here’s what an unemployment benefits worker wants you to know

Here’s some advice from someone who works in an unemployment office:

Saw  your post from earlier this week encouraging people to file for unemployment benefits if their hours are cut due to the national emergency. I work at the unemployment office in my state, and just wanted to say thanks for your advice – it is accurate!

However, I’d also like to say that we are seeing unprecedented numbers of people filing due to shut-downs, and we are overwhelmed. I’d like to ask people to please be patient. Yes, we are making some tweaks – our waiting week is waived, as is the work search requirement – but to work our way through the normal workload AND the additional claims is going to take time. Everyone I work with is doing their very best, even when adjudicators are being pulled from their work processing claims and issuing decisions to help cover the phone lines to deal with the volume of calls. Some overtime has been approved, but the government is notoriously stingy with that, and we were not told overtime was approved last week until 3:30pm on Friday, and I’ve heard nothing yet this week, either.

Unless you have a perfectly clean claim that was perfectly filed, there will likely be a delay in you receiving benefits, while our office investigates whatever issue is on the claim. We investigate issues in the order they come in. We have only a finite number of adjudicators to investigate the issues. The more issues that come in, the longer the list grows, and we investigate the oldest ones first. It’s not a perfect system. We who work with it are aware of that! Please be kind. We know it’s important for you to receive the benefits you’ve applied for, we truly are doing our best!

One thing I’d like to recommend is to read the claimant handbook – each state has one on their website, and it will answer most of the questions claimants might have. If you have questions, please don’t just look for a phone number to call – please check the handbook first to see if you can troubleshoot the issue yourself. Please leave a phone call as a last resort. There are definitely legitimate issues that warrant a call, but there are SO MANY calls that could have been avoided by following directions and checking the handbook.

Each state’s unemployment system is different, but they function generally the same, and I’m guessing my general explanation and advice here holds up across the U.S. Just – please be patient, and please be kind. The people I work with are amazing and they are doing a fantastic job, but we are only human. We understand people are frightened by the uncertainty, but we can’t make guarantees, and we don’t deserve to be berated for something out of our control. I overheard someone on the phone yesterday say, “You’re not the only one that is in this situation” in an attempt to empathize, and she told me later that he yelled, “Yes I am!” at her. That’s the sort of thing we are constantly dealing with, and it is very draining, plus conversations like that are unproductive and take up time that could be better used by actually processing the issues people are calling about!

 Whew! Sorry for the rant – I just wanted you to know the reality of what it looks like from this side. We know it’s chaos on the claimant’s side, with phone lines busy, or really long wait times, and sometimes systems crashing due to excessive usage. We’re doing our best to make it through the deluge and get payments out to people – I promise we’re not just sitting around watching from a distance!

Thank you.

All: Something that’s still unknown is whether the extended unemployment benefits in the bill that looks likely to pass this week will apply to people who recently had their unemployment benefits run out. (I asked this generous letter writer that, and she confirmed it’s still unclear and may vary by state.)

And anyone else in a job that directly affects workers like this right now: If you want to offer insider advice, send it in. I’m happy to publish it.

{ 105 comments… read them below }

  1. Coffee Owlccountant*

    Elbow-bump of solidarity to the OP and their coworkers! I am not currently working in UC, but I was employed for PA’s UC during the Great Recession and PA’s unemployment was over 10%. Everything that OP said is exactly on point! During the year I was there, it was rare, bordering on unheard-of, for us to be less than 400 calls deep in queue. Every day. Every shift. It is a draining, exhausting, emotionally challenging job. I want to add a couple points to help out if you’re about to navigate the wild world of UC for the first time:

    – Echoing OP, every state is different but the framework usually works the same. Look up your state’s UC website and read the handbook! It will help!

    – Please be aware that there are two elements to your unemployment claim – your separation and your earning history for the past 18 months. You (usually) must be eligible on BOTH fronts for your UC claim to be upheld. Depending on the nature and timing of any federal relief bills, that could change, but assume right now it has not. What that generally means (again, state-by-state) is that you will need to have earned a minimum $ of W-2 wages over a particular time frame, usually two quarters.

    – Unemployment claims are filed in the state where you LIVE, not the state where you WORK. If you are a person for whom those places are different, please expect that your unemployment claim will take longer to process. The states must transmit your wage information and state unemployment between themselves.

    – Please remember that the person you are talking to may not legally be allowed to give you information you desperately want. I know that feeling and it SUCKS. There were so many times I wanted to be able to say, “oh sure, you’ll be fine” and maybe could even see that a disputed claim had been approved, but I was not legally permitted to tell that to a claimant over the phone. Frequently (again, state-by-state), a claimant must legally be notified in writing, and that means the mail.

