I apologize in advance. This is going to be a rant. There is no doubt about it.
Let me just set the stage. I spent today reading about Mitt Romney’s offshore investments, his Swiss bank account, his righteous indignation about those who “demonize success”. America, according to poor affronted Mitt, should be happy for those who have managed to be successful. OK, Mitt. Whoopdeedoodledoo, you are richer than god. How nice for you. You pay 15% of your income in taxes. How special! Really. You pay 15% of your money to support our soldiers, to pay for our schools, to keep our roads and bridges up to date, to provide support to our frail elders. And what, exactly, is it that you contribute to our society? I spent the day trying to figure that out.
I also spent today on the phone, trying to reach the state Unemployment Office. See, my nineteen year old son is a full time college student. Last fall he managed to get himself a job at Staples. He was working 15 hours a week while also taking a full course load. Good for him! But the store closed in December, because the economy in the small town where my boy goes to school is worse than most of us can imagine, and people aren’t buying expensive computer equipment. My boy was disappointed (he was so excited to have a job that didn’t involve cooking, serving or cleaning up after meals!), but he was happy to hear that he would be eligible for unemployment benefits. He hesitated about taking these benefits, I must add, saying, “I should try to find another job, Ma. I don’t want to get paid for nothing.” When I told him that his Dad and I have been paying into the unemployment fund for a full 40 years, he felt a little better, and agreed to seek his rightfully earned benefits.
It is now a full four weeks after his eligibility date, and my boy has not only not received a dime, he hasn’t yet been able to apply for benefits. He went to the Unemployment office three days in a row, but was confronted each time with a sign that read “We have received our maximum number of applications for today. Please come back tomorrow.” I should add that the first day he arrived at 2 pm, the second day at 11 am and the third day at 9:15 am. So he decided to just apply on the phone, as he was advised by the state .gov website. He called. He called again. He called several times in one day. He kept calling. Nothing.
Today I had the luxury of an unexpected day off (another post for another day…..!) and decided to do what I could to help. I decided to pretend to be my boy, and I decided to make the call myself. So I dialed the state unemployment office main number. I was asked what language I wanted to hear, (beep, press 1), what service I was seeking (beep, press 1), whether I had already filed a claim (beep, press 1 yet again). I was told to enter my Social Security number (beep times nine) and my year of birth (beep times four). I was asked about my dependents, about my military service and about my foreign stays (beep, beep, beepbeepboopbeepboop). Then I was told to wait while I was transferred to “an agent who can handle your question.” I waited. The phone crackled. Finally, I heard a phone ring. “OK”, I thought, “here we go at last!” I heard the phone connect, and then a voice said, “We regret that all agents are currently busy. Please call back at another time.” BEEEEEEEEP.
I poured another cup of coffee, settled myself in my chair, and redialed. I went through this whole process twelve times today. Twelve times I entered my son’s social security and birthdate. Twelve times I was told “we regret……”
Are you F#@#^!! serious here?!?
Six hours after I first began this process, I got a different message. It said, “All agents are busy, but if you would like, we can call you back instead of asking you to wait. We will call you back within 30 minutes.” I agreed to this plan (Beep!) and waited. A full hour later, I got a call from a machine, was told to wait “approximately 15 minutes”, and put on hold. I waited. At last, at long, long last….a human voice!!!!! She asked my name, and I gave her my son’s. She asked what I wanted (SERIOUSLY????) and when I explained, she said, “You’re not Tim! I’m transferring you to a supervisor!” CLICK. BEEEP. And a recording, “All agents are busy, if you would like to wait, it will be approximately 30 minutes. Or you could call back at another time.”
Now. Is this honestly the best we can do in this country for people who have lost their jobs? Both Tim and I would be the first to admit that his claim is not a life and death situation. But what about the hundreds of thousands of other people in our state who ARE depending on these services to keep their families together, to feed their kids, to pay the mortgage? What about the people who have paid into this fund with every single paycheck for twenty or thirty or forty years, and who now need to collect some of that insurance back? What about those who can’t sit on the phone for twelve hours a day, re-entering the same damn information? Is this what we call a functional system?
I won’t even go into the very obvious inefficiency of the system, because anyone with a brain cell can see that it would make sense for us to just state our social security information once we have reached an actual human being, rather than being asked to enter it a thousand times into an open phone line and then having our call cut off. Instead I will focus on the complete failure of our government bureaucracies.
Mr. Romney, Mr. Obama, Mr. Gingrich and the rest of you wealthy, out of touch upper crusters: We need some damn help down here in the trenches. We pay about 30% of the money we earn as we teach, counsel, serve, heal and help. We can’t afford vacations, new cars or expensive lobbyists. We can’t buy Congressional seats or insider information. We’re just trying to afford books while we take classes at small state colleges. At least you could take care of trimming down some of the bureaucratic bullshit that stands between us and survival.