I walked the (unemployment) line

28 Nov

Standing behind a piece of duck tape on a dirty floor, I anxiously awaited my turn. At any moment, yours truly, then known as “next”, was going to be called forward. No, I wasn’t auditioning for “The Voice”. I was doing the first in what seems to be a hundred thousand steps in the unemployment benefits process. The things I do just to get a few bucks on which to barely survive…

I don’t wish the unemployment line process on anyone. OK, so maybe there’s a few certain people who, in the evil corners of my mind, I would like to live as I did for at least a day. Nevertheless, it’s an experience where people of almost all backgrounds, education levels, current/former social standings, and circumstances are forced together for hours because they all have one struggle in common. They also experience the biggest loads of BS ever imaginable together, too. To say it’s eye-opening is a serious understatement.

My day started at home, trying to find a way to apply for benefits online as I had done in other states before. No, in West Virginia, you have to file in-person. At least the 10 (literally) pages of paperwork you initially have to fill out are available online to save you some time at the unemployment office. You have to arrive at certain times for what are called “group interviews”. I’ll explain that process here in a bit. So, I sat down in the waiting room with a dirty floor, but at least halfway comfortable chairs and listened to quite a few really sad stories. Multiple people were in from one company that had massive layoffs. A few coal miners who were some of the scores of coal miners in this state recently laid off were in there. Some people were anxiously awaiting this process to be over so they could pick up their children, something I fortunately don’t have to worry about at this time. Some had to bring their children with them.

A lot of people get this image in their heads of lowlives and bums when imagining the lines of people who are applying for any type of government assistance. Yeah, there were some people who looked a little rough around the edges. But you know what? They were all very nice people. One man, a recently canned truck driver with a long beard, had been fired because he was in an accident. That accident happened because he swerved to miss a vehicle with children inside. Not all people who get fired deserve it. Also, one woman in our group had her materials in a leather portfolio, and was professionally dressed. Another man was wearing a dress shirt and tie. Not all people applying for assistance are in the blue-collar world, either.

Later on, just less than 20 of us were called into the back of the building and herded like cattle into a room the size of an efficiency apartment — in Tokyo. We had to sit through a video through which most people cursed under their breath or played on cell phones through while the unemployment office lady was out of the room. It was crowded. We were all having to sit on top of one another, practically. It was miserable. A lot of people continued to curse, sometimes out loud, or play on their phones even after the unemployment office lady came back into the room. One woman left because she just couldn’t take anymore.

After the unemployment office lady signed off on our 10 pages of paperwork — plus gave us more to look at and/or sign — we were sent BACK to the dirty waiting room. There, I watched a man play with his young daughter and saw even more people standing in line behind the duck tape. I sat and played on my phone, installing the Word Press app so I can try to keep you updated while I’m on the go, and messaged friends who were gracious enough to keep me company throughout that mess. One in particular stands out in my mind. I love you, lady. I don’t know what I ever did to deserve a friend like you.

Then, the blessed moment arrived in which I was called to the back again to talk with someone individually about my case. She said, “Are you going to file a grievance here?” I told her, and I’ll tell you, that I don’t know if I want to put myself and my family through more drama because of my now-former job. My family and I have been through hell through most of 2012. I don’t want this to be the breaking point for anyone. Still, it would be nice to have some justice served. Served cold and moldy.

If I get approved, I get back pay for whatever time I spent waiting. Meanwhile, I have to look for work at least once a week and report that I did so every two weeks in order to keep my benefits. If I get benefits, I can’t earn more than $60 a week without whatever goes above $60 being deducted from my benefits. So, if I get this freelancing gig or maybe something in retail because of the holiday season, I could be penalized. That’s a nice way to encourage someone who’s trying to pull themselves up by the bootstraps, isn’t it? It gives you a nice incentive to try and find something else, doesn’t it?

OK. I’ll try to make sure most of my new blogs aren’t such downers and try to get back to the junk-pile-hunting you all adore. I just believe that it’s important that we all learn a lesson from my experience, and I personally don’t want this to be in vain. Let’s hope and pray this ends VERY soon.

Current music: Veruca Salt, “Earthcrosser”

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