    – If your claim is denied the first time, always, always appeal. You always have that right. Especially now when changes are coming from the federal government but not fast enough, there are systems that aren’t getting updated fast enough to manage everything that is changing. Your initial claim application could get automatically denied without anyone even seeing it. Appeal.

    – Finally, again echoing the OP – please, please be patient and kind to your representative. The person on the phone is going to spend their entire shift doing nothing but talking to people in desperate and terrifying situations and maybe they will have to tell them news that will make it worse. It’s HARD emotional labor. It’s exhausting. Be kind, be patient, and say thank you.

    1. OP*

      Oh this is PERFECT! When I read today what I wrote a couple days ago, I was wishing I’d done a little less venting and a little more clearly explaining the process! You are amazing and I love you!!! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

      1. Coffee Owlccountant*

        I retired from the trenches a decade ago, but I do not forget what a difficult and soul-crushing job it was. This internet stranger is applauding you! Thank you for doing what you do! Stay safe and healthy!

      2. Jules the 3rd*

        Good luck, OP and all your colleagues. I love your recommendation to Read The Fine Manual, but thing are changing so fast, we’re still going to need you to help us keep up.

    2. coldbrewraktajino*

      >Unemployment claims are filed in the state where you LIVE, not the state where you WORK. If you are a person for whom those places are different, please expect that your unemployment claim will take longer to process.

      Oregon-Washington border employee here: my coworker’s husband and my partner both had to file for unemployment in their WORK state. (OR in one, WA in the other, both with at least a year of history in that state) So check with both states I guess. I agree that it takes time.

    3. LQ*

      I’m going to jump in on the where to file. At least in my state it is about where your work is done, not where you live. All the people who live in neighboring state but work in this one file and are elibile in this one because this one is the one where the employers file the wage detail. Not where the employer HQ is, but where the work you do is. So if you work at Walmart in Arizona and live in New Mexico, you file in Arizona.

      Along these lines, the federal systems that are supposed to support all of this are also fully collapsed. The interfaces to pass data are just not working at all. This is creating a tremendous amount of trouble for states that’s hidden away. Some states are just shrugging and paying everyone, integrity be damned, some are trying to tackle it through other means, etc. But it means that it is exceedingly hard if you have wages in multiple states, fill out ALL the paperwork and dig out pay stubs if you have wages in multiple states. This is also true if you have Military or Federal employment.

  2. Daniel*

    Thanks, Alison. My mother worked for over 25 years in her state’s DOL and she went back to work on Tuesday to help out. She went from a manager (where she was when she retired last summer) back to taking phone calls, so she could chip in with all the work coming in.

    I also know many friends, especially in the food industry, who have been laid off and are looking at a fairly grim next few weeks, so I understand the other side of the coin, too.

    My advice is to know as much as you can once you go in. Reading the claimant handbook is a great idea. Also try to get an idea of what waiting times you are looking at, either through the grapevine, social media, etc. And yes, please be aware that people are even coming out of retirement, taking jobs two or three levels than what they had before, so they can help, so be aware that the delays are *not* being caused by indifference on the institution side.

    1. Zsazsa*

      Although I normally agree to telling folks to read the claimant handbook, I don’t think that’s a good idea for this present time and for some states. I work within the local DOL system within a position where I am involved with implementing programs and changes to the rules to meet the rapidly changing needs. The UI division has made lots of changes to rules and guidance within the last two weeks, in ways they have never done before. so, because of the rapid changes, I would suggest visiting your local UI website and following links there. In my state there is a FAQ and links to direct changes that is updated within real time. I would hate for someone to think they need to go into a American Job Center to get UI. That’s a change that just went into effect less than 2 weeks ago in most states under the Federal guidance.

  3. Dr.PopcornMD*

    I just want to say thank you to the OP and raise my fist in solidarity! I worked for my state’s jobseeker assistance program for years and work with employers now – there are a lot of us that aren’t on the front lines anymore but are trying to help triage by advising friends, family, and colleagues to be patient and read the dang handbook!

    1. OP*

      BLESS YOU!! It really is just overwhelming. Not only the workload, but also trying to scramble to get everyone set up to work from home to comply with the state’s “shelter at home” mandate. There is just a LOT going on! Thanks for the support!

      1. ForsythCounty*

        Thanks for all the info. My stepdaughter was just starting to need to file and your info is valuable!

      2. Dr.PopcornMD*

        I can only imagine, OP! My agency has put out the call for anyone who has any UI experience and lives in the capital area to come back to help out. I live on the other side of the state, otherwise I’d be glad to help officially – it can’t be much worse than typing reports all day while my dog barks :)

        Stay safe and sane!

    2. SebbyGrrl*

      Yes! THIS!

      Please share with any coworkers – some people are very afraid and it can make them less than polite and a host of other challenges over and above the sheer unrelenting volume of claims.

