The City of Victoria’s COVID-19 Liaison Team set up Tuesday a computer lab for residents who do not have access to the internet and need to apply for unemployment benefits.
The liaison team, a coalition of local leaders established by the City of Victoria’s City Manager’s Office who work to solve problems related to COVID-19, collaborated to address the concern raised by local nonprofit representatives that their clients did not have internet access to be able to apply for unemployment.
“We know that these people are out there, and we want to make sure they have the same access to resources as anyone else,” said Assistant City Manager Mike Etienne, co-leader of the City’s liaison team.
In response to the identified problem, Workforce Solutions Golden Crescent set up an on-site computer lab where residents can fill out the online application for unemployment benefits.
“Meeting with the City’s liaison team has allowed us to get feedback and take action,” said Henry Guajardo, executive director of Workforce Solutions Golden Crescent and member of the liaison team. “Since the lab’s opening, we’ve seen a huge increase in residents applying for unemployment. We want to do what we can to help people who haven’t been able to apply yet.”
Guajardo said that the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) has opened up more phone lines to process applications by phone, but he went on to say that the bulk of applicants have used the TWC online portal to file for unemployment. However, a large segment of the population does not have access to a computer, internet or a phone, and those people continue to experience difficulty in getting through.
As businesses continue to be impacted by the effects of COVID-19, unemployment is rising in Victoria and across the state, Guajardo said. During the first two weeks of March, Workforce Solutions data indicated Victoria county unemployment applications averaged around 45 per week. That number has since risen to 735 to 883 during the March 14 to April 11 timeframe.
Having worked in neighborhood revitalization in low-income communities, Etienne said he has seen firsthand that internet access is a luxury not everyone can afford.
“We call it the digital divide,” Etienne said. “It’s a big issue not just in inner cities but here in Victoria as well. There’s a significant segment of the population that just doesn’t have access to computers or the internet.”
In order to maintain social distancing at the Workforce Solutions office, the computer lab is available by appointment only. Four people arrived for appointments Tuesday morning for the lab’s launch, and Guajardo said on Wednesday morning that four other residents had scheduled appointments during the first week as well. If demand increases as word gets out about the service, Workforce Solutions will move the lab to a bigger space in order to safely accommodate more people at a time. The City has offered the use of the Victoria Community Center for this purpose.
“We don’t want it to get to a point where we have to schedule people three or four days out,” Guajardo said. “These people need help now, so we want to help them promptly—preferably within 24 hours of requesting assistance if possible.”
Workforce Solutions will continue to provide onsite phone and computer access after the pandemic subsides. Previously, Workforce Solutions provided a resource area to allow residents to access unemployment applications, testing and assessments and other services.
“We’re continuing to serve the public, but we have to do it in a different way because of public health concerns,” Guajardo said. “We will continue to offer this service and will start allowing walk-ins once it’s deemed safe for us to do so.”
To schedule an appointment, residents can call 505-702-8966 or 361-578-0341; mail a completed application form to 120 S. Main St. Suite 110, Victoria, TX 77901; fax to 361-576-9000; or email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Application forms are available through various nonprofits that are part of the City’s liaison group, including the Community Action Committee, Mid-Coast Family Services, Be Well Victoria, Victoria Christian Assistance Ministry and Christ’s Kitchen. Residents can also request an application form by calling 361-578-0341.
PHOTO: The City of Victoria’s COVID-19 Liaison Team set up Tuesday a computer lab at Workforce Solutions Golden Crescent for residents who do not have access to the internet and need to apply for unemployment benefits. Workforce Solutions has seen an increase in the number of people applying for unemployment benefits since COVID-19 took its toll on the economy.