Unemployment and the Corona Virus
The CARES Act provides additional protection for people who are otherwise ineligible to collect unemployment benefits. The CARES Act came along just in time for me but it was not easy to collect.
I’ve been actively seeking employment since I was laid off from my previous full-time job. Perhaps the problem is my previous job was very good and I’m expecting too much from my new job. I received a very good severance package. When my severance ran out, I hit my 401K. The severance and 401K counted against my unemployment benefits. When I was spending my severance and 401K, I wasn’t eligible to collect unemployment. When I was finally able to receive payments, I was able to collect for only a few weeks. Shortly after I began receiving benefits, my unemployment claim expired.
I was able to find some short-term contract work. When my contracts ended, I earned just enough to start collecting unemployment again. After just a few weeks, I exhausted my benefits again. By then, Corona Virus was in full-swing and the Cares Act kicked in. But it was a major ordeal filing a claim. Unemployment benefits quickly became available for contract workers. Not so quickly for regular claimants with exhausted benefits.
Being a W2 claimant with exhausted benefits, there was no way for me to file and on-line pandemic claim. I called the unemployment hotline only to discover it wasn’t my day to call. A-M callers could call on Tuesday, Thursday, and a half-day on Saturdays. N-Z callers got Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. It seems A-M people were gypped out of half a day. When I was able to get through the busy signals on my day, it was
“For contract workers press 1, for W2 new claims, press 2, all others press 3”
I press 2 or 3 then…
“All our agents are busy please try later”
I got the same message over and over. I happened to have an email for someone at unemployment who helped me previously. I asked her how to get through if calls were being accepted for contract workers, but calls for people with regular claims were not getting through. Since I had a regular claim on file and was not a contract worker, I was trying option 3 “all other questions” to get information. She replied, “call anyways, you will not be turned away”. So I pressed 1 for contract workers and got through.
The hold message said I could wait on hold, or they would call back when it was my turn. I wanted to be a good citizen and not tie up a line, so I opted for a call-back. No call-back. Another wasted day. I called back on my next day and selected option 1 for contract workers. They transferred me to the people for general inquiries. After 3 1/2 hours on hold, I got hung-up on. I called back asked to be transferred and got hung-up on again after four hours on hold.
The next day, I eventually got an agent who told me, the “system” was not able to process exhausted benefits claims yet. I should get an email telling me when I could file.
On Monday, the following week, I saw an on-line notice that the system was ready to process exhausted benefits claims (I never got my email). I needed some guidance on how to answer some of the questions. Since Monday wasn’t my call-in day, I waited until Tuesday. When I called in on Tuesday, I discovered they no longer had call-in days based on names. I could have called in the previous day. When I was able to get through, I was informed there was a special line for pandemic claims, so I called it. The pandemic line people told me they only process contract workers, call regular employment. I called regular unemployment, they told me they don’t process pandemic claims. I should call the pandemic line for exhausted benefits claims.
So I called the pandemic line again. She tried to turn me away, but I insisted. She started to enter my claim and ran into a question. She put me on hold to discuss the matter with her supervisor. Hung up again. I called the next day. The agent told me I already had a claim in the system, I would need to call regular employment. I called regular unemployment they told me to call pandemic unemployment. I called pandemic unemployment and got through just before closing.
“The work-day is over, can I call you back tomorrow?”
The next day, no callback.
So, I decide to file a claim on my own. I can’t start a new claim because there is already a claim in the system. I can’t enter my existing claim because I don’t have a password. I try the “forgot password” button. It sends me a reset code. When I enter my reset code, it told me “The information I entered does match the information they had on file.”
I call the pandemic line again. The only thing they could do was enter a ticket. I should hear back in 48 hours. I try to log-on again the next day to check the status. Still can’t enter a new claim, already a claim in the system. I try a password reset again. This time, it wouldn’t even send me a reset code. Since my logon situation changed, I called the pandemic line.
