What to know about Texas unemployment benefits

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In a Nutshell

Across the country, the coronavirus pandemic has sent unemployment benefit claims surging, and Texas is no exception. Whether you’re out of work because of the COVID-19 pandemic or for other reasons, here’s what to know about filing for Texas unemployment benefits.
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Texas unemployment claims for 2020 so far have already surpassed the total number of claims filed in all of 2019, according to Texas Workforce Commission data.

The state government is moving to address fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, in part by loosening requirements for out-of-work Texans to get unemployment insurance benefits.

Unemployment benefits provide emergency cash to eligible people who are out of work. Although it’s a partnership between federal and state governments, each state generally decides how much individuals get with each check and determines the duration of the program. Employers pay unemployment insurance to help fund those benefits.  

You may be eligible for unemployment compensation if you were recently laid off or furloughed — and even self-employed and gig workers can qualify for benefits. Here’s some information about Texas unemployment benefits to get you started.

Access to Texas unemployment benefits has expanded because of COVID-19. Learn more.

How do unemployment benefits work in Texas?

If you need to file for unemployment benefits, the Texas Workforce Commission, or TWC, is your go-to place for getting information, filing claims and receiving benefits.

You can apply either online or by calling 1-800-939-6631, and applications are available in both English and Spanish.

Typically, eligible workers can claim money for up to 26 weeks. However, states may choose to revise their benefits in times of economic crisis, and the federal government may help fund extended state benefits during such times.

Do I have to pay taxes on my unemployment benefits?

Yes, you must report all the unemployment benefits you receive on your federal tax return. You can ask TWC to withhold 10% of your unemployment compensation and put it toward your federal income taxes.

How can I qualify for Texas unemployment benefits?

Each state sets its own eligibility requirements, but federal guidelines say you generally qualify if you’re unemployed through no fault of your own and you meet certain work and wage requirements. Texas will determine if you qualify for unemployment benefits based on your past wages and the reason why you’re unemployed. Generally, you may qualify for Texas unemployment benefits if …

  • You’ve been laid off or had your hours reduced due to lack of work.
  • You were fired for reasons other than misconduct.
  • You quit for a good reason, such as unsafe working conditions, not getting paid, or to care for yourself or a family member due to illness.

But if you were fired for misconduct or quit without a good reason, you generally won’t qualify for unemployment benefits.

The state also has requirements for what you must do in order to continue receiving benefits. Generally, here’s what you’ll need to do to continue receiving benefits after you’ve qualified for them.

  • Register for work in Texas and document your search for a new job, unless you’re exempt
  • Recertify your unemployment benefit claims on a regular basis
  • Respond to requests from unemployment administrators

How much might I get?

Depending on your previous wages, Texas unemployment benefits range from $69 to $521 per week. Again, it’s possible these maximums can change during recessions or other difficult economic times. 

The state bases your benefits on all the wages you earned from all employers you worked for in the first four of the last five completed calendar quarters before you first file for unemployment benefits. For example, if you apply for benefits on April 30 of the current year, the base period for your unemployment benefits will between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31 of the previous calendar year. You can use TWC’s benefits calculator to estimate your potential benefits.

How can I apply?

It takes about four weeks from the date you apply to know if you’re eligible for Texas unemployment benefits, so it’s probably a good idea to apply as soon as you become unemployed or underemployed. You can check your claim status on the TWC website or by phone. TWC will notify you by mail to let you know if you’re eligible and your potential benefit amount. 

Here’s an overview of the process when filing for Texas unemployment benefits.

1. Gather your information

Before starting an application over the phone or online, make sure you have the following personal information:

  • Your last employer’s business name, address and phone number
  • The first and last date you worked for your last employer
  • If you worked during the week you apply for benefits, including Sunday, you’ll need the number of hours you worked and your pay rate
  • Your wages (you can get this information from your pay stubs)
  • Your Social Security number or alien registration number

2. Call the TWC

If you don’t have internet access, you can call the Texas Workforce Commission to start a claim at 1-800-939-6631. Normal business hours are Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Central time.

3. Apply online

To file an online application, follow these steps.

  1. Head to TWC’s Unemployment Benefit Services page and create a user ID and password.
  2. Answer some initial questions to determine whether you’re eligible to apply for benefits online or if you’ll need to call a customer service representative to apply.
  3. If the system determines you qualify, you’ll then need to provide your personal information and recent employment history.
  4. Create a four-digit personal identification number, or PIN.
  5. Choose a payment method.
  6. Review and submit the application, and save your claim confirmation number.

How will I receive my payments?

If you’re filing for Texas unemployment benefits for the first time, the default payment method is a debit card. But you’ll have the option to change your payment method if you’d rather receive your payment by direct deposit into a U.S. bank or credit union account.

If you’ve filed before, the system will show the payment method that’s already on file. You’ll also have the option to update your payment method. Whether you’re a first-time or returning filer, just keep in mind that if you choose direct deposit it can take up to eight business days for TWC to verify your bank account information. 

When do my benefits end?

You can receive unemployment benefits in Texas for a maximum of 26 weeks, although the state may extend this time frame during emergencies. You’re no longer eligible when you fail to meet eligibility requirements, your benefits run out or you return to full-time work.

What if my claim is rejected?

If your claim for unemployment benefits is rejected, you may file a written appeal within 14 calendar days from the date of your determination notice. The letter or appeal form can be submitted online, at a Workforce Solutions office during open office hours, or by mail or fax.

What’s next

If you’ve recently lost a job or your hours have been drastically reduced, head to the Texas Workforce Commission website or call 1-800-939-6631 to see if you qualify for unemployment benefits. Once you submit an application, you may be eligible to receive $69 to $521 per week, up to 26 weeks, depending on the information you provide. The cash may help tide you over until you find a new job.

How has COVID-19 affected Texas unemployment benefits?

In light of the coronavirus pandemic, Texas leaders have stepped up to help more workers receive unemployment benefits. Here’s how.

  • TWC will waive the normal one-week waiting period.
  • TWC is also temporarily waiving the requirement that Texans be looking for work in order to continue receiving benefits.
  • You can receive unemployment benefits for up to 39 weeks in Texas, which is up from the state’s normal 26-week max.
  • TWC hired more workers and expanded its call center hours to process the influx of claims. You can now call Monday through Saturday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Central time.

But you may have to exercise some patience. Texans have been encountering long hold times and website crashes when filing unemployment claims in recent weeks.

About the author: Kim Porter is a writer and editor who has written for AARP the Magazine, Credit Karma, Reviewed.com, U.S. News & World Report, and more. Her favorite topics include maximizing credit card rewards and budgeting. Wh… Read more.