      Thank your whole agency on our behalf.

      I’ve always voted for funding to enable proper availability and distribution of government services – please people we NEED government agencies, we need them staffed (not diminished) and prepared for crisis.

  4. Anonymous Staffer*

    I’d like to add to this – I work for a state legislature, and in this state we’re trying to increase the funding for our UI offices as much as we can for both the actual costs of the benefits and also the explosion of administrative costs. However, states have to wait for federal money for this as it can cost to the tune of billions – with a b – of dollars that states don’t have on their own on hand. So I urge patience as much as possible – while I can only speak for my state, government has NOT forgotten about you, there are just many many things that have to fall into place to end up ramping up these vital services that we know everyone urgently needs.

  5. Jennifer Juniper*

    I would not say “You’re not the only one in this situation,” in an attempt to express empathy.

    That comes across to many people, including myself, as scolding them for complaining and calling us entitled, spoiled brats. When someone says that to me, I say something like “I never said I was!”

    That may be why the guy lashed out. Of course, what he said was inexcusable and entitled.

    1. Jennifer*

      I was thinking the same. I know it’s hard to come up with something empathetic to say when you’re as overworked as these employees are, but that wouldn’t have been comforting to me either.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Yeah not a fan of that wording either.

      I’m already on edge though from all the solicitations for money from various places under the umbrella of “Y’all still working, come on and spend that money you’re still bringing in! Take out Tuesday!” Bro…many of us are supporting people now that they’re out of a job, take this out…

      1. CmdrShepard4ever*

        I can understand your frustration, there are many local business/individuals/gofundmes that I wish I could afford to help everyone, but I can’t.

        But unless businesses are actually going to your door or calling you to ask for you to come in and spend money, I think business asking on social media, email blasts for community support/purchases is not a bad way to do it. Asking for those who can afford to eat out, buy gift cards etc… to local businesses is not shaming or saying you have to do it. I think the main sentiment is if you can afford it try to support those that in need, and you are certainly already doing that. Maybe you could unsubscribe for the time being, or hide posts from businesses.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          I’m not a fan of the verbiage they’re using is the issue here.

          Send out blasts saying you’re open, especially since lots of people are asking about who’s open and who’s not, etc. That’s cool, that’s important stuff.

          But the wording literally says “Those of you who are “blessed” to still be working, it’s on you to keep the economy going, come in and save your local family businesses!”

          As someone who’s still working and a life long “family business” person, it’s tacky at best and rude at worst.

          1. Tidewater 4-1009*

            I wonder if that’s a regional thing. Where I live I’ve only seen “if you can, please support local business…”
            Since I’m unemployed and not likely to find even temp work for at least a few weeks, I can’t and don’t really notice.

      2. Elizabeth Rochelle Dickson*

        Yeah… I’m getting that now from a friend. Her situation is pretty damn dire, and has been for a long while, and I’ve always CashApped her when I could, but… the pressure for me to share her posts where she’s asking for help, the pressure to send stuff because my situation is slightly better than hers, therefore I have money to send, and time to spare (wtf no. I don’t. I, too, am basically homeless, homie. I am living on my mother’s living room floor, for chrissakes. I am barely afloat, and trying to get it together with my chronic illnesses and hers, and an attempt at my own business. Stop assuming I’m rolling in money and time, homie.)… it rankles. It really rankles. I can’t carry another person’s troubles on top of mine. I just can’t.

        1. A Penny for Your Idea!*

          It sounds like she needs to be completely cut off if the friendship is only going one way — you always helping her.

    3. Lucette Kensack*

      Agreed. This is obviously not the point of this post, but that line sounds antagonistic to me, and I’m not surprised that someone responded in kind.

    4. Kate 2*

      I worked in customer service for more than 10 years. We only say something like that, and we say it nicely, AFTER we’ve already got someone screaming at us. I’ve been screamed at, sworn at, called fat and stupid, threatened and more. No one is perfect, but believe me we don’t try to antagonize people, we don’t LIKE being screamed at. We do everything we can to avoid it and placate people but we can’t change reality to suit people, and sometimes that is the only thing that will satisfy. I’ve had people make me cry because I had to tell them their 50 cent coupon was expired. His response tells me everything I need to know about him.

    5. toots*

      While taken out of context I can imagine unkind tone/inflection, or tone/inflection that seems callous, but I think we can mostly also all imagine an interaction where the speaker said it kindly, perhaps with slightly different wording or as the beginning or end of a more complete thought. I know the OP used quotation marks but surely we’re often imperfect at remembering what words people around us use.

    6. LQ*

      Nitpicking wording from someone who is scared, tired, overworked, and doing their best on the spur of the moment is kind of a jerk move too.

