Employer Town Hall with TWC Commissioner Aaron Demerson

News Date: 
05/06/2020 - 10:45am

Workforce Solutions For Tarrant County’s Employer Town Hall with Texas Workforce Commissioner Aaron Demerson Representing Employers

As an employer, if you missed our Virtual Town Hall and Q&A Session on Thursday, April 23, 2020, you missed a plethora of valuable information. The following is the official Transcription from the Virtual Town Hall … hope you gain an idea or two ... and here's the video can be found on youtube.

Link to WSTC Town Hall Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qsQq3Nk0Qd0

Since our town hall took place, the Governor’s office has released his guidance on a plan to reopen Texas, since many questions related to reopening we are attaching that guidance included in it, is the link to Texans Helping Texans: The Governor’s Report to Open Texas:

https://workforcesolutions.net/governor-abbott-announces-phase-one-to-op...
 

Transcription from the Virtual Town Hall (Tarrant County) April 23, 2020

Stats from the Call

• As of April 23, Texas Workforce Commission had over $579 million in benefits that we've paid out to over 387,000 claimants that have been out there. That’s the equivalent of taking about two years of calls (Of claims) in about 33 days.
• Governor’s Office Reported: In Texas 134,000 loans were process. This was as of April 16th and $28 billion worth of loans.
• As far as the SBA program 14 years’ worth of SBA loans were processed in
14 days. So, the volume that is coming through the systems is very, very high and they are trying to process them as quickly as possible.

Q&A

• Q: How will unemployment affect our tax rate that is a direct result of covid-19?  What do you do if you get PPP in the employee is still on unemployment benefits?
A: So good news is, if you're a taxed employer and the job separation resulted from the covid-19 natural disaster, there is charged back protection for you, which means that, then those benefits not charged back to the employer
o How is this going to affect your tax rate in 2020?  It’s not,  But at the end of the year when greater minds pull all the data and look at our trust fund and what needs to go in and the health of that a lot of math is going to happen and new tax rates are going to come out. So right, now we don't know how it's going to be affecting future tax rates. We're in the basically wait and see period of that.
o If you've got PPP and your employees go on unemployment, what do you do?
That's a business decision for you.
▪ Your PPP requirements require you to put your employees back on payroll.
▪ And if you don't have work for them to come back to that means you're probably going to have to put them, on paid leave
▪ If that's the case, then they would no longer be entitled to unemployment benefits if they're getting their pay from you. They're basically paid leave so two options, they could stop filing for benefits or if they want to continue requesting benefits, they're obligated to report the money's they received from you the employer and that will most likely then make them ineligible.

• Q: I've spoken with several people who said they were fired from their position prior to pandemic, they were denied unemployment benefits.
• A: So there could be several reasons why they're denied benefits. Maybe they don't have a valid claim because they don't have enough wages in the base period. Or maybe they were fired for misconduct and misconduct was established, and they're being denied benefits.

So for those who were denied unemployment benefits that decision should tell you, which hurdles you didn't get over basically and they can appeal those decisions if they so desire.

• Q: Stats on SBA fund distribution and estimates on reopening
• A: In relation to the PPP over 88,000 Texan companies were approved for PPP for a total of 21 billion

2nd only to the state of California.
In relation to the EIDL loans, there are 1,243 EIDL loans approved so far, totaling 263 million in funds.
Texas is in third place after California and Florida but we are holding our own strongly.
Additional funding is in the process of being approved and so we will see another round of loans in both of those programs

▪ Senate passed the second round or phase 3.5 of the CARES Act, which is another 350 - 360 billion in funding for PPP and for EIDL. It is estimated to pass the House on Thursday. And, you know, perhaps be available Friday or Monday, so that process is moving very, very quickly.

▪ As far as the strike force to open Texas:  There is a panel of four medical experts that are part of this council and we've been gathering input from different industry sectors from the hospitality industry, manufacturers, Restaurant Association, retailers, just as many abroad industries as possible to get input on what they can and cannot do, as we look to systematically, strategically and carefully Open the state back for business. The Goal is to try to put Texans back to work, while still maintaining the health and safety of our citizens and our residents.

• Q: Other Institutions that can assist with loans?
• A: If companies have not already applied for the PPP now is a great moment to try to find yourself a local 7A lender.
o It could be your existing bank. Many of them are 7A lenders.
o You can also look at Community Development Financial Institutions. There are many of them across the state of Texas. Several of them are 7A lenders as well.
o There are three very large online companies, that have been approved as 7A lenders, they would be PayPal, Square and Intuit, which is also QuickBooks. You can go online and apply that way.
o These funds get used up really quickly so you need to use this moment to get ready for that.

• Q: As business re-open in phases, please discuss recovery plan options available for manufacturers in particular
• A: Yes. Not only the Texas Workforce Commission, but its local partners, like Workforce Solutions for Tarrant County (local workforce development office) can definitely be the partners of business as they seek to recruit more staff and recover from the unemployment claim load that has happened, and we will be available in this office, of course, to help advise employers.

