Texas Gov. Greg Abbott Is Allowing Unemployment Claimants to Refuse Work During Coronavirus Pandemic

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued new guidance for the state's workforce commission that allows unemployment claimants to refuse suitable work in a wide range of circumstances without sacrificing their benefits because of the coronavirus pandemic.

"As the Lone Star State begins the process of safely and strategically opening the economy, our top priority is protecting the health and safety of all Texans—especially those who are most vulnerable to COVID-19," Abbott said in a statement.

"This flexibility in the unemployment benefit process will help ensure that Texans with certain health and safety concerns will not be penalized for choosing not to return to work."

The governor's office said the Texas Workforce Commission will evaluate each unemployment insurance claim individually, but the new guidance will allow people to refuse work if they meet certain criteria.

While each claim with face review on a case-by-case basis, valid reasons for refusal of work listed by the governor's office include:

  • At High Risk: People 65 years or older are at a higher risk for getting very sick from COVID-19.
  • Household member at high risk: People 65 years or older are at a higher risk of getting very sick from COVID-19.
  • Diagnosed with COVID: The individual has tested positive for COVID-19 by a source authorized by the State of Texas and is not recovered.
  • Family member with COVID: Anybody in the household has tested positive for COVID-19 by a source authorized by the State of Texas and is not recovered and 14 days have not yet passed.
  • Quarantined: Individual is currently in 14-day quarantine due to close contact exposure to COVID-19.
  • Child care: Child's school or daycare closed and no alternatives are available.

More than 30 million people across the U.S. have filed unemployment claims since the start of the coronavirus crisis. The economy shrank by 4.8 percent in the first quarter, according to the latest official GDP figures. Analysts say it could be a 40 percent drop in the second.

Part of the multi-trillion dollar stimulus measures to support Americans through what will be a deep recession is a $600 increase to unemployment benefit.

Texas is starting to loosen its coronavirus restrictions and reopen despite concerns among health experts that such a move is premature.

On Thursday, Gov. Abbott allowed his stay-at-home order to lapse. But he urged Texans to "continue to practice social distancing" and follow state health guidelines to minimize the spread of the new coronavirus.

"Face coverings are not mandatory, but encouraged to protect the lives of individuals at high-risk," Abbott tweeted on Thursday.

Texas Democrats accused Abbott of mismanaging the state's response to the pandemic.

"Abbott's overlooking of the elderly who can no longer seek unemployment benefits was yet another example of how he's utterly mismanaged the crisis and botched the gradual reopening of Texas business," Abhi Rahman, a spokesperson for Texas Democrats, told Newsweek in a statement.

The southern state has more than 28,000 reported cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new strain of coronavirus, according to its health department. The state has had 782 deaths so far and more than 13,000 recoveries from infection.

The U.S. as a whole has around 1.1 million confirmed cases of coronavirus and nearly 63,000 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker.

Texas coronavirus unemployment claims
Texas Governor Greg Abbott speaks during a press conference at the Texas State Capitol in Austin, Sunday, March 29, 2020. Tom Fox-Pool/Getty Images