  6. Jennifer*

    It’s not the OP’s fault and people should be kind. I just think in general people are frustrated with how poorly our leadership has handled this. Anyone could have foreseen that unemployment offices would be overloaded. Why wasn’t funding diverted to hire and train more workers before the deluge? Help is coming supposedly, but when? It’s hard to be patient when you don’t know how you’re going to feed yourself or your family. Again, not the fault of the OP or her coworkers but I just know why a lot of people feel hopeless right now.

    I’ll make sure the read the handbook if I’m laid off. So far, it doesn’t look like it will happen but you never know. Thanks for the tip.

    1. Anonymous Staffer*

      I can only speak to my state on this, but budgets for the fiscal year are set the prior year, way before anyone knew a pandemic would come with mass business closures. Most states don’t have money to say oh look a pandemic, lets divert millions to BILLIONS of dollars to unemployment offices that weren’t previously allocated (from where, medicaid? Homeless shelters? State budgets are tight on essential services as it is). And depending on where the money is coming from, you need the appropriation authority for it from legislatures – my state’s budget process is currently ongoing. Right now my state is waiting for federal money because we don’t have billions of dollars just lying around. So I don’t blame anyone for feeling hopeless especially when this could have been avoided in the first place if our federal administration got its act together, but these things are not solved by magic wand.

      1. Jennifer*

        I was referring to help from the federal government. They just passed a stimulus bill that could have been done a while ago. That’s what I was referring to. Not a wand.

        1. Grits McGee*

          From what I’ve read, most of the delay has come from putting in accountability measures into the legislation to make sure the $,$$$,$$$,$$$ goes to who it’s intended for. The 2008-09 bank bailouts taught Congress to be less trusting when it comes to cash distribution.

        2. Librarian1*

          They DID see this coming, but the president is such so self-centered that he refused to do anything because it would hurt the economy and make him look bad and all his CEO buddies would be mad at him!

      2. That Girl from Quinn's House*

        My state’s senate has had an outbreak of coronavirus itself, a lot of our legislators are in quarantine as a result.

        I’m sure that’s not helping things, either.

    2. Just Me*

      I’m not sure that anyone could have predicted the scope of this virus and how quickly it spread in the last two weeks. Yes, I know it’s been in other countries for a couple of months but I don’t think anyone, any country, any leader could have foreseen the far-reaching impact this has had. And even if they somehow could have, who has BILLIONS of dollars put aside to deal with this, or any emergency for that matter. Like the OP said, kindess and patience are the name of the game. Thanking all the workers who are doing their best to navigate this under very trying circumstances

      1. Jennifer*

        “Who has BILLIONS of dollars put aside to deal with this, or any emergency for that matter?”

        The US government. And they knew how bad this could get in January. I’m all for being kind to those on the front lines and I don’t believe I said anything that disputes that, whether it’s at the unemployment office, grocery store employees, or healthcare workers. I will encourage kindness toward them but I think it’s wrong to tell people who have no money coming in and no way to feed their families to “be patient.” The problem is the people the OP is referring to are directing their ire at the poor folks on the front lines instead of where it belongs.

      2. BTDT*

        Yes, actually, it was easy to see in January where this was going. I started stocking up supplies then. Anyone with a couple of semesters of public health under their belt could see 1. what needed to be done wasn’t 2. that many people would be dead

        1. toots*

          Seems odd for someone with semesters’ worth of public health under their belt to stock up supplies rather than work to ensure that those supplies are adequately stocked at places that support the public. Please don’t brag about being a covid-hipster.

          1. nom de plume*

            This is a pretty uncalled for retort. The disastrous conditions that have ensued poor governmental decisions are not BTDT’s responsibility, and calling someone “covid-hipster” is just… mean-spirited, honestly.

          2. Stella*

            …Stocking up on supplies is literally what the general emergency guidance is. Last I checked, a couple semesters of something is usually not enough to have control over that thing. I don’t think it is bad to stock up on supplies so you can stay home and not be a carrier of the virus.

            The point was clearly that if a few semesters was enough for the commenter to see this, it is hard to believe the federal government didn’t also see this coming. Meaning presumably the people with decision making powers.

            Besides, everyone knows the real covid hipsters are the people having covid parties to spread the disease.

          3. toots*

            I guess I misread the tone here–I do think that the original comment from BTDT was very dismissive and rude regarding the very real uncertainty that people, including those in public health, were feeling in the early days of the situation. Message received that I was in the wrong.

