No Benefits for You!

November 3rd, 2011 at 12:13 pm | 34 Comments |

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‘Galatea’ is a columnist writing about her experience looking for work after her recent downsizing. Previous entries in her series can be read here.

“You’re gonna hate this idea, shop Gala, but you should definitely file for unemployment.”


“Are you sure, Chris?” I asked, bewildered.

An old boss, Chris had decades of experience over me and had seen his fair share of firings. “Listen. The first thing that one of my mentors told me when I lost my first job is to file for unemployment. It’s not much, but it’s something to help you out.”

“I’m sure it’s something, but…you’re telling me to file for unemployment and this is weird.”

“Eh. I’m a moderate conservative. Besides…” Chris smirked and tapped his cigar out. “I always get a new job.”

Of course you can, I thought huffily. You have enough experience to make six figures.

I nervously crunched an ice cube between my molars. Any second now, the Libertarian Police would burst through the wall of the hotel bar and cart me off to the Panopticon for welfare thoughtcrime. And besides, wasn’t I better than relying on the government when I had my own bootstraps to pull me up? American self-reliance and pluck and whatnot?

Come on, Gala, I harangued myself, stick with your principles! Who cares if you’re running out of money, and you’re not getting any responses from your resume blitz, and you’re turning off the heat at night to save money on your energy bill? You’re an American and you don’t need no Government Money!


A week later, six envelopes arrived from the state’s Department of Employment Services, with no indication of any order.

I figured I’d just open the top one first.


My eyes widened. So this is real. I’m collecting unemployment checks. I tore open the second envelope.


I set to work filling out the claim sheet, but realized by Question Three (“Did you receive severance pay during the week claimed?”) that I should probably figure out how much I’d receive in benefits.

The third envelope was refreshingly in lower case letters (“GALA JONES: The Department of Employment Services would like to inform you of several new and exciting services that are available to you, through the Internet!”), but the fourth letter finally divulged how much of that sweet, free government money I’d be receiving.


“Are you KIDDING?”

THEY ARE DENIED, the form would have screamed back at me if it could talk. YOUR CLAIM RAISES ELIGIBILITY AND DISQUALIFICATION ISSUES.

“Oh come on, I was a salaried worker in July—”


“Are you serious? And why did it take about three forms to tell me that? And why do I have to file a claim form if I don’t get any benefits?”


Oh god, what the hell is wrong with me?


I knew that. I bitterly tore the last envelope oven. It was another copy of a claim form.

At least I’d filed for my benefits online: it saved me the embarrassment of going to an unemployment office, mumbling to a bored receptionist that I needed money, and then receiving a cruel rejection. Behind me there would be actual fathers and mothers who needed to feed their families, and desperate workers who’d been unemployed for more than 99 weeks, and even more cases of people in a far worse position than I was currently in. I’d have left, flushed with shame that I’d been asking for money from the government, taking it from someone else.

But I still kept getting notices from the Department asking me to file claims for weeks afterwards, as if they wanted to keep reminding me that I was jobless.

“Heeeeey, so we know that you don’t have a job and that you’re ineligible for unemployment checks, but can you keep telling us that you’re looking for work anyways? Otherwise you’re gonna get in trouble. Thanks!”

I may have sacrificed my Libertarian Dignity in filing for unemployment…but this experience has left me with the firm knowledge that at the very least, I still hate bureaucracies.

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34 Comments so far ↓

  • Carney

    I don’t get the prissiness about filing for benefits. Just like I don’t get the huffy refusal of some governors to accept stimulus funding, or the hypocrisy hunters’ jumping on governors who took the money, or on congressmen who asked for earmarks.

    Once the issue of whether or not to have an unemployment program, or a stimulus, or how much total appropriation should be, has been fought (and lost), at that point you are now in a position of seeking to get as good a deal for the tax dollars that you (or your constituents) pay as possible. If you’re legally entitled to a given benefit, there is no reason at all to refuse or not seek it, even if you vocally opposed the creation or continuation of that benefit program.

