Texas Workforce Commission works on guidelines for people heading back to work during COVID-19

Natalie Martinez

Some Texas businesses reopen, workers may still receive unemployment benefits

As some businesses around Central Texas start to reopen amid the coronvirus outbreak, some questions still remain surrounding unemployment benefits.

AUSTIN, Texas – 1.9 million Texans filed for unemployment benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic, and now that most businesses will partially open back up this weekend, restaurant and retail employees will be back to work. What does that mean for the people relying on the unemployment insurance to make ends meet?

Cisco Gamez, a spokesperson for the Texas Workforce Commission, explains if a person is going back to work part-time, they may still receive unemployment insurance and are required to report their wages. Depending on the amount of wages earned, the claimant may or may not continue to qualify for unemployment insurance. If someone is going back to work full-time, they also may not receive unemployment benefits.

RELATED: Austin health officials say it’s too early to open up Texas economy

“Under longstanding TWC policy, if an employer offered an individual a job and they refused the job offer without good cause the employee would not be eligible for unemployment insurance benefits,” Gamez said.  “Recognizing this, extraordinary situation, TWC is reevaluating good cause situations that take into consideration the governor’s direction towards reopening the economy.”

According to TWC’s Unemployment Insurance Claimant Dashboard, 58,606 thousand people in Travis County have filed claims, in Williamson County 23,211 and in Bastrop County 2,822. However, not every claim has been processed.

RELATED: Austin restaurant owners weigh costs of safely opening dining room services

Manuel’s Mexican Restaurant in northwest Austin is opening its doors Saturday after being temporarily closed for seven weeks. Co-owner Jennifer McNevin said the restaurant had to furlough 80 of its employees. This weekend their entire staff has been welcomed back.

“Some people did not qualify for unemployment and we were very worried about them during the time we were closed when they had no income,” said McNiven. “As a small business owner you worry about your employees because they are the ones that make your business.”

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Manuel’s gave their employees groceries, started a fundraising campaign, and received PPP loans to pay the staff for a couple of weeks. Starting Saturday, the business will off lunch and dinner, maintaining social distance and following state health guidelines. The McNivens will continue to fundraise for their employees until they are fully operational again.

“With us reopening I know that some of them are going to still need help getting back on their feet. It’s a slow process,” said McNiven.

Gov. Abbott announces next steps in reopening Texas

The governor says he will allow the stay-at-home orders to end on April 30 and that the first phase of businesses will reopen on May 1 with some guidelines.

RELATED: State stay-at-home order will expire on April 30, first phase of businesses reopening May 1

Gamez said the TWC is working on developing a set of guidelines to address “good cause” situations, such as if a person cannot return to work because they are concerned about childcare during the pandemic.

The Texas Workforce Commission call centers are open now open seven days a week from 7 am – 7 pm. They have about 1,000 people answering calls this week and plan to increase that by another 500 in the coming weeks. 

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