Them: “Well, tickets might take longer they 48 hours, they’re really busy. Call regular unemployment”
Me: “can you enter a new ticket or update the existing ticket?”
Them: “My supervisor said she will not enter a new ticket. Call regular unemployment. She said to let you go. I don’t want to hang up on you, but she wants me to terminate the call”
So I call regular unemployment. Again. Expecting to get the run-around again, I get someone I spoke with before. This time she had access she didn’t have before. After nearly two weeks of trying, on a Thursday, she was able to complete my claim! Hallelujah! Unfortunately, I still couldn’t log on. Unemployment was sending me emails, but no password reset codes. She said if I still couldn’t log on, call back on Monday. Later, I received emails telling me to log on and read my messages, but I couldn’t log on.
On Friday, I was able to request payment over the phone, but they couldn’t help me with my logon issue.
Unemployment ran a system maintenance on Saturday, and on Sunday it was sending me reset codes again. I still couldn’t reset my password. “The information you entered does not match our records”. I tried again on Monday. Same thing. I was able to call in and request payment for another week.
Later in the morning, I listened in on an online town hall. I submitted a question about my log-in problem. They didn’t answer my question. When the town hall ended, I immediately tried to call the regular employment line. I tried over and over, busy, busy, busy. When I was able to get past the busy, there was a three-minute announcement. No way to bypass the long announcement, I tired. I listened for three minutes only to be told: “all our agents are busy, please try again later”. Later in the day, they made a change to the phone system and I was able to bypass the long announcement but I still got “all our agents are busy, please try again later”. In spite of trying nearly all day-long, I never got through.
The first thing the next day, I tried again. Busy. busy, busy. When I got past the busy, there was that long announcement again. I was able to bypass the first half but couldn’t bypass the minute-and-a-half long second-half. Then “all our agents are busy, please try again later”. After trying over and over all morning long, I finally got through. I barely knew what to do. After a long hold, I got Vicki. Just that day she was given additional access and training on the pandemic system. She instantly diagnosed the problem. My birthdate in the pandemic system was incorrect. Voilà, I was able to reset my password and log on.
I was able to read my messages and enter the required information. Unfortunately, it was too late to change my payments to direct deposit. My payments were put on a debit card that was no good. (another long story). I called the debit card company. They asked me for my birthday. “No, your information doesn’t match our records”. I gave them my wrong birthday. “That’s what we have on file”. We’ll send you another card with the money. That will take a week to ten days.
After many. many, calls and spending hours and hours on hold, I finally got my claim filed. I can log on now. If my debit card arrives, I will have access to the money. Hopefully, It will arrive soon.
A major part of the problem was there wasn’t clarity about who the exhausted benefits claimants should call. The regular unemployment agents were not equipped to process exhausted benefits claims. The pandemic unemployment people were trained to accept calls only from contract workers. They were not trained to process exhausted benefits claims. The pandemic unemployment people are temporary employees with very limited training and access. When they need help or don’t know an answer, they were trained to go to their supervisors. The supervisors don’t have much more training than the agents. The supervisors don’t have anyone to go to when they don’t know the answers, so they pull answers out of their hats. Some of the responses I received from supervisors were downright atrocious.
I really can’t blame the pandemic agents. They are doing their best with their limited resources and training. I worked in a temporary call center for awhile so I know the drill. I walked a mile in their moccasins. I am less sympathetic with the supervisors. The supervisors were selected because they had slightly more experience than the agents. They don’t know any more than the regular agents so they “fake” it. THAT’s what I a have problem with. If I believed the supervisors, I would still be waiting for my claim to be processed.
I am glad the regular unemployment agents were eventually provided with training and access to the pandemic system. The people who helped me were ultimately the regular unemployment people. At first, they didn’t have access to the systems needed to help me. As time progressed, I think the management realized the temporary agents for pandemic claims needed help. The one or two days of training the temp agents received simply weren’t enough. Thank goodness the regular unemployment agents are highly trained, skilled, and experienced.