For most, Super Sunday means setting out the junk food and finding the perfect focal length between the couch and the widescreen. For me, Super Sunday occurs every other week when I am able to file my “Continued Claim for Unemployment Benefits.” In years past, I would be waiting online Saturday night at 11:59pm. At the stroke of midnight, I could file, and did so. The confirmation numbers were sequential, and I would be pleased when I scored a 10000000001, 02 or 03. If I was a few minutes late, deterred by a slow internet connection or call of nature, I would drop to the hundreds. If I waited until the sun rose on Sunday morning, I would drop to the thousands. When filing a claim, it paid to be prompt.
Difficult to say why the pole position gave me any satisfaction; being first in the unemployment line is hardly considered a distinction. I think what I felt then was simply relief that I had been able to file, my claim was accepted and I could expect an electronic transfer of funds to my EDD card within the next two days. I could sleep well knowing the system worked.
The comfort of filing a claim did little to off-set the economic limbo between Sunday and Tuesday. I knew money would be available soon, but spending the little money I had could expose me to financial disaster. What if I got a flat tire? What if I had to go to the emergency room? What if girl scouts showed up at my door selling cookies? Unexpected expenses were the harbingers of doom and I lived in constant fear of being dead broke.
That was then, this is now. Because I’m homeless, hovering over my keyboard until midnight for the online claim form to become available is difficult. So, I’ve resigned myself to being in the middle of the pack. This morning, with $23 in my bank account and $27 in my wallet, I headed to Starbucks to jump online and submit my claim. I wondered if spending $4 on a beverage was a fair exchange for having one less thing to worry about. After all, I could wait until 1:00pm when the library opened, but it would mean thirteen hours had lapsed. Millions of claims would be filed ahead of mine! I decided to go for it.
After settling down at a table with free wifi and an overpriced chai latte, I pulled up California’s Economic Development Department webpage, navigated through all the confusing links to the EDD Web-Cert page and entered my user name and password. I’ve finally memorized the crazy combination I was forced to create based on their lengthy “secure password” criteria: no word found in the dictionary, a letter, a number, a special character, a capital letter, a lower case letter, at least 8 characters long… Is it any wonder my brain is fried?
The system then informed me that I “…have submitted all current claim forms and do not have any claims to submit at this time.” WHAT!!?? I know Super Sunday dates better than my own birthday, so I quickly checked my calendar thinking I’d travelled through an inter-dimensional time warp.
The last claim was filed on January 22, the disbursement was issued on January 25 (one day late). It’s been two weeks! I’m ready to file! Did I mention I’m $50 away from total oblivion! No wait, I forgot about the $4 cup of tea (damn my extravagance)! I have only forty-six dollars to my name. (There are no longer “savings accounts,” “investment portfolios,” or “401K plans” in my universe. These all disappeared long ago during the waxing and waning of my financial fortunes.)
I started clicking madly through the links. Somebody help me, please! I then learned I had the option to call EDD during regular business hours (M-F 8:00am to 5:00pm). Of course, if you’ve ever tried to call EDD during these hours (and I have) you’d know you have a better chance of making contact with an alien life form on the opposite side of the astral plane than getting through to a customer service representative.
The next option was mailing in the paper form. Aside from the fact that these are not sent out until Monday, don’t arrive until Wednesday, and won’t be processed until Friday, I can’t file with the paper form because I’m currently 400 miles away from the mailbox where the form will be sent. (The travel was prompted by my decision to surrender my 16 year-old dog. I haven’t returned because I still have some problems to work out. See “Contemplation on Surrender” and related video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AxDxA3kHra8&feature=g-upl&context=G2706119AUAAAAAAAAAA.)
The final option was filing a “Tele-Cert,” which is done over the phone. Two thoughts popped into my head. First, I didn’t need to wait until morning and then spend money at Starbucks to file over the phone. I could have done this from anywhere. And, second, the last time I tried to use Tele-Cert, THE CLAIM DID NOT GET PROCESSED. Do I take a chance? Without any remaining options, I dialed the number and waited for the artificial computer geek to guide me through the claims process.