        2. LQ*

          Ok so January. Government hiring takes months. (Don’t get me wrong right now because of emergency declarations hiring is much faster.) So someone who was trying to do hiring in January when anyone with a couple of semesters of public health could see where it was going would maybe just now be able to bring someone in. Except you’d get interrupted by all of the planning for the disaster and your hiring would get delayed. And you wouldn’t have funding to hire someone so first you’d have to lobby hard to get funding, which can take months or even years, and we aren’t taking lobby your boss like oh I don’t have enough people, we are talking lobby legislators, except that’s not even how UI funding works at all, UI funding is essentially pay per item you process, so you can never really proactively hire unless you’re a program with money laying around, which a few states are but not many, and those states have legislative bodies trying to take that money to spend on their hobby projects, so if you are an unemployment program you’re better off not running so close to the line that you have left over money because then the legislators will expect you to run even at peak times with less than capacity because you’ve done it before so why not now too?

          It’s always easy from the cheap seats. Sorry, but saying that you personally bought extra supplies is nothing like trying to move a behemoth government program under normal circumstances.

          1. Avasarala*

            I know governments move slowly, but somehow they manage to move quickly during disasters (military, natural, etc.)

            They already have public health officials and systems who totally could have seen this coming in January and taken preventative measures and said “make this legal and make this quick.” If we had a more forward-thinking system in place the body could be more agile.

            What’s the point of leaning towards authoritarianism if you can’t crack down on the populace in times of crisis?

            1. LQ*

              They are moving fast now, but you don’t move fast until after the disaster. Also the military and fema are really different from unemployment insurance programs. Unemployment programs don’t hire for and drill in a hard authoritarian mindset. (We are union, union is not ok with anything we are doing.)

              (And I know a lot of UI programs were actually working to ramp up in January, but sorry, work takes time.)

      3. Librarian1*

        They could have and they did. Congress and the president were warned about this in February! We saw what happened in China. The current resident of the White House Just Does Not Care.

    3. Creed Bratton*

      My mom works in unemployment in my home state and while the government is promising “unemployment for all” they are not allowing most the unemployment office to work from home and are even expecting them to work face to face with clients (though there are signs on the door to discourage office visits…). No extra infrastructure and very little leadership, so my 70 year old diabetic mother is doing what she can knowing that she HAS to help as many as she can. Regardless of how many times I’ve begged her to consider her safety first.

      I understand the speed at which the government works but there are literal lives at stake.

      1. Jdc*

        My guess is they aren’t set up to work from home. My husband is government and can’t even use Bluetooth on his devices. To even get approval he has to meet crazy guidelines in internet, home phone, nothing witless. This is due to the security of the information. They had a handful of people working from home and in a day had to buy more of everything, set people up on their system, teach people who to set it up. Thats a lot to work out fast. And he said everyone on his chats is complaining about “but i need a comfy chair” etc not just considering that they are throwing this together quickly. He was pretty frustrated after work the other day with how people were more concerned the government buys them an at home office, pays to have it set up and magically does so overnight. They probably have one or two people even doing purchasing for his office and they are attempting to handle all of it.

        If people want to say this and that could’ve been done different please remember yourself in difficult situations. You probably could’ve done things different too, but here we are so try to be understanding…and more so, understanding that the person you are screaming at for not building you a suitable home office is one person who didn’t make the rules.

        1. Jdc*

          Oh and per my other posts my laptop is being fixed and typing on my iPad is not a skill I’ve mastered. And that wasn’t an attack on anyone posting, maybe just on the people he works with complaining at most ha

      2. old curmudgeon*

        In our state (and probably in most others), the UI claims staff have access to highly confidential Federal data, and consequently are required to work behind a firewall in a room that is locked to anyone who doesn’t work for the agency. All UI staff, as well as the dozens from other areas of the agency who have been temporarily assigned to help out during the deluge, are required by the feds to work behind locked doors in order to protect the privacy of the claimants.

        Large numbers of people in the agency are indeed working from home, but those who handle this very critical work cannot do so.

        OP, I send you all my respect and solidarity. I have a very good idea what you are going through right now, and you are truly a Hero of the Revolution. Be well, and thank you for all that you are doing.

    4. LQ*

      How would you have done it before the deluge? When would you have started? We would have had to have training start a year ago? It’s not like folks can be trained in a day. I mean we are going to be doing that now. But then you are saying that it takes as much work as it does to read the website for a day in which case? I don’t know what you want.

      Even if people forsaw that offices would be overloaded that helps takes months under normal government circumstances. Even at breakneck paces, calling people, offering them jobs on the spot because someone vouched for them. Then sticking them in a complex job and expecting them to be experts overnight? That doesn’t make sense.

      Yeah it sucks. And yeah it would be great if unemployment offices were always ready for a sudden economic collapse, but this isn’t how the economy has collapsed before. It takes months normally for a recession to slide in. Not literal days. You can say that unemployment offices should have been staffing up since what….November? At most? But that’s not that long ago, but who would have gladly shelled out for the assumption that the economy would shatter in weeks?

