TEXAS VIEW: Texas is trying to claw back some unemployment benefits

THE POINT: It needs to slow down. TWC should account for its mistakes.

The Texas Workforce Commission was overwhelmed when the pandemic forced millions of Texans out of work in 2020. That’s understandable. Now it’s asking its former beneficiaries to fix its mistakes. That’s not.

Recently, six Texans filed suit against the TWC. Those plaintiffs say the agency provided unemployment benefits and is now asking for the money back. One of the plaintiffs, Kim Hartman of Austin, told a Dallas Morning News reporter she received two statements from the TWC saying she had been overpaid by different amounts, each thousands of dollars. More than a year after appealing her case, it still isn’t settled and TWC has not provided a detailed accounting of the mistake. TWC declined to talk to our reporter, citing the pending litigation. We reached out to give the agency another chance. We were especially curious to know how many more cases like this are out there. How many other Texans might get a surprise letter demanding that they return unemployment benefits, which they have already spent? We got the same response: “We cannot comment on pending litigation.”

People like Hartman are spending time and money they don’t have fighting the state over the demand that they return money they have already spent.

We understand the commission was understaffed and facing a mountain of claims these past two years. Mistakes are excusable. But the right response to mistakes is to own up to them, explain how they happened, and then work with interested parties to resolve conflict. In this case, even if the resolution meant beneficiaries must return some funds, the TWC should have walked those beneficiaries through the accounting that supports that solution. Instead, they now find themselves fighting a lawsuit.

Buried under the bureaucratic red tape here, TWC seems to have lost a basic principle. This is an agency that exists to help people when they’re down. It seems to be doing the opposite.

Plaintiffs in this case deserve an explanation, as do any others who might come forward with similar claims. And they deserve time to adjust. The TWC can make this right. They should do so right away.

Dallas Morning News