Regarding all phases of hiring and job applications, things like that. You can also get assistance from the business service representatives at local Workforce offices, so contact our Local Business Services Representatives at business.services@workforcesolutions.net

• Q: Is there a way to email notice of potential charge backs to TWC the fax lines seem to always be busy. Is there a way to email notice of potential charge backs to TWC?
• A: So we have good news and bad news on that.

The bad news is no, currently, email is still not an acceptable form. We're not set up to do that.
Good news is you don't have to fax it. The instructions allow you three different ways to respond:

So you can do it online, by fax, or regular mail.  When you're dealing with notices of potential chargeback good news is the deadlines a little longer. You have 30 days to respond. So if you're able to put it in the mail and keep track and document what you do.

If you still have questions, I do have a number for the chargeback unit, of you need to speak to someone. (512) 463- 2999.

• Q: Will there be special guidance on how to re-open/ soft open after allowed? How will information be distributed to the masses?
• A: Governor Abbott will hold a press conference, along with an executive order. The executive order will include guidance from entities like the Retail to Go, there is guidance from the Texas State Department for Health.

For retailers considering opening a retail to-go model, here is the guidance they will need to follow in order to be safe:  https://www.dshs.state.tx.us/coronavirus/
Link to the Office of the Governor Small Business Coronavirus resources: https://gov.texas.gov/business/page/coronavirus
Information on that page from the comptroller's office, regarding SBA loans and frequently asked questions. In addition, we have an email Subscribe button.

If you want to get the latest information. This is a very fluid time these programs are coming out guidelines are being refined this is the way that we're getting information out through our social media channels through our website through this email and of course the governor's press conferences and press releases.

For those interested in improving their online presence, social media marketing and ecommerce skills, these are links to free training:
▪ Google – Grow with Google
▪ Facebook – Facebook Blueprint Facebook Grants
▪ eBAY – How to Sell   Retail Revival Program
▪ Amazon – Seller University
▪ Twitter –  Basics – Twitter for Business

• Q: Will unemployment claims during this period affect employers next year?
• A: It might Elsa already touched on this earlier, but we are we are required to have a certain amount and so once that amount falls below we may have to have a replenishment tax or replenishment ratio computed in the employer’s tax rates across the board to replenish that fund and possibly pay back and loans that we've taken from the federal side on them.

It is too soon to tell, we will have to wait in the next coming months to see how things work out to see if there will be an impact. And if there is, then employers will be notified of that. But at this time, we just don't have the answers.

• Q: What options for benefits for someone if they've been notified that they do not qualify for benefits. Let's just assume this may be a sole proprietor or an independent contractor. So, what options are available for them?
• A: So if we're talking about your sole proprietor /independent contractor and you were told you were not able to get regular unemployment, if you already filed our guidance is SIT TIGHT. If you filed and were denied sit tight.

Your claim is being reviewed and our UI division right now is reviewing thousands, hundreds of thousands of cases on that and they are sending out decisions and monies are getting paid out

If we need more information from you. Then we'll reach out to you, but at the minimum, you should be eligible for $207 which is the minimum on the pandemic unemployment assistance at PUA available to independent contractors, gig workers and sole proprietors.

So $207 plus the $600 under the CARES Act will be added to that as well.

It's really important, though, please understand that just filing doesn't get the money to you. Filing is one part of it.  ou still have to make payment requests and it's my understanding that a lot of these claims are lacking that component. So, because you were denied. That's fine, It's getting reviewed, but you should have received filing instructions to make payment request.

So make your payment requests every two weeks because you're only able to receive the money that you requested.

• Q: Any TWC info we should provide to furloughed employees?
• A: There's no requirement that you must give them any information. Can you?  Sure.

If they're furloughed, which to me is a temporary layoff. You can certainly encourage them to file for unemployment benefits with TWC
If you are going to be doing what we call a mass layoff, you can file a mass claim on behalf of your employees with the Texas Workforce Commission.

Mass Claims Information for Employers on the TWC Website: https://www.twc.texas.gov/businesses/mass-claims-unemployment- benefits
That explains it all and how to work with it and you can apply online.  They do need to file individually, if you're not going to be going through a mass claims process.

• Q: Current percentage of unemployment
• A: That’s a moving target. It's evolving. Every week we see a different figure.

The latest unemployment figures are on the press release section of the TWC website. https://www.twc.texas.gov/news/recent-press- releases
The figure that was officially announced was 4.6%. But we know that that is an evolving figure as time goes on, so look for the latest press release on the TWC website.

• Q: Explain pay difference for COVID versus regular benefits.
• A: My guess is that question is regular benefits versus the CARES act benefits

So regular benefits through state unemployment is based on your “W2” wage is that an employer reports for you, which is why independent contractors and sole proprietors are generally denied at the beginning because that's the regular unemployment.  Your weekly benefit amount, there can range from about $62 per week to the cap of $521 a week, and that's your regular benefits.

