020 school year. Additionally, for 2020 state academic accountability, all districts and campuses will receive a label of Not Rated: Declared State of Disaster.
Background: As announced in the To the Administrator Addressed letter dated March 18, 2020, Governor Greg Abbott used his statutory authority under Texas Government Code, §418.016 to suspend annual academic assessment requirements for the remainder of the 2019–2020 school year. As a result, the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR®) are not being administered for the 2019–2020 school year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
TEA submitted a federal assessment and accountability waiver on March 24, 2020, and will issue labels indicating Not Rated: Declared State of Disaster for 2020 to recognize that the closure of schools during the state’s testing window inhibited the ability of the state to accurately measure district and campus performance.
Update from the Office of the Governor
Conference on COVID-19, Hospital Capacity: Governor Greg Abbott held a press conference to provide an update on Texas hospital capacity. During the press conference, the Governor and Dr. Zerwas presented an overview of statewide hospital bed capacity, as well as a detailed analysis of bed availability by region. They also explained the state’s preparations to bring additional facilities online to provide supplementary healthcare capacity if needed. Hospital bed availability in Texas has increased by more than 140% since March 18th.
Actions Taken to Expand Hospital Capacity:
Actions Taken to Expand Hospital Capacity:
- March 22nd: An Executive Order was issued to expand hospital bed capacity. Under this order, the Governor directed all licensed health care professionals and facilities to postpone all surgeries and procedures that are not immediately, medically necessary to correct a serious medical condition or to preserve the life of a patient. The order also suspends certain regulations to allow for increased occupancy of hospital rooms.
- March 24th: An Executive Order was issued requiring Texas hospitals to submit daily reports of hospital bed capacity to the Texas Department of State Health Services.
- March 25th: A temporary waiver was implemented for certain hospital licensing rules and the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) adopted an emergency rule to meet Texas’ need for additional hospital capacity.
- March 29th: Announced a joint effort between the state, the Texas Military Department (TMD), and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to identify and equip additional locations to serve as health care facilities in the event that hospital capacity is exhausted. The Governor announced the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas as the first of these sites.