Texas offers unemployment benefits to workers who are currently out of work through no fault of their own. The state's unemployment insurance program is run by the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC), the agency that accepts claims and determines individual claimant eligibility. Texans may be eligible for both regular state unemployment benefits and federal pandemic unemployment benefits. Anyone working, or out of work, in Texas should get a clear overview of how these laws work.
Texas State UI Benefits
Like most states, Texas limits UI eligibility to those workers temporarily out of work through no fault of their own. Workers must also meet other qualifications, including earning enough wages in the state's base period to qualify for benefits.
The base period in Texas is defined by looking at the claimant's recent work history. It is the oldest four of the most recent five calendar quarters completed before the individual filed their unemployment claim. A calendar quarter is made up of three consecutive months. For example, January through March is the first of four quarters in a calendar year.
Unemployment benefits are paid weekly. In Texas, a qualified worker will get a weekly benefit payment equal to the wages in the worker's highest earning calendar quarter of the base year divided by 25. However, the total base period earnings must be at least 37 times the amount of the weekly benefit. The benefit amount is capped at a weekly maximum of $535 with a minimum of $70. The normal duration of Texas state unemployment benefits is 26 weeks.
Federal Benefits Program
Generally, unemployment benefits are determined and regulated solely by the states. In unusual circumstances, the federal government may step in and supplement the state program. The COVID-19 pandemic was considered an unusual circumstance since many businesses were closed and nonessential workers were ordered to stay home and not go to work.
In 2020, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to assist workers who lost their jobs or income due to the coronavirus pandemic. This expanded eligibility and supplemented state unemployment benefits. The initial CARES Act was passed in March 2020, and added a supplemental $600 payment per week in federal Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) benefits. It also added up to 13 weeks of supplemental unemployment benefits and extended UI eligibility for self-employed and gig workers under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program.
Extensions to Federal UI Programs
The federal UI supplemental benefits program ended on July 31, 2020. From that date through December 26, 2020, there were no supplemental federal payments. However, the program was amended in December, 2020, by the Continued Assistance Act (CAA) to provide a $300 per week benefit in addition to state-provided benefits. This extension ran from December 26, 2020, to March 14, 2021. The supplemental payments were further extended through September 6, 2021, by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, signed into law by President Biden on March 11, 2021.
The CAA that extended the benefit duration by 13 weeks was set to expire on December 31, 2020, but was extended to March 14, 2021. In addition, the extension was increased to 24 additional weeks. The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 further increased the total number of benefits weeks available to Texas residents to 70 weeks.
The federal law that extended UI benefits to self-employed and gig employees was set to expire on December 31, 2020. The CAA extended these benefits until March 14, 2021, and they have been further extended by the American Rescue Plan of 2021 to September 6, 2021.
Texas Unemployment Laws
Workers who find themselves out of a job in Texas can apply for unemployment insurance benefits from the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC). This agency determines a claimant's eligibility based on legal requirements. They determine eligibility for state benefits based on state law and eligibility for federal pandemic benefits based on federal law.
To apply for either state unemployment benefits or federal pandemic benefits, a worker must file an unemployment claim with the TWC. The claimant must demonstrate that they are eligible for unemployment benefits under the applicable law.
Eligibility under Texas state law requires that the worker:
- Is unemployed through no fault or misdeeds of their own.
Is able to work, available to work and actively seeking employment.
Earned wages in at least two of the four calendar quarters in their base year.
- Earned at least 37 times the benefit amount during their base year.
Fault Under Texas UI Law
In Texas, like every other state, eligibility for UI benefits turns on the reason a worker lost their job. If an employee is fired because they defrauded the company or committed any similar misdeed they will not be eligible because the employee must be out of work due to no fault of their own. But a worker in Texas may still be eligible for UI benefits if they were fired. For example, if an employee was fired because they lacked the skills to perform the work, they cannot be said to have committed a misdeed and may be eligible for UI in Texas.
Even a worker who quits a job in Texas may remain eligible if they had good cause for quitting. For example, if they quit for a work-related reason that would make an individual who wants to remain employed leave employment. Quitting for good cause might include:
- Unsafe working conditions.
- Significant changes in the hiring agreement.
- Not getting paid or difficulty getting agreed-upon pay.
A worker who quits for a good reason not related to work may still qualify if that reason is a:
- Personal medical issue.
- Worker caring for a minor child with a medical illness or a terminally ill spouse.
- Worker experiences sexual assault, family violence or stalking.
