Sacred Cods and Holy Mackerals

Tales from the bread line
January 9, 2009, 6:44 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

If one thing has been made perfectly clear over the past six months its that the state’s Division of Unemployment Assistance was woefully, woefully unprepared for the recession.

Apparantly division managers have been slow to adjust to the fact that its no longer 2006, the state’s unemployment rate is no longer 4 percent, you can’t run your online system using 1998 servers, and you need more than 2 bodies staffing an unemployment office now dealing with hundreds of cases a day.

The numbers of phone calls from constituents with problems opening a claim outnumber any other issue not involving the MBTA or Turnpike Authority. There’s nothing like telling people to call in on a Monday to update their case status only to have the phone network crash for 48 hours.

There was even a report of a riot at one center, the location of which Im not allowed to reveal publicly. Apparantly 85 customers were stuck in an office with no heat for more than six hours. A former financial district employee finally snapped and ended up macing the entire office. 23 people were hospitalized. The Globe and Herald refused to report on the incident due to concerns that doing so would just encourage additional unrest and upheaval against the Establishment. Even good ol’ Pat Purcell was spooked by the idea of hardhat-swinging sandhogs and Teamsters armed with blackjacks storming One Herald Square looking to settle some old scores.

Yikes. Not sure where all that came from. This isn’t a good time to be making up wild stories. Who needs fiction when there’s the front page of the

Anyway, here’s a real story from a friend who asked to remain anonymous given his/her shame of being on the dole.

It’s surprising that the state pays only part of one’s salary when he or she is laid off, because nagging the unemployment office is a full-time job. Since losing my job in late 2008, I’ve dealt with the horrific hold music and flat-out “call back later” messages from the Massachusetts unemployment office’s TeleFile service. Aside from the initial call to file my claim, the employees have been apologetic for the long waits and the agency’s inability to send me any money.

I’ve tried to manage my claim online, but have had problems with that. Last week, I went online to report the results of my job search and saw that my claim had been closed. I’ve been doing some part-time work, so I assumed that had done it. Figuring it would be easier to show my paperwork and severance pay stubs to a human instead of trying to hash it out over the phone, I drove to the Cambridge unemployment office in the quest to get some money.

I’d seen the unemployment numbers that were released earlier today, and was still shocked by the amount of people waiting in the office. It was like the waiting room at the emergency room—people of all ages and ethnicities sat around, looking extraordinarily bored or worried.

A shockingly calm woman was checking people in at a fold-out table. I explained that I had filed a claim last year, still hadn’t seen a dime, and had found my claim closed when I went online. All I wanted was to talk to a human being and get the money I was owed.

“I’m not surprised,” the woman said as she flipped through some messy piles of photocopied information on the table. “The system has collapsed.”

She then informed me that the one employee who was on-hand to address existing claims had a waiting list of 60 people, and therefore wouldn’t have time to talk to me. I was presented with a list of other offices to try and wishes of good luck.

All of this transpired around 10:30 this morning, only two hours after the center had opened. I called the Newtonville office, and was told that unless I could get over there pretty quickly, my odds of talking to someone were about nil. “We’re quoting people who got here this morning a 2 P.M. meeting time,” the woman on the phone said.

I understand that the system is incredibly taxed because of the bad economy. It’s clear the state doesn’t have the money to hire enough staff to adequately handle the flood of unemployment claims. But this is a terrifying situation.

I’m lucky enough to have fiscally responsible family members and friends who can loan me a few bucks until I get a new job. But many Massachusetts residents don’t have that luxury, and must spend their time waiting to get a few minutes of an unemployment official’s time to make sure the money keeps coming instead of looking for a new job. Perhaps the legislature can donate its pay raise to hiring a few more unemployment staffers to help the system work better for their constituents.

Yikes. It’s never a good sign when state employees start talking about the collapse of the system, and they’re not referring to their pension scams.

2 Comments so far
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Maybe I lucked out, but my experience yesterday (1/8/09) in Norwood was pretty painless. It did seem unnecessary to have file in person (phone always busy), but whatever. I take exception to calling unemployment being “on the dole” though…it is insurance, like social security, that I and my employer have been paying into for years. I am not embarassed to be unemployed and am telling everyone I know so they can help me find a job and/or consulting work. In the mean time I will be happy to collect the benefits I am entitled to receive.

Comment by Dave Atkins

No offense intended. I just enjoy calling my friend “a bum” and “a drain on my taxdollars” because…well…I’m just that type of person. Trust me, if, God forbid, I get laid off too, I’ll be the first person to refer to myself as a bum suckling from the public teet.
But in all seriousness, good luck Dave!

Comment by South Shore Pragmatist

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