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From The Texas Tribune
AUSTIN—The Texas Workforce Commission’s executive director told lawmakers last week that it plans to reinstate work-search requirements once stores and restaurants are allowed open to 50% capacity as Gov. Greg Abbott plans to do on May 18.
Cisco Gamez, spokesperson for the commission, declined to confirm the exact trigger for reinstating the requirements, but said that “it’s definitely going to happen at some point.”
He said Executive Director Ed Serna “mentioned the potential for … reinstating work-search requirements” during a briefing with lawmakers, but nothing is set in stone. If those requirements were reinstated, Gamez said, they’d need approval from the agency’s commissioners and Texans would receive at least two weeks’ notice.
“At this time, we do not have a start date for reinstating the work-search requirements,” Gamez added.
However, Reps. Erin Zwiener, D-Driftwood, and Nicole Collier, D-Fort Worth, who were on the telephone briefing, said the commission presented the work-search reinstatement as a decision that had already been made. This was reaffirmed at least three times on the call, Zwiener said.
Zwiener said she and other lawmakers were “surprised and alarmed” by the plan and that it’s a sign that the agency is moving too fast. “Allowing businesses to reopen at 50% capacity doesn’t mean that they are all reopening,” Zwiener said. “I don’t expect fully 50% of workers to be able to get jobs back at that point.”
Under federal guidance, the Texas Workforce Commission is allowing self-employed workers and independent contractors to receive unemployment benefits because of the coronavirus pandemic. But when lawmakers raised the question about what the work-search requirement would look like for these workers, Zwiener said, it seemed like the commission hadn’t thought that consideration through.
“They’re having to pivot very quickly,” Zwiener said. “Several agencies, including the TWC, are making really big decisions about the future of Texans and their livelihood and health.”
How the commission is logistically going to be able to process work-search requirements is also a concern, Zwiener said. Workers are still struggling to successfully file for unemployment, receiving busy signals on phone lines or waiting on receiving benefit payments.
Normally, people seeking unemployment benefits have to register on workintexas.com and log a minimum number of work-search activities. This includes sending in job applications or participating at workshops at a Texas Workforce Solutions office.
“Why even prematurely reinstate the work-search requirement when it could increase the burden on the TWC?” Collier said. “What purpose would the work-search requirement serve if those jobs weren’t even in the same industry? We need to be mindful of the data and resources that are available before we make changes or add additional requirements of those who need these resources the most.”
People will continue receiving unemployment benefits after refusing to return to work if they are at high risk, live with someone who’s high risk or don’t have access to childcare, among other guidelines.