The CARES Act, which allows sole proprietors/ independent contractors to apply for benefits and those others who were not qualified or ran out of benefits under regular can now get benefits under the CARES act.
Now you can get minimum of $207 a week up to the cap of $521 but you get the minimum of $207 on this you as an independent contractor.

Sole Proprietor provide proof of earnings income from your previous year from 2019 to raise that up. But thanks to the CARES Act, Now everybody on either regular unemployment or the PUA (pandemic unemployment Assistance Plan), you get an extra $600 per week.

Of course, the $600 is not for the rest of the year. It doesn't continue forever. That ends at the end of July.

That's one of the differences there, and also the CARES Act brought in an extension of benefits normally 26 weeks under state benefits is what you can get in a year from when you file measured from when you file your claim that CARES Act now extended that an extra 13 weeks.

• Q: Hospitals across the nation of seeking RN contractors staffing agencies increased our rates by 50 to 70% is this price gouging we've heard a little bit.
• A: That would be a very complicated issue, but I doubt that it would be price gouging, in the case of staffing agencies we work real closely with a lot of staffing agencies.

One thing that they've always told us is there's is just a painfully competitive industry and they have relatively low margins may would not charge more than the market would bear. The problem is that they are probably having a very difficult labor supply problem locating qualified medical personnel trained medical personnel who are willing and able to do the work that needs to be done and those individuals, very often demand higher pay sometimes. You might call it hazardous duty bonus or something like that. We've heard that multiple times from callers in the past few weeks.

But that's really where the buck stops is the wage demand from qualified people who are willing and able to do the work. Sometimes you have to pay more to get those people and the staffing agencies.
So it's doubtful, it would be illegal, price gouging

• Q: Regardless of the specific start date. What is the plan for getting individuals back to work in an orderly manner?  When can we open back up and is there Skills Funding for small businesses?
• A: Funding for small businesses is in process that is the CARES Act or the reauthorization of some of the funding for the CARES Act, which it looks like a deal has been worked out and we're hoping that that passes on Thursday. And then the question becomes how quickly will they roll that out with that. Will that be Friday or will it be the following Monday.

Find out who your lenders are be in touch with them. Try to get information prepared if you're planning to file for those

The strategy to reopen the state: That is what the strike force is working on right now, we are working 24/7. To determine the best strategies to reopen the Texas economy, while still protecting the health and safety of our citizens.

Every action that's taken is going to be supported by data and by medical advice.

On the next phase. We're going to be doing this in phases and in steps and doing it very strategically, thoughtfully and carefully.  The goal is to get Texans back to work the way to revitalize our economy is to open up but we just need to do it in a very thoughtful and methodical way.

• Q: If we're required to self-quarantine for 14 days following exposure. Does that apply to FF CRA Pay?
• A: If the employer is requiring them to self-quarantine to my understanding that does not trigger, one of the six events under the FF CRA.  If the person is self-quarantining and because they have symptoms and seeking a diagnosis, that's different.

But if the employer is telling them to stay home - the employer should consider seeing if the employee can work remotely during the time that they're in self quarantine. That could solve the problem where they can keep working.  If not, then if there's PTO available, the employer may want to go ahead and pay that out so that the employee can still have some kind of money coming in but again I don't believe that that's one of the qualifying events to trigger payment under the FF CRA.

• Q: If an employee is confirmed to have COVID-19, what guidelines should be used to quarantine other at-risk employees.
• A: Follow the CDC guidelines.

Under OSHA you have an obligation to protect all of your employees.  Whether you're in a high danger occupation or not.

So if you have one of your employees who was positive, or has COVID, you need to do to make sure that that employee gets a time off to get better. At the same time, to be able then to protect the employees that you have. So I would say go to the CDC website and follow their guidelines for keeping your employee safe.

• Q: What are other employers doing to navigate through a COVID-19?
• A: They're being very mindful to use the resources from the CDC and from the Texas State Department of Health Services and also OSHA. Every one of those agencies have excellent resource guides for employers in making safe, healthy and sanitary workplaces that are consistent with all of the health professional guidelines and that will also help with course in attracting Employees to come back to work, once businesses able to reopen

Every major Federal and Texas agency now has a COVID-19 related link on their website.  Check those out to access, all kinds of great resources from those agencies.

• Q: How can we get our staff back to work, when there is a financial incentive to stay on unemployment as they may be making more on unemployment?
• A: It's a common issue where employees are rejecting offers of work because of the additional $600 they're getting with the CARES Act.  You can't force them to come back to work or bring them back in and force them to work remotely either. So with that in mind, what you could do is contact TWC and let us know that you offered them a position.

Because folks who reject suitable offers of work should be disqualified from receiving benefits. So please call the TWC fraud department or email them.  You can't force them to come back. But you can document the offer and the rejection and submit that to our fraud department for investigation.