      1. old curmudgeon*

        The obstacles that states place in the way of hiring even under normal circumstances, just filling a vacancy left by a retiree, are incredible. Authorizing hundreds of brand-new positions, plus the funding to pay for them, is about as likely to happen as riding a bicycle to the moon.

        Agencies in our state are required by law to follow certain procedures and timelines.

        The process starts with the hiring agency asking permission to fill a position. Yes, agencies are not allowed to decide their own hiring needs; they have to get permission from the main administrative agency for the state, which can take months.

        Once it is finally approved, a job is posted for typically ten to fourteen days, during which time applications are accepted and exams are administered.

        Then there is a period when a panel of three people review and score all the exams, and the three grades that each applicant gets are averaged to produce an average grade. The members of the panel all have to fit this in with their other work, so if there are many applicants, grading the exams can take a week or longer.

        Depending on the position and the hiring manager, sometimes the top X number of exam scores are invited to interview, or sometimes all applicants earning a passing grade are asked to interview. Usually a lower-level person goes through the list of interviewees to schedule times – which can be tricky depending on the schedules of the interviewers.

        The interviews themselves are conducted over a period of a week or so, by another panel of three people who are either at or above the position being hired. None of the panel can also have been a member of the exam panel. The panel has to include at least one man, at least one woman and at least one minority.

        Once the interviews are complete, the panel averages their ratings and ranks the candidates, and a top candidate is chosen. The hiring manager calls references, then the name of the top candidate is sent to HR for a criminal background check (required for all positions). This can take up to a week to complete.

        At that point, the hiring manager is required to submit a “hiring recommendation” to senior agency leadership. This is another point when things can break down; if the senior person is on the ball and responds quickly, well and good, but many of them consider paperwork to be the work of the devil and they do as little of it as possible – which can mean weeks or even months before the hiring manager is allowed to offer their chosen candidate the position.

        The job I currently hold was vacant for eight months after the former incumbent retired until I was offered and accepted the position; it took that long for the agency to go through all those steps.

        So, yeah, if my state had wanted to have enough fully trained staff in the UI claims department to handle the demand this month, they literally would have had to start the process in about March of 2019.

        1. LQ*

          I still think you’re underestimating training. (And there’s a weird funding thing about UI programs specifically.) But yeah. This is a really good break down of JUST hiring. Which is only one piece in the puzzle of getting fully ready.

          (And I am jealous of your 10-day posting requirements. We have just shy of a month, just to leave it posted.)

          1. old curmudgeon*

            There is definitely need for lengthy and specific training, and to be completely candid, the UI claims department in our state generally hires more than they expect to need because they know a certain percentage will wash out during the training, long before they’re ready to go on the phones.

            If we factor in the full time needed to get a UI claims specialist thoroughly trained, after all the time to get them hired in the first place, yeah, our state would have been hiring back in the final quarter of 2018. At which point we had a different governor from a different political party, a governor whose primary objective was to get rid of as many state positions as he possibly could because all of us are just lazy scoundrels sucking on the public teat and not actually doing any work.

        2. Jennifer*

          So it sounds like the hiring process is needlessly tedious and the process to apply for unemployment is needlessly tedious. Again, not the fault of the workers, but this needs to change.

          1. LQ*

            With who? I mean, I’m sorry but who is going to make this change? Don’t get me wrong that would be great. But our HR department is literally unresponsive right now because they are so weighed down with folks needing accommodations and other things. The problem is people keep treating this like it is a simple problem and if you just try harder it will be fine and if you haven’t done it you aren’t trying hard enough. The truth is it’s a complex problem in a complex time with a lot of history behind it as to why, lots of bad reasons and a few good ones.

            Hiring right now is a whole lot of nepotism for instance. That’s something people get real angry about for a good reason. It’s a thing that you throw out the window if you’re trying to not be “needlessly tedious”.

            1. Jennifer*

              I’m not literally telling you to try harder. I’m talking about the people in charge. This is one of the wealthiest countries in the world. We can’t make a website that doesn’t look straight out of the 90’s that works where people can apply for unemployment? When you compare what people in the private sector are able to accomplish to the government, it’s staggering. I do think the people at the top aren’t trying hard enough.

      2. Stella*

        Clearly the major failure that has led everything to break down was the lack of test kits and protective supplies. And the misinformation being spread. But frankly I think the unemployment system could probably use more funding most of the time anyway and more leeway to adapt to circumstances. But I sure don’t blame any of the workers. Everyone just does the best they can.

    5. letmeoffthistrain*

      I think that you may be under estimating the level of training required, too. Unemployment is very complex and I’ve heard people say it can take years to get good at the job.

      1. Zsazsa*

        It does and if a UI person tells you that you are approved, the state has to pay you even if you don’t qualify after all. So normally they are really cautious about that.

