A friend of mine once told me that you know when you’ve been unemployed too long when just calling unemployment once a week becomes too much trouble. That was funny, until the current economic downturn, or recession, or “period of growth reduction” or whatever the fuck politicians call it when people stop buying TVs and $7 lattes because they lost their jobs.
I’ve been unemployed for the better part of 14 months now. And if you live in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, I don’t need to tell you about the Department of Unemployment Insurance. But, I’ll tell you anyway. At this point, DUI doesn’t know whether its gut shot, snake bit, or ass fucked. This wing of the state government was understaffed, undertrained, and undermotivated BEFORE Mass achieved a prodigious unemployment rate of 8.2% in December. Imagine what a cluster fuck parade it is now.
Don’t strain yourself trying to imagine—if you’re like me, you haven’t got a job so you’ve got a full day planned of Internet porn, eating Cap’n Crunch, and trying to accomplish all the daily chores you promised your wife you would do in the 3 ½ minutes it takes her to get from the driveway to the front door and you’re busted. I’ll tell you what marching in the DUI clusterfuck parade feels like. It’s like the Macy’s Day Parade, only without the Bullwinkle balloon. But with extra Michael Bublé performances.
My first claim entitled me to 65% of my last salary, which wasn’t bad at all. I could keep up with my bills, but couldn’t save or get ahead. I was better off than most people, and most days I realized it. Then, like a total asshole, I started taking temp work. I can’t drag at the Public Teat forever, right? I gotta solve my own problem. Contribute something. Put on pants. Well, on my first benefits extension, DUI recalculates my benefits according to 65% of what I made as a temp, which was dick all. My unemployment checks were cut by more than half. I figured out what I made at the temp jobs and what that work cost me in benefits, and I lost money on the deal. That’s right, I would have been financially smarter to stay home and watch Tori Black take it in the ass by some guy named Mandingo than I was taking temp work. And my 3rd grade teacher said I couldn’t learn. That bitch.
Any week you earn income, you have to report it. If the reported income exceeds your unemployment benefits, when you report the income, it closes your account. Then, if you remain unemployed—and you will, because 1) 8.2%, and 2) Internet porn pays—you have to get somebody at your helpful DUI office on the phone to reopen it. On a good day, you’ll wait on hold for 20-45 minutes before speaking to someone who may or may not reopen your account properly. You’ll know if they fucked it up when your check doesn’t arrive. On most days, you just get a recording saying that “due to heavy call volume, all our representatives are busy. Please try your call later, or on the next business day.” I worked in November, mostly to keep something on my resume. I tried to reopen my account two weeks before Christmas. The combination of the holiday, Congress’s dicking around over extending unemployment benefits, and an already overburdened system created an unholy alchemy: after 8 days of “we are aware that you may be subsisting on ramen noodles and cups of ice, but try us again on the next business day, Slappy”, I go into the Woburn walk-in DUI center. By then, I’m perturbed. I know instantly I’m going to get zero help; the lobby is already full of equally pissed off people. Some of them aren’t even pissed anymore. They just look… deflated.
The crone at the counter puts in her teeth and tries to find my face; her eyeglass prescription is apparently far out of date. She tells me there are 60 people already waiting to see the DUI rep. Three more people have come in and gotten in line behind me even as she says this. I’m handed a Zeroxed sheet of other walk-in centers. I envision the crone dying and covered in weeping sores, and I start calling five closest centers. The first two tell me not to even come in; their own DUI reps are booked solid, and then they’ll be closed for the rest of the week. The third center’s phone is answered by a woman who speaks fluent Spanglish. I am transferred to a voice mail box that is full. So, thanks for that. The last two locations don’t even answer their phones.
My next move is just about venting. I go to the DUI’s outdated Web site, looking for a “How are we doing?” link. (In the past, when I’d asked who to complain to, after being placed on hold for 20 minutes, I was given the snail-mail address of the Assistant Comptroller of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Who I am sure is handling customer service issues. Personally. By snail mail. In a backwater of the DUI Web site, I find a number to call if a problem with your claim has not been immediately solved. Well, yes, I think we can fucking say that my problem has not been immediately solved. You might say that DUI has committed aggravated assault against the lining of my stomach. Over a 14-month period.
The recording on the “problem” line sounds just the one on the main line, and even refers callers to the main line, which makes a lot of sense, considering that you’re calling THIS line because THAT line was about as useful as tits on a boar hog. Then it starts ringing. Someone answers. I swallow my own tongue. When I can speak, I realize the words are coming out in a torrent, and I sound exactly like Mel Gibson’s phone messages. I’m ranting, I’m raving, I’m hyperventilating. It’s taken me 8 days to get to a live person to try and get a $217 check out of DUI. The customer service rep starts with the “I know, we’re very busy, we’re doing the best we can,” but then asks for my social security number. She idly scans my account and I hear her say to herself “Well, that’s a problem.” And then, “Why would they have done this?” Finally, the piece d’resistance, “This is a mess.” I feel a little guttering flame of hope kindle in my otherwise dead heart. I’ve become a challenge. I hear determined key strokes. Lots of ‘em.
She begins asking me questions. I’m told that “your benefits really shrank quite a lot in your second extension.” Why yes, thanks for noticing. In fact, my balls still ache from reduction. “Didn’t you apply for the Uelect program?” No, because I don’t know what that is. Is it on the Web site? It is not. Was I sent info about it in the mail? No, I wasn’t. Did DUI contact me about it when my benefits were suddenly halved? No, why would they? Turns out the Obama Administration passed this bill thingamabob to fix the whole “porn pays better than working” doughnut hole. Probably as a footnote hidden in the appendix of a bill making the breeding of chocolate labs to standard poodles illegal. Long and the short of it, I may be entitled to more money. Well, fuckin’ A. When will I know? “Three to four weeks, then an adjuster should free up and start reviewing your case.” I am repossessed by Mel Gibson. Mel is still in an ugly mood.
More furious keystrokes. Much conferring with colleagues in nearby cubes, who all seem completely flummoxed by the intricacies of their own system. But I still present a challenge; maybe I can be saved. “I’ve passed along your case to an adjuster. She’s working out of our Springfield office”—does this matter? Is Springfield where DUI keeps its Special Forces? Unfortunately, I never discover the relevance—“and you should hear from her in the next few days.” Well, that’s something. But I won’t hold my breath. I understand that hypoxia is a really shitty way to go.
The adjuster commando doesn’t call. Her CO does. I tell Mel Gibson’s insane spirit to wait a bit before disappearing into the men’s room for extended jerking-off time. I have qualified for the Uelect program. “On Friday, you should receive direct deposits for 412, 698, 815, 956, and 956.” Huh. “Where does the decimal go?” Confused silence. “Are those amounts in dollars and cents, or in hundreds?” “Oh. Dollars,” the commanding officer says. “As in ‘nine hundred and fifty-six dollars’.” Now I’m silent. My tongue starts sliding toward the back of my mouth and bunching up like a worn carpet over my windpipe. Yesterday, DUI didn’t have time to clear a $217 check. Today, they’ve casually given me almost four thousand dollars.There are no words.