Tag Archives: Massachusetts

Tangled Up in Red Tape: Fun with the Unemployment Office

Into every unemployed person’s life, a giant roll of bureaucratic red tape falls. However much I’ve enjoyed my extended stay on the couch, there are certain annoying things I’ve had to tend to.

The day after my sacking, I called the Massachusetts Division of Unemployment Assistance in order to register for unemployment. I’d been told not to expect sympathy or kindness, let alone patience, and as I dialed, I steeled myself for an interminable hold time followed by an unpleasant encounter.

I have to say that despite the long wait for my call to be received, my initial encounter proved relatively painless. The man on the other end of the line was witty and charming, and he chatted a blue streak as I gave him my information. When it came time to talk about my severance package, he was a bit too chatty. I told him that yes, I had received a severance package, and I read to him the section of my letter detailing how the package had been calculated, as he interrupted me to ask about the particulars. I was a bit nervous that he hadn’t gotten everything down, but he assured me he had. He told me how to call in every week and then transferred me to the line where I could apply for direct deposit of my checks.

Well, that wasn’t so bad, I thought after I hung up the phone. So long as I call each Sunday and sign on, I’ll be fine. And call in each week I have. I figured that when my severance period ran out, the checks would start coming in until I made it as a freelancer or begrudgingly took another office job. I’d received a letter from the good unemployment folks saying how much I’d get, and I hadn’t received any requests for more information. Everything was all set.

Or so I thought.

On Friday, I started looking into health insurance options. My current coverage runs out at the end of the month, and there’s no way I can afford the COBRA payments. I decided to apply for Commonwealth Care, but as I was filling out the application, I noticed that they required information about my unemployment compensation. The Division of Unemployment Assistance has a handy Web site, so I figured I’d check there to confirm my payment information.

I logged into the site and noticed a big red alert telling me that they still needed information about my claim. Blood pressure rising, I clicked on the link. “Your employer has told us you received a severance package,” the notice read. No kidding. I told you people all about it. There was an online form where I could provide the information, so I figured I’d fill it out just in case something was missing.

Now I’m an intelligent person. I can fill out a form. But this form confused the hell out of me. I got through most of it but when I came to the question asking me if I’d signed release as a condition of receiving the severance package, I was stumped. The first part was easy enough. I had indeed signed a release, and in so doing I agreed not to sue my former employer or speak of the company disparagingly. So I checked yes. However, the second part of question asked me about the duration of the agreement. Forever, I thought, but the drop down menu did not allow for a “forever” response.

I really didn’t know how to answer this part, and I had to fill in something. Not knowing what else to do, I decided to call the unemployment office. After two tries, I got through the touchtone menu items and was told that I had a twenty-five minute wait. I grimaced and resolved to wait it out.

After about thirty minutes, a gruff woman answered the line. I told her who I was and tried to explain my situation. That took a while, as she kept cutting me off, thinking that she could answer my question. “No,” I said, “my question isn’t ‘What’s a severance?’ My question is how to answer the question asking about the duration of my severance agreement. So far as I know, it is in effect forever, but the menu only involves weeks and days.”

We haggled for several minutes, during which time the woman on the other end of the line told me about how busy everyone was, before she finally told me how to answer it. I then said, “You know, I provided this information when I filed my initial claim. Is there some reason why the information wasn’t recorded?”

“This is a different department,” she replied.

“OK. Well, I have also made my claims each week and have been told that if any more information is required of me that I would be contacted. Can you tell me why I only found out about this when I checked the Web site myself?”

“We’re incredibly busy. Now, you’ll also need to fax a copy of your severance agreement to your adjustor. Do you have a pen?”

I replied, “Yes, but I do not have a fax machine.”

“Does your husband have a fax machine?” I could hear her rolling her eyes at me.

Whaaaaat? “I don’t have a husband.”

“Well, there are plenty of places where you can find a fax machine, so here’s the number.”

I took down the number, thanked her for her time, and filled in the rest of the online form. I clicked “submit.” I received a message saying that the form had timed out and that I would need to fill it out again. Fuuuuuuuuuuuck. Are you even serious? I filled out the form again while singing, “Fuck the Employment Office. You’re so mean to me . . .” to the tune of “Puff the Magic Dragon.”

My roommate told me that I could probably find a fax machine at one of the convenience stores on Broadway. I grabbed my release agreement and headed out to find a fax machine. The first store I went to was mobbed with the Keno crowd, so I went to another shop. To my great joy, they informed me that they had a fax machine. I handed over my papers, only to realize that I had forgotten the number. So back home I went and retrieved the number.

When I got back to the store, the young man who helped me was gone, replaced by a woman who only spoke Portuguese. I have only a little Spanish, but we somehow managed to make the transaction. She took my papers and went out back. After a twenty-minute wait, I got the papers back, paid my five dollars, and hoped for the best. I went home and collapsed on the couch. That night I didn’t sleep well, wondering if my claim was going to be stuck in the bureacratic loop.

This morning I tried to call in to sign on. The line was busy, and so I tried the Web site. While the page took an eternity to load, I tried calling again. I figured I would sign on whichever way let me through first. The Web site won. I filled out the forms (answering four questions isn’t all that hard), and clicked submit.

Upon confirmation of my filing, I was informed that a payment will be going out on Monday. Oh joy! Thank you unemployment office! I’m so sorry I called you the Fuckemployment Office!

So that’s settled. Now I just need to get health insurance. . . .