    6. Librarian1*

      It’s all on the federal government. States can’t fix this on their own. And neither can OP and it sucks to be yelled at when you’re in a customer service role.

  7. Mel_05*

    Thank you for the work you’re doing!

    I had to file for unemployment last year and I expected the process to be hideous (and I mean, yeah, it kinda is) but the people at my local unemployment office were really great. They really cared about helping all of us navigate the unemployment system and to find new jobs.

  8. Stablegoat*

    Thank you so much, OP – and infinite thank you’s to Alison for doing everything you can to keep us informed, whole, and together.

    1. JustaTech*

      Seconded: thank you so much OP for the incredibly vital work you and your coworkers are doing. I’m really sorry you’re on the receiving end of other people freaking out; that’s got to make a hard job harder and I’m so impressed how much compassion you have for everyone.

      Some heroes wear headsets.

  9. Uncertain*

    I’m one of those people who recently used up my benefits, had a part-time job that was shut down, and now need benefits again. I hadn’t seen any clear messaging about being qualified for receiving benefits again, but hearing that it is in fact something that still needs to be figured out at least stops me from incessantly searching. I applied 10 days ago and will keep my fingers crossed!

    1. annewithanE*

      i’m in a situation where i may be close to a lay-off and i used up my benefits … it’s a terrible situation to be in and i don’t know why people like us aren’t being considered. definitely not angry at UE agents, just frustrated that we’re not even on leaderships radar.

      good luck and stay strong!

  10. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    Thank you, OP and all your colleagues at the employment securities departments nationwide. I wish I could personally bake you all cookies, you are truly amazing for all you do and it’s a supreme example of thankless work.

    I hope they get some people hired and relief for you as well but I won’t hold my breath, it’s been a long time since my swim team days and my lungs just won’t hold out, I know. But seriously, THANK YOU.

    And everyone at DSHS too, thank you. I know you’re overworked right now too.

  11. zora*

    This is also why it’s important to press your elected representatives (State and Federal) for a rent and mortgage moratorium/freeze for 1-2 months. Many peoples’ unemployment checks will be delayed, and no one should lose their housing or hurt their credit rating at this time! Plus debt moratoriums/freeze on student loan payments, etc.

    San Francisco City Council just introduced a bill, but call your Reps! Even Republicans! IT is so important they feel the pressure.

    1. Jennifer*

      Can this happen at the federal level? My county has a moratorium on evictions (finally!) but waiting on each individual local government to do this is what’s taking so long.

      1. zora*

        Technically it could, but obviously the chances are very low that would be passed through both houses.

        However, it can happen at the state level, which would be faster. Bug your state reps and governor’s office!

  12. Sarah Palin in a bear suit*

    Thank you OP for all that you do! My unemployment benefits got denied because I haven’t lived in the state long enough to qualify. I called to see if there was any exception due to the circumstances and I could hear the person I was talking to wincing when they told me no. They were waiting for me to blow up at them. I didn’t, its not their fault. Heroes come in many forms and right now they’re coming in the form of unemployment benefits workers, grocery store clerks, and service sector employees.

  13. Elizabeth West*

    I know it doesn’t apply to me, since my benefits ran out in March 2017, five months after I lost my job. But I’m very glad people who are in the weeds right now can get them. They may not have family to help like I have.

    Thanks, mysterious UI person.

  14. Run Shaker*

    Just wanted to say thank you to OP for working in this trying time & I hope you & your family are well & safe. Plus we need to remember to be kind to all workers that can’t stay home and have increased work loads. This sucks.

  15. LavaLamp*

    I only ever blew up on an unemployment agent once. I had to send him pictures of my medication to get approved, and I told him that I was sick and tired of always having to prove to someone I was sick. I have to wonder what they said to the boss that lied and told him I never said I was ill.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      How hideous! I’m sorry this happened to you.

      I also hurt for the people who work there because they’re forced to request this kind of thing. Rarely is it ever someone just thinking they’re being extra awesome by demanding “proof” of just about anything from someone. It’s someone up the chain and it’s because people do regularly lie about things like medication needs in order to get more benefits, sigh. It’s so gross. I’m so sorry. This is filed twice under “This is why we can’t have anything nice.”

  16. Kuirky*

    I work for my state’s SNAP program, and we have been BUSY. The UI office shares a lobby with us, and the number of clients seeing them has also increased greatly. Patience is important, but what’s also important is not yelling at workers at your local office; they don’t create policy, they just have to enforce it.

  17. Case of the Mondays*

    I hope this is still on topic enough since we are talking about legislation and benefits with the COVID-19 crisis. Does anyone know if sick leave / FMLA from the changes that go into effect April 2nd will be retroactive? If someone is already on leave for these reasons will it apply to them from April 2nd on or do they have to go out on leave on or after April 2?

