People who have to rely on their unemployment payments as their sole source of income have my deepest sympathies. I have never dealt with a more frustrating bureaucracy in my life and that includes the battles I’ve done over the past few years with insurance companies. The website is so poorly designed as to be unusable, yet you are required to log on to it once a week. It is almost impossible to get hold of a real person on the phone, so you must either spend the majority of the day redialing the phone number or make a trip to one of the inconveniently located offices which means you AREN’T looking for work. Answering the questions honestly (Did you attend school or training during this week?) apparently gets the payment for that two week period held up while they “investigate” whether or not your school attendance impacts your work availability (but they don’t TELL you that, they just don’t pay you) and then when they do reach their determination they STILL don’t pay you for those two weeks (and don’t tell you that). AND since you get paid through a debit card that provides you with no statement of transactions either on paper or online you have to either wind your way through yet another phone tree or make a trip to a bank that you don’t belong to to check your balance on an ATM to determine that no, they didn’t pay you so you don’t have to worry that someone stole your card number and used it to buy new cell phones (that really happened to me a few years ago. Never did figure out how they got my credit card number but I know I didn’t buy $600 worth of cell phones and accessories).
The way the system is set up ENCOURAGES people to lie, to cut corners. Want me to use your lame, inefficient, poorly designed job search to prove that I’m looking for work? Ok, I’ll log in once a week, click on a few links, and leave the window opened in the background while I do a real search on Monster or Careerbuilder. Expect me to let you know if I’m enrolled in some sort of class that makes me more employable? Not if you are going to not pay me the money you’ve already told me I’m entitled to!
I’m lucky. While not getting my unemployment deposit for these two weeks is not an ideal situation, we do have another income. That means that I still have money in my account from the deposit from two weeks earlier and our regular account if I need it. It will be a major pain in the ass to spend all day Monday re-dialing that number until I finally get through (they don’t have a call queue…if all the lines are busy, you get a recording telling you to try again before it disconnects you) so I can figure out if I’ll get paid for the past two weeks now, or if those two weeks get tacked onto the end of my available unemployment. I can only imagine what it would be like if that debit account was all I had and I was facing the possibility of missing two weeks “salary.”
Are there those who abuse the system? I’m sure there are. But the “safeguards” that have been put in place to try to curtail that have made a system that punishes those who use it fairly and the punishment is the most brutal for those who need the help the most. There are easy ways to improve the level of communication, to make the website more effective and actually helpful, to make sure that the people who are relying on it aren’t penalized for simply using the system.