Adventures in Unemployment

So, let’s say that you find yourself unexpectedly unemployed.  This is a particularly distressing turn of events since you did this already last year, then worked part time and drew partial unemployment, then had to get an emergency extension (thanks, President Obama!), then cobbled together full-time work from multiple part-time jobs.  Goddamn it, you think, not only am I not working, I have to fill out all that paperwork all over again.

And so, despite the fact that you’ve cashed out your retirement savings in order to be able to, you know, eat and pay rent, and would almost (almost) rather eat expired yogurt than jump through all those hoops again, you sit down with your pay stubs and your computer’s calculator and try to figure out exactly how much you earned in the past five calendar quarters.  This is not easy, because you can’t find all of your pay stubs, and you have to Go Ask Chuck ™ exactly how much was in your 401(k) before it got taxed sixty ways to hell and back, and you have to reverse-engineer some of the information based on the post-tax amount you deposited in the bank. But somehow you manage to figure out your pre-tax income using only your brain, a calculator and the back of a Starbucks receipt, because while you may have a degree in Underwater Basketweaving and let Chase Online balance your virtual checkbook for you, you’ve been doing your own taxes (1040 Long Form plus Schedules C and SE) for years and fuck if you’re going to let this get the best of you.

Then you send off your paperwork and hope they don’t deny your claim, all while still playing catch-up with November on your previous claim… because whoever read your last continuation form couldn’t read the multiple teeny tiny addresses you wrote in the quarter-inch of space they give you, so they took a week to figure it out then said “fuck it” and sent you a duplicate form.

Then you have your eligibility interview, via telephone.  Then you get a letter saying that you’ve been granted a claim for a Small Amount of Money per week.  You see nothing unusual about this because you didn’t make all that much money last year; it’s not like you had some cushy corporate gig.  And then, on the same day, you get another letter saying that they can’t verify your identity and can you please send them photocopies of your driver’s license/passport and a W-2 form within ten days?

At this point you’re too stressed out about other things to panic over the thought that someone might have attempted to steal your identity, or might recognize the blue envelope (Jesus, Mary and Joseph, is that a Blue Letter?!!!) and the address on it and think, “Here is someone who is sending copies of their identifying documents through the mail. I will steal them and open a credit card with this person’s info and shitty credit score.”  You lost the keys to your fireproof box long ago, so you pick the lock with a hairpin (no, really) and get out your passport, photocopy it and a newly-arrived W-2 from one of your many jobs, and drop it in the mail.

And you wait.

And you receive a notice in the mail that your claim has been denied, either for a couple of weeks or indefinitely (you can’t figure out which), because you did not send them copies of your identifying documents. Which you did send them. Over a week ago.


The next day, it’s time for you to go in to the One-Stop Employment Center for your re-employment assessment interview.  So you drive your unemployed ass aaaaalllll the way down to your assigned office, and arrive 15 minutes before your appointment, as requested.

And you wait some more.

Then you’re instructed to go into the conference room with about thirty other people, and there’s a projector in there, and you think, “Jesus Christ, are they going to force us to watch the orientation video?! I watched it at home like they told me! I have the certificate! Noooooooo!” Because that damn video is half an hour long, and you don’t want to sit through it again.

You wait some more. Then an EDD employee comes in and requests that everyone who has the “I watched the video” certificate go line up at Window 5 with their paperwork to sign in.  So you do.  You’re sixth in line. You don’t have one of the papers they said for you to bring, but they don’t care.  They have you sign at the bottom of some form or other, and then you go sit down in an uncomfortable plastic chair.

And you wait.

And you wait.

Finally, they call you in, and the gentleman assigned to handle your interview flips through your paperwork, makes a photocopy of one of the forms for you, and gives you two things to sign.  And then you pull out your claim denial letter and ask him to help you make sense of it — does it mean they aren’t paying you for a certain week, or does it mean they aren’t paying you at all? Because Small Amount of Money is small, but every little bit helps.  You make a remark about how you would have just called the EDD hotline, but you can never get through.  So this kind gentleman says that they have a direct line to the EDD people and you can use the phone in the next cubicle to call them.

You get your hopes up — a direct line! — and then they come crashing down when you realize that all this means is that instead of being disconnected if there is a longer-than-15-minute-wait (as you do if you call from your house phone), you are allowed the privilege of waiting on hold. With the same brief loop of hold music. And the recorded “please stay on the line” message. Over. And over. And over.

So you wait.

And you wait.

And you wait some more.

Thirty-two minutes later, the hold music shuts off. You wonder if you have been disconnected — is there a 30-minute limit for being on hold even from this line?!

You sit there and pray to every deity you can think of for someone to get on the phone.

And you wait.

And you consider hanging up and going home.

Then, finally, someone comes on the line and you read them the first paragraph of your letter.  They inform you that they have received your documents and that they must have crossed the denial letter in the mail.  The hold has been taken off your account and your benefits will be deposited in your bank the next day.  When you say something about hoping no one had tried to steal your identity, they explain that at least one of your employers used a DBA that did not match your claim application, so that was why it was held up.  And so you hang up, thank your interviewer — who says that the next time you need to call EDD, you need to come down and get on one of their phones in order to get through, like it’s no big deal to drive an hour and fifteen minutes round-trip to sit on the phone for half an hour to get a single question answered — and leave.

That night, you receive notice of a direct deposit of more than two weeks’ worth of Small Amount of Money.

Two days later, you receive an Amended Claim letter that includes all of your income from last quarter — you had thought they deliberately didn’t count your 401(k) cash-out — and says that you’ve been awarded the maximum benefit.  You’re also notified that one of the two weeks you submitted a claim for was a “waiting period” week so you aren’t getting paid for that, but you have zero fucks to give because now you don’t have to just sit there and watch your savings be depleted as your many job applications go unanswered.  And they’ve extended the Federal emergency benefits through the end of 2013 (thanks, President Obama!) so, just in case those dozens of resumes and cover letters and favors and referrals and the hours of legwork (virtual or otherwise) don’t pan out, at least you aren’t going to starve.