The spread of the novel coronavirus has caused a significant economic downturn that is deeply affecting employees in Texas, across the country, and throughout the world. As states begin to implement reopening plans, government officials at the local and federal level are stepping in with relief programs and resources to alleviate some of the issues impacting communities.
Although Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued an executive order focused on reopening certain businesses after a mandated shutdown, many Texans are still feeling the pinch and remain in need of assistance. This guide outlines the benefits available in the Lone Star state, who’s eligible, and how you can access these additional resources.
Unemployment benefits in Texas
The Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) administers the state’s unemployment benefits for eligible individuals who find themselves out of work or dealing with severely reduced work hours. Visit the TWC’s Unemployment Benefits Estimator to gauge how much you may receive in unemployment benefits.
To qualify for unemployment, you must meet the following criteria:
- Be partially or entirely unemployed
- Have earned a minimum taxable wage while working in Texas
- Must not have been let go for any misconduct
- Be mentally and physical capable of returning to work
- Must actively search for employment while collecting unemployment; it’s worth noting that Texas has waived this requirement due to the pandemic, but will reinstate once the crisis ends
- Be available for full-time work
In addition, TWC has rolled out the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC), which provides $600 per week for claimants receiving Unemployment Insurance or federal benefits.
Texas also provides Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). Here is a breakdown of each:
|Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC)||Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)|
|What do employees get?||Up to 13 weeks of benefits||Up to 39 weeks of benefits (the maximum amount of Texas unemployment insurance is 26 weeks; the PUA can extend those benefits up to 39 weeks through December 31)|
|What’s the time frame?||PEUC is available between late March 2020 and December 31, 2020||PUA is available beginning on or after January 27, 2020 and ending on or before December 31, 2020|
|Who is eligible?||This program covers individuals who:||This program covers individuals who:|
|Where to apply?||Apply online here||If you have already applied for Unemployment Insurance (UI), you do not need to take further action to qualify for PUA. TWC will review your eligibility and notify you by mail or email. If you have not applied for UI, see directly below this table for instructions.|
Texans who meet the eligibility requirements can apply for and receive unemployment insurance benefits through the TWC website. To apply for unemployment, follow these steps:
- Visit the TWC unemployment benefits website to create an account or log in to an existing account
- Collect and submit relevant information, including your last employer’s contact information, first and last dates worked, verification of your normal wage, and identification
- Submit your information and receive confirmation
For more information, consult the TWC’s online unemployment benefits application tutorial.
In light of the pandemic, the TWC has:
- Extended its call center hours; reach the call center at 800-939-6631
- Waived the work search requirement for all claimants
- Waived the weeklong waiting period to begin collecting benefits
Healthcare relief in Texas
COVID-19 testing and insurance
Testing is being provided throughout the state through various healthcare providers, including drive-up clinics, mobile test collection sites, and hospitals. The Texas Health and Human Services’ Department of State Health Services (DSHS) maintains a list on its website so residents can locate COVID-19 testing sites.
More than 95% of insurers and health coverage providers in Texas’s state-regulated market are waiving their costs for medically-necessary testing of COVID-19. However, you should check with your insurer for additional requirements, such as a co-pay or a physician’s referral.
Recently, Governor Abbott has appealed to the federal government for more funding to provide testing for the state’s more than 5 million uninsured residents. Under the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act, Medicaid has been tapped to fully fund testing for the uninsured. The bill also earmarked $1 billion in disaster aid to cover testing for the uninsured and those deemed ineligible for Medicaid.
- What’s the benefit?: COVID-19 testing
- Who is eligible?: Anyone who meets the testing criteria set by individual testing sites or insurance
- How to apply: No application is necessary to receive this benefit, but you may need to meet criteria, such as possible exposure or exhibition of symptoms, to receive a test
- More information: Visit the state’s COVID-19 testing website for more information
COVID-19 treatment coverage
If you receive any type of Medicaid provided by the state, your coverage will be automatically renewed during the pandemic. Anyone in need of Medicaid coverage can apply for it at YourTexasBenefits.com, regardless of whether they were recently denied.
Residents already insured through the state’s regulated health care market should consult their medical plans to see what is covered when it comes to treatment for COVID-19. However, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act requires that insurance plans cover all care related to COVID-19, including preventative measures, prescriptions, and other medical treatments. Through the legislation, healthcare providers will also be reimbursed for providing care to the uninsured through the federal Medicare system at its normal rate.
- What’s the benefit?: Covered COVID-19 treatment costs
- Who is eligible: Those who have a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19
- How to apply: There is no application necessary to receive this benefit
Telemedicine coverage in Texas
Governor Abbott has waived some regulations to make it easier for Texans to access telemedicine. This includes allowing insurers to treat telemedicine as an in-office doctor’s visit and ensuring doctors that insurance will reimburse them for telemedicine.