    1. Rosy Glasses*

      The leave is not retroactive – it runs from April 1, 2020 and sunsets Dec 31, 2020 (although I have seen versions of bill amendments calling for it to be retroactive).

  18. All Hail Queen Sally*

    I have had to go on unemployment twice in recent years. Each time, the people at my unemployment office were just as nice and helpful as could be. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to work there day after day. Thank you OP for the work you do!

    1. MissDisplaced*

      Mostly they were all great. But back in 2009 I finally had mine exhaust, was on the verge of tears because I had nothing to even apply for, and the response was “You knew it was going to run out eventually.”
      Yeah… true. But that doesn’t help when you’ve been rejected from even part time work at Walmart over Christmas and you’re facing homelessness.

  19. MissDisplaced*

    It does help to be patient and kind on the phone in these situations. I went through this with both airlines and hotel because my vacation trip got canceled the day before my flight. I called the airline, where I was advised of a 2hour wait for a callback. But they DID call me back at 10pm and the lady was so pleasant, helpful, and I got a full refund (not a rebooking voucher).

  20. Daisy-dog*

    Thanks! Will be looking up the handbook for when it need it next week. As I am still currently employed and the one that receives notice of the claims – what is better: no response or responding with the same information as the claimant?

    1. OP*

      In our state, if one party doesn’t respond, we proceed with the best available information that we have. As an employee, if you don’t want to contest benefits, you can just not respond to the request for information and well use what we have. As long as the claimant’s information is accurate, you can provide the same info. It it matches, then great!

  21. nep*

    LW, not a rant at all! Thank you so much for taking the time to provide this. Thanks for all you do.

  22. Zsazsa*

    I work for a workforce board and there is a lot of federal funds coming down the pipeline. In the state I am at, I can say we are doing the same emergency protocols that hospitals are doing. If people have seen those PSAs about why public distancing is important to help the healthcare system meet the demand. Well unfortunately that concept was not applied to workforce and guess it overwhelmed local systems. In my state, we are repurposing staff and writing national emergency grants to get more funding to folks. My real worry is what will happen to certain industries once the public health crisis is under control. :(

  23. Question*

    Somewhat related. My brother-in-law’s company was going to cut hours and pay, but instead decided to cut salaries by 20% and make everyone work the same hours. Is there any help or recourse for this sort of situation?

    1. OP*

      Unfortunately not from an unemployment standpoint. He could quit and then file and hope that he could receive benefits under an exception, but in these particular economic times, I wouldn’t recommend that. I’m sorry – that really sucks. I get why an employer might think this is a good idea, but that’s really tricky to pull off!

  24. For Potential Job Seekers*

    Are any unemployment offices hiring? Since unemployment office employees seem to be overwhelmed with people calling and filing for unemployment and there are lots of people looking for work…

  25. moneypenny*

    My husband was laid off for reasons unrelated to the virus about two weeks before it hit our city hard. That was about five weeks ago and he hadn’t received a UI payment yet. Last night he received a notice that his former employer attempted to fight the claim but our state denied their fight. We discovered through his conversations with coworkers who were also laid off that the company fired everyone either due for a raise, or was being paid “a lot” (which was none of them) for the role, with no intention to re-hire. Hiring and firing was transferred to the owner, who was the one who denied the claim. Fortunately, it was apparently airtight in spite of their efforts and he received payment – and will continue to.

  26. Ross*

    I’ve been wondering if I’m eligible for benefits if I quit my temporary job (which I had been told could not be funded for much longer) for a job that I was set to start this Tuesday, but was JUST delayed indefinitely?

    I was offered a job from a gov’t agency with a start date of March 30th, and I accepted it. Gave my two weeks notice to my current nonprofit job and am scheduled to end there tomorrow, March 27th. TODAY (March 26th), I was told by gov’t agency job that my start date is being delayed with no new date decided yet. It’s an odd situation, but I have to imagine that because of coronavirus I’m not the only one in this pickle.

    1. EAW*

      The bill that just passed today includes provisions to help people just entering the job market/just starting new jobs get UI. Not sure all the details off hand, or whether your previous temporary job would qualify you, but it’s worth looking into.

  27. Immortal Lobster*

    Just wanted to express appreciation for this LW’s work. A lot of social service workers are getting pushed hard right now, and they deserve to be noticed for it.

  28. Canadian Public Servant*

    A late reply, but thank you for this and please everyone be kind. In Canada our physical unemployment offices had to close because it was an unsafe environment for the employees. People were fighting in line and purposefully coughing or spitting on employees when they became agitated.

    We’re all scared, but please be kind and be patient. Everyone is trying the best they can.

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