Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Jumping Through Hoops – Unemployment Benefits

Today before sitting down to write, I wanted to check on the status of my accounts. Before joining the ranks of the unemployed, I suppose my income put me solidly in the category of the “working poor”. We lived check to check, but I look around, see 2 computers, video games and an iPod for my wife and I, and don't feel too bad about where we were, from a wider perspective. That said, keeping an eye on remaining funds when you know you could run them out is an important maintenance task. Ironically, since I've been out of work, frugality and the lack of a commute (with these gas prices) has put my wife and I less on the edge, money wise.

I checked the status of the unemployment funds on the state website, and it looked like I had a deposit settled today. Great. I go to check the balance on the debit card issued me for these funds... no money. There was a brief moment of panic, not because I'd starve or have a utility turned off without that money RIGHT NOW, but when your financial future is in doubt, the small amount of funds you do have access to is vital, and potential interruptions of those is scary. So, I go to call the Illinois Department of Employment Security. Busy signal. More light panic, but I persist, get through, wait on hold for a seeming eternity and eventually determine that all is well. I just need to wait a few days for normal processing that I likely never noticed a delay in before.

All this got me thinking about the process of getting these few dollars. I've talked about what unemployment isn't, and who pays for it, but not really about what it means to go through being on it. Making a claim for unemployment benefits is, mercifully, easier than it once was, at least in the state of Illinois. Rather than having to wait in line in an office or even on hold on a call center's line, making a claim and certifying for individual weeks of benefits can be done online. There is an application and several questionnaires to fill out, best started right after a job is lost, and frequently benefits may be placed on hold if there are any eligibility questions that a phone interview or supplemental paperwork is required to resolve.

For all my complaining and ranting... this is what it used to be like to get a few bucks for groceries.

After a waiting period, either a direct deposit (which I should have done) is started, or they mail you a debit card and there is more waiting. Every two weeks, you load up the archaic, almost quaint website that refuses to work in browsers other than Internet Explorer (more on that in a moment) and answer a number of questions about your situation that mostly will not change unless you've come into some money or something unusual happens that could affect any payments. Name changes, deferred payments, change of address, payments from social security or other disability or any number of other uncommon events that I check “No” to weekly. Then, within a few days you will receive funds averaging about 30% of what you used to make, plus a small additional sum for dependents.

Any changes to this process are difficult, as the bureaucracy involved is typically sprawling and byzantine, they prefer to communicate through the mail, as I presume their carrier pigeon service has been discontinued, but they are working on mastering the telephone. But they have a website you can turn to for help! It is optimized for Internet Explorer 6. I didn't mistype that last number, or accidentally flip it upside-down somehow. I try not to ever use IE unless a website makes me, but I don't think I EVER had IE6 installed on this machine. I learned about the issues with the website the hard way when I tried to switch to direct deposit, I had to fill out a series of online forms, and at the end of the process, got an “oops, can't save your changes” error.

High Technology, from the crazy future world of 2001.

While you fight with a website that is barely a generation above a Geocities page from 1996, get archaic forms presumably penned with a quill from the local post and collect the few dollars they'll give you for the trouble, you have to do a few things. First, register on another website that asks you to input your skills, experience and desired work schedule, salary, etc... a process that takes a few hours. The skills match website takes all your hard won life experience, calculates it... and tells you there are no jobs because the economy sucks. I half expected a “Please Try Again”, like you find on a yogurt lid when you haven't won a contest. Also, you have a form to document your search for gainful employment with no instructions on the expectations for its completion and vague fields to fill out. I can only guess that no one ever looks at 99.999% of these, even though you are required to keep them around for a year after you're done claiming unemployment. Every once in a while, I'd guess they pick a name at random and ask for these forms for laughs, as the instructions are so vague that just getting picked to be checked up on, I'd guess, means you're screwed.

So, this is a part of my adventure that doesn't involve swords or lightsabers, but does sort of involve shadowy cabals, scrolls with arcane symbols and the fickle hand of fate. I'll jump through hoops while I keep at it, and admit to myself that a whole lot of people have it a whole lot worse. Anyone else on “the dole” from a different place with maybe very different hoops to jump through? Tell us about it.
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The Angry Lurker said...

The other half claims benefit for disability, it can be a pain in the arse at times, missed payments from their end and back to work interviews.

Chris C. said...

Hey Doc, hang in there.

On an absolutely unrelated note, I think your blog, which I enjoy reading a lot, deserves to be the next recipient of the "Liebster Blog" Award.


Jay said...

that is tough, but it'll get better.

Alpha said...

Sounds like a gigantic pain in the arse.

The Awesome Alien said...

work earn money give it back by paying bills rent taxes and gas stay poor keep working
thats the cycle we are slaves with technological toys

Unknown said...

I can relate, the process is a real drag. I'm just lucky I had so much money saved because this has taken MONTHS. Still haven't found a job, and they're still fighting me. I have had several interviews, having to prove my case for a measly 80 dollars a week. You'd think they were paying $4,000 given all the flaming hoops I had to jump through.

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