Food benefits in Texas
Food assistance funding and waivers
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, the Summer Lunch Program for school aged children, and the Texas Food Bank Network are all available to Texans in need of food.
During the pandemic, states including Texas have been granted waivers to let Women, Infants and Children (WIC) recipients substitute certain eligible food items for others in a bid to broaden the resources available to them. Furthermore, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act is providing additional funding for WIC and the Temporary Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP).
- What’s the benefit?: Expanded substitutions for WIC-eligible foods
- Who is eligible?: WIC recipients
- How to apply: This federal relief program does not require an application
- More information: Visit the USDA website to review WIC benefit substitutions in Texas.
SNAP assistance renewal waiver
Administered by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, Gov. Abbott has already infused additional funding into the program when needed.
The Texas Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is waiving interview and work requirements and is automatically renewing SNAP benefits for existing recipients for the duration of the pandemic. Additionally, all SNAP recipients will get the maximum amount for their household size for May.
- What’s the benefit?: Automatic SNAP renewal
- Who is eligible?: Existing SNAP recipients
- How to apply: Visit YourTexasBenefits.com
Housing and utilities benefits
An emergency order issued by the Texas Supreme Court on April 27 ordered state courts to refrain from acting on standard evictions until after May 25, 2020. An order issued May 14, 2020 allows eviction proceedings in the state to resume by May 19, and writs of execution may resume on May 26. However, an order issued May 26 by the Texas Supreme Court allows any court in Texas to modify or suspend court deadlines and procedures, including eviction cases, until Sept. 30, 2020.
The Texas Apartment Association has called on rental property owners to work with tenants who may be affected by COVID-19. Tenants are encouraged to speak with their property managers or seek relief from a not-for-profit or faith-based organization.
Texas also points to federal measures to help guard against evictions, including the CARES Act’s provision that included a 120-day eviction moratorium for anyone living in federal housing. In those instances, a tenant cannot have eviction proceedings brought against them before July 25, with eviction notices required at least 30 days in advance.
Mortgage relief and forbearance
For homeowners unable to make their mortgage payments, the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA) suggests that affected residents reach out to their loan servicers to seek reduced or suspended payments. The state also urges homeowners with a loan from Freddie Mac to either call 972-395-4000 or visit the servicer’s COVID-19 page. For those that have a loan with Fannie Mae, the state suggests calling the company’s Consumer Resource Center at 800-232-6643, option 4 or visit their COVID-19 page.
According to the Federal Housing Finance Agency, you won’t incur late fees and no legal action will be taken due to non-payment as a result of COVID-19. As of March 18, FHFA and the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development suspended foreclosures and evictions for 60 days.
- What’s the benefit?: Mortgage forbearance
- Who is eligible?: Borrowers who are facing financial hardship due to COVID-19
- How to apply: Speak with your mortgage lender or loan officer for further information
According to the THCA, “several but not all” electricity providers have stopped disconnecting service from homes and are waiving late fees during the pandemic. The state suggests reaching out to your provider to check what their policies are, as well as any relief they can provide.
That being said, the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC) announced in March that it was taking steps to help households experiencing “genuine economic hardship” as a result of COVID-19. Through the PUC’s action, water utilities, sewer utilities, and some electricity providers regulated by the commission are required to suspend disconnections for non-payment from residents until June 13.
For electric customers in areas where retail competition for utilities exists, the PUC has issued the COVID-19 Electricity Relief Program, which requires retail electric providers to offer deferred payment plans, suspend disconnections for anyone unemployed or low-income as a result of the pandemic through July 17, 2020. Late fees were suspended through May 15, 2020.
- What’s the benefit?: Suspended water and electricity connections, payment deferment, suspended late fees
- Who is eligible?: Those eligible for the COVID-19 Electricity Relief Program
- How to apply: Contact the Texas Low Income List Administrator at 866-454-8387 or apply online through the PUC’s website
- More information: Visit the PUC’s FAQ page
Education benefits in Texas
Student loan forbearance
Through the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB), anyone currently making payments on a student loan should contact the THECB to determine if they’re eligible for either a reduced payment or temporary postponement of payments. If a postponement is granted, you will still need to pay interest on the postponed payments.
If a borrower’s student loans are already delinquent, the THECB announced that it has suspended all collection efforts for delinquent or defaulted loans. Furthermore, the board said it will not add late fees or file any reports with national credit bureaus.
- What’s the benefit?: Student loan forbearance or reduced payments.
- Who is eligible?: Loan holders through the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board
- How to apply: Contact the THECB either via email, fax any correspondence to 512-427-6432, or communicate via mail by sending a letter to Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, PO Box 12788, Austin, Texas 78711-2788. The board is not taking phone calls at this time.
- More information: Visit the THECB’s page for additional guidance.
The novel coronavirus and its spread around the globe has caused unprecedented disruption to daily life. We at Gusto are here to help. For more information on support programs and resources that can help you, visit the Gusto COVID-19 Small Business Resource Hub.