    • ottovbvs

      “or the hypocrisy hunters’ jumping on governors who took the money, or on congressmen who asked for earmarks.”

      Carney doesn’t consider hypocrisy a problem. What a surprise. No wonder he’s a militarist Keynesian.

      • Primrose

        I have no problem with anti-benefits people filing so long as they use the new information to reset their thinking a little.

      • dugfromthearth

        I have no problem with people who object to having to pay for insurance, but pay for it and then use it.

  • dittbub

    I recall in Ontario everyone on welfare is eligible for the monthly drug cards. They can take away your checks if you don’t meet their job search demands, but not the health benefits. Well technically they can take it away, but you can get back if you simply write a letter saying why you need it.

  • tommybones

    We pay into the unemployment insurance program, so when we lose our jobs, we are INSURED and can collect on that INSURANCE policy. People should have no problem collecting unemployment when they lose their job through no fault of their own. Besides that, it’s highly stimulative for the overall economy, as those collecting spend the vast majority of that income right away.

    • Graychin

      Again, I enjoy your columns. I sincerely hope that it’s a paying gig. You are much more enjoyable to read than some of the contributors here.

      When proud ideology crashes into cold reality, the cognitive dissonance can be jarring. It makes the loss of employment and the frustrations of no money and no jobs that much worse.

      Your next step? Swallow your silly libertarian haughtiness, and apply for Food Stamps.

      Then sort out why you have been found ineligible for unemployment insurance benefits. Yes – INSURANCE BENEFITS! Premiums were paid on your behalf!

      • Elvis Elvisberg

        A liberal is a conservative who’s been mugged by reality.

      • weiwentg

        That’s a good point – unemployment insurance is basically insurance. It’s distinct from welfare because there’s no means test for applicants. You pay premiums, and if you meet the benefit qualifications, you get benefits.

        At first glance, it sounds like the author wasn’t working for long enough to be covered by UI. I’m much less familiar with the UI policies, which vary from state to state anyway, but the author would be well-advised to sort this out.

    • rbottoms

      Simple, she was denied because she was filing in this 3-month period. Your benefits are based on the previous 3 months. If you haven’t worked sufficiently you can’t draw benefits.

  • tommybones

    Meanwhile, you shouldn’t feel so bad. Consider Ayn Rand:

    An interview with Evva Pryror, a social worker and consultant to Miss Rand’s law firm of Ernst, Cane, Gitlin and Winick verified that on Miss Rand’s behalf she secured Rand’s Social Security and Medicare payments which Ayn received under the name of Ann O’Connor (husband Frank O’Connor).

    As Pryor said, “Doctors cost a lot more money than books earn and she could be totally wiped out” without the aid of these two government programs. Ayn took the bail out even though Ayn “despised government interference and felt that people should and could live independently… She didn’t feel that an individual should take help.”

    But alas she did and said it was wrong for everyone else to do so.

  • vishnu

    not to be willing to draw unemployment benefits, which you have PAID INTO, for solely ideological reasons, is nothing short of STUPID.. and once again demonstrates how irrational right-wing anti-government ideology is…

  • Ray_Harwick

    This is so…. BRAZIL

    Sorry but now I’m laughing. I wonder if you’ll have to call them and explain that your benes were denied so they’ll stop sending you blank claim forms that make you swear you sought employment so they can know that you’re not just denied, you’re jobless and you still have to prove it.

  • tommybones

    Um, I’ve collected unemployment before, and it’s actually quite streamlined. One must simply have the ability to read and fill out a straightforward online questionnaire. Then, once a week, take 3 minutes to file for the previous week. The money gets direct-deposited into your bank account 4 days later. Not difficult and certainly not evidence of some horrific Kafkaesque bureaucracy.

    • Primrose

      I have to agree with Tommybones, I didn’t find the process difficult at all. If you think there has been a misunderstanding, you can go back and discuss it with a person, who is usually very helpful.

