Two and a half weeks ago, the concept of having to apply for unemployment was the last thing on my mind. But like most other “nonessential” businesses, the company I work for closed their doors until (or if?) this pandemic passes, and told us we could apply for unemployment insurance.
I would have preferred to go in person and sit down with someone who would file my application for me, or at least walk me through things. But they closed their doors to the public too, so I had no choice but to either call and apply over the phone, or apply online. I don’t feel comfortable doing stuff like this online, so my first instinct was to call. I tried to get through to the Customer Service number I was given, but I kept being kicked off after I selected “Ask a question about your claim” (the closest option to waht I was trying to do). I wasn’t even being put in a queue, just rudely being kicked off and told to “call back later.” I tried several more times and the same thing kept happening. Have you ever been so frustrated you felt like crying? Well, that was me at that moment.
Muttering a string of four letter words, I opened my laptop and went to the unemployment site. I had to attempt to set up my account four times before it “took.” Because of the incredibly high volume of applicants, I kept getting error messages or even being kicked off the site before I could even select a password.
The online form was dreadfully confusing, hard to navigate, and badly designed. When I finally finished filling out everything (or what I thought was everything), and hit “submit,” I wasn’t even taken to a reassuring “Thank you for your application” or “You’re done!” page. It just took me back to the questionnaire homepage again, as if I’d never filled out anything. Was I in the system or not? Did it go through or not? Did I miss something? I decided to check my email and see if any sort of confirmation was sent. Nothing. I tried to call the number again, hoping to get a live person who could confirm whether or not my form went through. But I was just booted off again, after hearing the “high call volume, call back later” message. Why wasn’t I even being given the option to hold for a customer service agent?
Aggravated, I kept checking my email. I logged back on the site, and kept getting error messages (I found out later this was due to the site crashing due to being overwhelmed by applicants). Finally I got back in, and saw nothing on my homepage indicating whether I’d applied or not. I decided to call it a day: maybe I’d have better luck the next day. I needed a drink.
The next morning, there was an email waiting for me. It said that in order to receive benefits, I would need to fill out a job search form. I knew for a fact that layoffs due to Covid 19 were exempt from this rule. I know for a fact I selected the correct reason for unemployment (layoff due to lack of work: Coronavirus). So why was I being asked to provide this information? Besides, who would be hiring? And this was a temporary layoff, not permanent. Maybe my form got changed somehow? Also, how could I tell if my form even went through? I needed help. I felt like I was banging my head against a concrete wall.
I dialed the customer service number, and even though it was early in the morning, I still got kicked out without even being given the option to hold. I went to Google to search for any other possible numbers. The first one was just the same number I’d been using. Then there was was a fax number. The third one was no longer in service. I tried the fourth number, which was not for claimants, but for employers. I decided to call it anyway. Maybe I’d at least get a human who could put me in the queue or transfer me to someone who could help me. Overriding their system somehow seemed like my only option.
After punching in a series of numbers in their menu, I finally was put on hold and told to wait for an agent. After about fifteen minutes, someone picked up. I told him the problem I was having getting any help from a person, and he was able to put me in the queue for claimant customer service. That felt like a minor victory.
I knew it would be a long time before anyone picked up. I had heard about how many people weren’t able to get through, or having to wait in excess of an hour or two to speak to someone. So I grabbed a book to read as I waited. Now, I have a smartphone and not a house phone, and because I live in a valley, sometimes the reception here is so bad I only get one bar or less. Calls sometimes get dropped. Even when I don’t get disconnected, at least half the time, the other party’s voice breaks up and fades in and out, so I have to keep asking them to repeat themselves. Being a person who has never had a great fondness for speaking on the phone, it’s infuriating to me when that happens.
After the guy put me in the call queue, I was met with dead silence. Did the call get dropped or not? I would have welcomed some bad music right then just to reassure me my call was still in the system. My phone was showing I was still connected, but was I really? Finally, after five or ten long minutes, a recorded voice came on saying the call volume was very high and suggested I call back later. Hell no, I wasn’t going through that again. But at least this time, I wasn’t being disconnected after the “call back later” message. So I waited. The message came back on again. It repeated itself every five minutes or so. I read my book. I put it on speaker and went to grab something to drink. I read some more. I logged into my application to see if anything had changed. My application was showing up, and I was still being asked to provide proof I was looking for a job.
I waited THREE AND A HALF HOURS before an agent finally took my call, but I would have waited all night if I had to. My agent couldn’t help me unless I gave her my username and password, because without that, she could not see my application. After she logged in, she told me that I had filled out everything correctly, and the “job search” message just meant I still had to submit a confirmation that I was available for work every week, but did not have to actually list potential employers. There had been absolutely no instruction on how to do this nor was this requirement made clear. So the agent walked me through this step, which turned out to be easy, but there was no way I could have known I had to do this, or how to do it. She did say that my employer hadn’t submitted my “separation information” yet, but when I called my employer, I was told it had been submitted and that I should just wait.
I was certain this was going to be another problem, but yesterday morning, I checked my bank and a direct deposit had been made. However, the amount I got was miniscule, less than half of my normal salary. Closer to a third. It’s not nearly enough to live on, but at least that particular hurdle has finally been overcome and I can worry about other things, like how I’m going to pay my bills or if me or anyone I love is going to get sick with this thing.
A great nation we no longer are, if we ever were. We’ve now surpassed China and the virus’s spread shows no sign of slowing down or flattening out in this country. In the meantime, we get to see all our institutions collapse. It’s surreal.
I can’t believe we’ve come to this point, but here we are.
There’s not a lot we can do, except take care of ourselves the best we can, pray, and be there for one another. Try to stay well, and heed the words of Samuel Jackson: “Wash your hands, stop touching your face, and stay the fuck at home.”