- Worker has moved with their military spouse.
Federal Law Modifies Fault Rules
The federal legislation creating pandemic UI benefits added a variety of valid, coronavirus-related reasons a worker might have for not working or not looking for work. These include circumstances where a worker is ill with COVID-19; might have been exposed to the virus; or has been told by a doctor to stay home so that they are not exposed to the virus or won't expose others.
This also applies if their employer shut down or cut back due to coronavirus; they can’t work because they must care for a family member or other person they live with who is sick with coronavirus; or they have to care for a child at home because the child's school or child care center is closed due to coronavirus.
Minimum Income Requirements
Under Texas law, an employee is eligible for unemployment coverage only if they earn a certain minimum amount of money during a base period. The base period in Texas is four consecutive three-month calendar quarters. To determine the base year, start with the date on which the worker filed for UI benefits, then count backward from there, identifying the last five complete calendars quarters before the claim. The base year is the four earliest of these quarters.
An employee cannot get state unemployment benefits in Texas unless they worked during at least two of the calendar quarters of the base year and earned at least 37 times the benefit amount during the calendar year.
A Texas worker is not eligible for federal pandemic unemployment benefits unless they qualify financially for state benefits. That means that a failure to meet either of these conditions will disqualify the worker from both state and federal benefits.
Job Seeker Requirements
A worker cannot get state unemployment benefits in Texas unless they are available to work and actively seeking work. A laid-off employee who is not ready to work and not seeking a job will not get UI benefits. Ready to work means that the worker has no barriers to taking a job right away if one is offered, such as lack of childcare or lack of transportation.
Texas suspended its work search requirements during the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020. However, the state has reinstated these requirements now that the state is reopening businesses. A worker must submit a work search log documenting a designated number of work search activities based on their county of residence to continue to receive benefits. Most Texas counties require three job searches per week.
Pandemic Unemployment Modifications
The available-to-work requirement of Texas state UI law has been modified for certain situations due to federal pandemic unemployment. Under the CARES Act, a worker need not seek work if they are ill from COVID-19, caring for someone who has COVID-19 or taking care of minor children because schools are closed. If they have been ordered not to leave the house by their doctor or by government order, they can also continue to collect UI without looking for a job.
Calculating Texas Benefit Amount
A worker's UI benefit in Texas is calculated by using their wages in the calendar quarter of their base year in which they earned the most money. Texas divides this by 25 to come up with the benefit amount, which must be between the minimum of $70 per week and the maximum of $535 per week. The more a worker earns in the highest calendar quarter of the base period, the higher their weekly benefit.
The second test looks at all of the wages a worker earned during their base period. This amount must be at least 37 times the amount of the worker's state UI benefit. The federal pandemic legislation offers a worker approved for state UI benefits an additional $300 a week in supplemental pandemic UI benefits.
In Texas, UI benefits are available for up to 26 weeks. However, the CARES Act and other federal laws have extended the duration of benefits to 70 weeks. That provision is effective through September 6, 2021.
FAQs and Answers
Q: How do I apply for UI benefits in Texas?
A:. Apply online for UI benefits in Texas or use the tele-center. The TWC offers a video tutorial called How to Apply for Unemployment Benefits Online. Visit the website and watch the tutorial. A worker will need to have personal and work information, including:
- Last employer's business name and address.
- First and last dates (month, day and year) of employment.
- Number of hours worked and pay rate.
- Normal wages.
- Alien Registration Number if not a U.S. citizen or national.
Q: How much money will I get every week in UI benefits in Texas?
A: A worker who qualifies for UI benefits in Texas will get a weekly benefits payment by direct deposit or debit card. The amount of the payment is determined by a formula: the wages in the highest-earning calendar quarter in their base year divided by 25. The minimum weekly benefit in Texas is $70, and the maximum is $535. Add to this the $300 weekly benefit from the federal pandemic legislation, which lasts through September 6, 2021.
Q: For how many weeks can I get benefits?
A: Under Texas state law, an unemployed person who qualified for UI benefits can get their weekly benefit amount for 26 weeks. However, this time period has been extended by federal pandemic unemployment legislation to a maximum of 70 weeks.
Q: Can a self-employed worker or a gig worker get unemployment benefits in Texas?
A: Under state law, only employees are entitled to UI benefits in Texas. However, eligibility was expanded to include self-employed persons and gig workers under the federal CARES Act. The law is set to expire on September 6, 2021.
Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.