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142K Texans Filed For Unemployment Last Week, Bringing Jobless Total To Over 2.5M

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Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels https://bit.ly/2WMZM3K

At least 2.6 million Texans filed for unemployment from March 15-May 15 due to widespread layoffs and furloughs caused by protective measures to slow the spread of COVID-19, according to the state's unemployment office.

A surge of initial claims seemingly overwhelmed the system, which was already long overdue for an overhaul. Using state and federal funds, the Texas Workforce Commission has now paid out more than $6 billion in total benefits.

State and local leaders continue to inch toward a full reopening of the economy, weighing health risks against Texas dire financial situation in the wake of COVID-19. By industry, the most claims came hospitality and food service (283,370 from March 1-May 9) followed by retail (198,800 in the same time period).

The second phase of Gov. Abbott's economic reboot announced this week includes reopening bars and nightclubs at 25% capacity and allowing restaurants to expand to 50%. Gyms, movie theaters, hair salons and a variety of other businesses are can now also now reopen in some capacity.

How will businesses' limited reopening affect employees' ability to collect unemployment? The viral threat is not eradicated. Will those worried about infection be forced to go back to work or risk losing benefits? What if there is another surge of cases after the loosening of distancing and shutdown rules?

What about workers who can't access or afford child care -- especially those who are essential? Will work-search requirements be reinstated as a requirement for benefits?

Are there enough financial resources to help everyone in Texas who has lost their job or had hours cut because of the pandemic? Will the next federal relief package include more unemployment benefits?

Guests:

"The Source" is a live call-in program airing Mondays through Thursdays from 12-1 p.m. Leave a message before the program at (210) 615-8982. During the live show, call  833-877-8255, email thesource@tpr.org  or tweet @TPRSource.

*This interview was recorded on Wednesday, May 20.

Kim Johnson is the producer for Texas Public Radio’s live, call-in show The Source. She is a Trinity University alum with bachelor’s degrees in Communication and Spanish, and a Master of Arts Degree from the School of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin.