Thanks to the EDD, I am slowly losing my mind
Ahh, my first week of unemployment. Pure (ignorant) bliss. Still delighted to discover I was eligible for free money from the government, I boasted about filing for unemployment insurance benefits. I reveled in its simplicity. I daydreamed about receiving my checks in the mail. Well, I’m sad to report that those daydreams have now turned into one un-ending bureaucratic nightmare. Blog therapy may not be enough to cure the spiral of madness I now find myself in.
It all started out so innocently, so…effortlessly. I opened my claim online in less than an hour. Within days, I received my first worksheet (in case you are lucky enough to still have a job, this is a form you have to fill out every two weeks before getting your check). I happily ticked the boxes and sent it back.
But shortly afterwards, the cracks began to show. I got a letter saying my worksheet was “incomplete or incorrect”. I was sent a replacement form and asked to fill it out. I did so, under John’s wise, watchful eye (mind you, he had already received his first check at this point, so I trusted his judgment). He identified what he thought was the problem. Phew, I thought. Glad I got that one sorted out.
But within a week of sending in my replacement form, I received a two-line letter from the EDD saying my second form had also been “incomplete or incorrect” – still no hint as to the nature of my error. I was instructed to call their 1-800 number “immediately”. I had missed my opportunity to fill out any new worksheets. My future livelihood now depended on the efficacy of a toll free government service number. Things were not looking good.
Bear in mind I have now been unemployed for over two months, and have yet to receive my first check. My measly severance cannot carry me through. Funds are dwindling. Mom and dad are on speed dial. And too many San Francisco establishments are cash only.
Now, I understand that the unemployment offices are overloaded with patrons at this time. I don’t expect to be able to get through to someone on my first, second or third try. I’m a reasonably intelligent person, familiar with the notion of a bottleneck. So after calling the toll free number repeatedly, to no avail, I decided to attempt an in-person visit. I googled my nearest “unemployment office”. Nothing like a good old-fashioned face-to-face meeting to straighten out a silly misunderstanding!
I had imagined long lines of disgruntled layoffees, people taking numbers, angry mobs, apathetic and/or defensive civil servants – SIGNS OF LIFE.
Instead, I found a shy receptionist (bless her heart), a couple overzealous security guards and room full of phones. There were a few desperate looking jobseekers sprinkled throughout this multi-purpose government office, but for the most part, it was empty. The receptionist informed me that there was no one I could speak to face-to-face about my issue. That this particular office did not house any unemployment insurance representatives or advisers – I am told there are no such offices in the city of San Francisco. This was simply a job center. They could, however, offer me my pick of telephones designated for calling the 1-800 number. I started laughing maniacally. Are you friggin KIDDING ME? A room full of phones? Believe it or not, I have a phone at home. Two in fact! Why would I drive to this office, pay for parking, and sign in to use a public (read: bacteria infested) telephone? I can do this just as well from my couch, while I watch Tyra and eat a gallon of ice cream in my onesie. No antiseptic necessary.
But being the curious person that I am, I decided to check out this telephone facility. After passing through two security guards and being forced to throw away my coffee (NO COFFEE NEAR THE PHONES), I was given the low down on efficient phone usage. It went something like this:
Officer: “Push English and it dials the number. If it says ‘thank you’, hang up and try again. You have not gotten through. If it says ‘welcome’, you have gotten through. Dial 12117 to quickly navigate through the menu and you might just speak to someone.”
Me: (not sure whether to laugh or cry) “I see. And what are my chances of success?”
Officer: (points to the pages of signatures on his clipboard) “Out of all these people who came in today, maybe 4 or 5 got through. They put in some serious time.”
Me: “Christ almighty. They don’t make it easy, do they.”
I begin to lose all hope. I try really hard not to take it out on this nice man, who, of course, is just doing his job.
Me: “But why come in here and call when I can call from home? I don’t understand this set-up – a room full of phones to dial the same useless automated service I have been cursing for weeks?”
Officer: “Well, every once in a while, someone ACTUALLY gets through. Then everyone waits nearby and when that person is done with their call, they hand the phone over to someone else.”
I can’t believe what I’m hearing. What might this preposterous scene look like? Grown men hovering around the golden ticket winner, waiting desperately for their turn. The golden ticket winner, upon completion of his call, crying: “Wait! Don’t hang up! SS# 459-99-0787 wants to speak to you too… I’m passing you over now… Byeeee. Muah.”
At this point I have to leave the building before I scream.
Still reeling from the experience, I drove home, determined not to lose all hope. When I got there, I began researching offices outside of San Francisco, where I might get to speak to someone face-to-face. I found one in my hometown of Sunnvyale, just 40 minutes south of here. It looked promising. I was pleased by my own persistence as I dialed their number to confirm which services they offered. But my self satisfaction quickly turned to disappointment.
Lady on the phone: “Nope, sorry. You can’t file a claim here or discuss your claim with anyone. In fact there is no way to speak to a representative in person anywhere in California. You just have to keep trying the 1-800 number. But we DO have a room of telephones you can use.”
MORE PHONES???? At this point, I want to reach into the receiver and punch this lady in the mouth. No wonder losing one’s job and losing one’s mind are so closely intertwined. I am beginning to understand why people throw themselves in front of trains or go on killing sprees.
Always an optimist though (and with an unhealthy dose of persistence), I have now resigned myself to calling the number until I get through (from the comfort of my own couch, of course). It may take days, weeks, months, a lifetime, even – but eventually, I will get through, right? I see no other alternative. I understand the need for a mutli-pronged approach. I plan to write to my local congresswoman. I will also send a detailed letter to the EDD. If needs be, I will hire a lawyer.
But in the meantime, I spend my days dialing the 1-800 number over and over and over again. Every once in a while, I get the ever-so-promising “welcome” message. I navigate through the menu options with a glimmer of hope, and the automated message tells me I am being put through to a representative. I am elated – but only temporarily. In the end, it turns out to be a sick inside joke, orchestrated by the evil robots at the EDD. A subsequent message says “we’re sorry, we can’t take your call at this time. Goodbye” and the robot rudely hangs up on me. So what do I do? I pick up the phone and begin the process again.
I dial the same number repeatedly – each time, hoping for a different result. Isn’t this the very definition of insanity? Consider this my cry for help.
P.S. For musings not related to unemployment, check out my new blog, Lipstick & Lemonade