The Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) reported Thursday that a total of 275,597 out-of-work Texans filed for unemployment benefits in the past week, and the number of calls to the agency related to the COVID-19 crisis rose into the millions.

Nationwide, unemployment claims have reached a record 6.6 million Thursday, surpassing the previous record set last week of 3.3 million, reported the Department of Labor.

While county-level data of all layoffs is not available from the TWC, a March report shows the number of people laid off in Bexar County last month by employers with more than 100 workers is 479. That number includes mostly hotel employees.

Among the companies reporting layoffs in San Antonio this month, hotels reported the highest number of layoffs to the TWC. They include Holiday Inn Army Hotels, with 61 layoffs; Embassy Suites San Antonio, with 41, and Wyndham San Antonio Riverwalk, with 141, according to the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act list.

The WARN list includes layoffs reported for every county in the state and is updated weekly. During the same period last year, the list indicates there were no layoffs among large employers in Bexar county.

Mule Restaurant Group, which owns five eateries on the River Walk, including Rita’s on the River, reported 147 layoffs, and Rio Plaza, a private event venue, reported three. Other layoffs in the area during March include Cargo Leasing Services, with 60, and USAA, 26.  

The loss of jobs in the hospitality sector began early and fast as coronavirus-related shutdowns hit that industry hard. Coinciding with spring break travel and a busy convention season, the pandemic’s appearance in the United States has led to unprecedented job cuts across the travel sector.

On March 17, the owner of San Antonio’s JW Marriott, Marriott Riverwalk and Rivercenter hotels, and 39 other local properties announced it would furlough tens of thousands of workers as it begins shutting down hotels across the country.

On Thursday, nearly one month to the day that San Antonio Hotel and Lodging Association officials were assuring travelers San Antonio was a safe travel destination, and the risk to the public remains low, most hotel rooms in the area are empty and lobbies and bars are quiet.

Both the St. Anthony Hotel and Crockett Hotel, for the first time in their long histories, have closed at least temporarily.

On March 26, Deputy City Manager Maria Villagomez reported to City Council that hotel occupancy rates were less than 10 percent. The hotel occupancy tax usually brings in $96 million a year.

Signed by President Trump on Friday, a $2 trillion federal stimulus package is expected to bring relief to unemployed workers and struggling businesses.

“We are working night and day to meet the huge demand from unemployed workers and businesses who have been affected by the economic impact of COVID-19,” said Bryan Daniel, TWC chairman. “The newly passed federal stimulus package provides disaster relief benefits, increased weekly unemployment compensation, and extended benefits.”

The federal stimulus package funds Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), which allows states to extend unemployment benefits by an additional 13 weeks. The PEUC program will also increase weekly benefits by $600 for workers laid off, terminated, or furloughed because of COVID-19.

Laid-off employees or those who have had hours reduced can apply for unemployment benefits online, or call 800-939-6631. But due to increased demand, the TWC has warned its systems are slow.

Last week, TWC Executive Director Ed Serna said that on a normal day, the agency receives about 13,000 calls. On March 22, calls reached about 100,000, with the same amount of staff taking the calls.

Support is also available through Workforce Solutions Alamo by calling 210-224-4357 or at its website, workforcesolutionsalamo.org.

Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is the business beat reporter at the San Antonio Report.