Between the chatter of the crowd, shrill of the milk steamers and blare of the overhead music, I could barely hear. Plus, the automaton on the other end of the line spoke in a synthesized staccato style and offered a selection of confusing menu options I had difficulty following.
“For the week ending January 28, 2012, did you accept full-time work? Press 1 for Yes. Press 2 for No.”
I pressed 2.
“To repeat this question, press 8. To return to the main menu, press 4.”
What? I don’t understand. I answered No, pressed 2.
“Please make a selection or this call will be terminated.”
I press 2 again. And, again. And, again, until I heard...
“For the week ending January 28, 2012, were you too sick to work? Press 1 for Yes. Press 2 for No.”
I pressed 2.
“To repeat this question…”
Oh my god, I’m in phone hell. I kept pushing 2 until the voice moved on to the next question.
“For the week ending January 28, 2012, did you look for work? Press 1 for Yes. Press 2 for No.”
I start to press 2. No wait, I’m supposed to answer Yes. I push 1.
“To repeat this question…”
Futility, I screamed at the disembodied voice while jabbing at the key pad, 11111111111111111111111. I still couldn’t hear over the ambient noise was terrified of answering a question incorrectly. After several more rounds, I remembered the earphones in my bag, plugged them into the phone and continued.
Somehow, I managed to complete the claim and scribble down the confirmation number the voice spit at me in the same rapid fire delivery. Okay, I can breathe now. I might not be first, but at least I’m in the system. Or, am I?
Just to torture myself a little more, I decided to log back on to the website to confirm the claim was submitted. No sign of it on the “Claims History” page. No independent witness to the preceding “Tele-Cert.” Now what?
I decided to head over to the library, but had some time to kill. I still needed to acknowledge my best friend’s birthday. Given my current financial situation, she’d be getting a card absent the customary present, but she would understand. Three dollars spent and I was now down to $20 in my wallet.
A walk through the used book store did little more than dredge up the painful memories of my beloved book collection, now lost to me through “down-sizing.” Do I spend $4 for a creased mass market which is the sequel to the book I’m currently reading? No, I’ll borrow it from the library. How about $3 for a discounted book by a favorite author? Stay strong and put it on my wish list. Eight dollars for an anthology of stories in a particular field of interest? I feel myself buckling and beat a hasty retreat.
At the library, I dropped two quarters in the donation bucket and slipped a pocket paperback from the book sale pile into my bag. Fifty cents bought me fiscal responsibility and philanthropic satisfaction. My best friend called. Would I like to join her family for dinner? I contemplated… The $20 worth of gas I put in the van a couple days ago should be enough to get me there and back, plus $5 for tolls… Even in my universe, a salmon dinner for half a sawbuck is a deal, so I accepted. My stomach started to growl in anticipation (the $4 cup of tea is all the company it’s had today). I’m now down to $38. Twenty-three in the bank, $15 in my wallet. Austerity time.
I think about the week ahead. Since I do a lot of job-searching via my network, I’ve set up lunch meetings for the week, which are now in jeopardy. I was also hoping to visit my incarcerated canine at the boarding facility. But, with my unemployment claim in question, I can’t afford a bowl of soup let alone a 60 mile road trip.
The irony of my predicament hits home—without my unemployment money, my prospects for finding employment are limited. Is it delusional to expect an unemployment claim to be processed with the same consistency as a paycheck? After all, it’s the closest thing I have to a regular income these days. If you can call “whenever the hell we get around to it” regular.
I never expected to be living hand-to-mouth at this stage of my life. I never expected all my hard-work would count for nothing more than a measly bi-monthly payout on an unemployment insurance claim. And, I never expected to be facing the future so unsure of what to expect.