      Is the problem that she didn’t work long enough to get them? Yeah, and so? You do have to pay in.

      The “I hate bureaucracies” line is really immature stuff. Yes, we all hate Being stuck in them, but it doesn’t mean the entire organization is useless, or that the systems in place aren’t there for a very good reason.

      And I’ve told you before and will tell you again, put more time into networking. No it doesn’t have the satisfying proof that you aren’t just sitting around but it is not the most effective use of your time.

  • Houndentenor

    I understand the humiliation of having to ask for assistance. I hated it. I was on unemployment for three months following 9/11 and for a few weeks early in 2009 (during which time I never received full benefits because I found jobs for one or two days per week until I landed a long term job). I hated it. I had been working since I was 16 and had always been able to find a job, sometimes with more effort than other times, but always something.

    But, I was always in favor of unemployment benefits for others. Unemployment and a few other programs provide for a soft landing during economic downturns. It helps those displaced by a recession to keep paying their bills, their rent, etc and cushions to blow of unemployment from taking out a next wave when those who have lost their jobs would stop paying their bills. That would echo through the economy and create a far worse recession than we have.

    But if you believed that those taking these benefits were parasites and freeloaders, then taking those benefits makes you a hypocrite. Live by your own Randian principles and be willing to starve rather than accept charity. Sadly, you are typical of every libertarian type I have ever met. “Charity for me, but none for thee.” Of course Rand used her maiden name to sign up for Social Security or Medicare. Is there any libertarian out there who isn’t a complete hypocrite?

    • medinnus

      When you have children depending on you, high morals don’t put food on the table. Sure, it hurt the ego when I was unemployed (my former employer having gone bankrupt) and unable to get another job right away — this was right after 9/11 and the dotcom bust, where PhDs in Computer Engineering ended up baristas at Starbucks — and it was painful to file for unemployment (which was a strictly manual forms process then).

      Frankly, while I’m sorry for your pain, you should have sucked it up and gone down to file – the people there help people just like you for a reason.

      That said, you do what you have to do to take care of your family. I was under-employed for two years before getting back into high tech, because my family had to have medical insurance, and the pittance my min. wage job paid clothed and fed them.

      I know many other comp-sci folk whose families suffered more than they needed to because they refused to bend their stiff necks and take out from the system they’d been paying into for years and years.

      • Houndentenor

        One can only hope that the author learns compassion for others in the same predicament.

        • medinnus

          Well, one hopes. I certainly came to a better understanding of:

          * Doing one’s best may just not be good enough.
          * How much one’s self-worth is involved in one’s profession.
          * How helpful government employees actually are if you don’t blame them for having to go through channels; for every jerk there are dozens who are almost grateful to be able to help others without getting bad attitude.
          * How necessary family, or family-level friends are.

  • rbottoms

    No conspiracy.

    She was denied either because she didn’t earn enough wages or it was to soon before the next quarter. If she was denied in September, she should be eligible in October, hence the forms she is receiving.

  • Oldskool

    Libertarians only think they have more dignity than everyone else.

  • Southern Populist

    Yeah, well, there is a lot chatter in the news right now on the geopolitical front. Israel is barking orders at Obama and demanding America cooperate with an Israeli attack on Iran.

    If Obama follows in GWBs footsteps and launches another war in the Middle East, we may all have to file for benefits. Unfortunately, Obama following in Shrub’s footsteps is a possibility that cannot be completely ruled out.

    He already sold out to Wall Street. I have no doubt he will sell out to Israel and the MIC too if push comes to shove.

    • ottovbvs

      “He already sold out to Wall Street. I have no doubt he will sell out to Israel and the MIC too if push comes to shove.”

      DSP’s latest “I hate Obama” polemic. What is this the black equivalent of all those mythical self hating Jews?

    • medinnus

      Politicians don’t “sell out”

      They “buy in”

    • zaybu

      Southern Populist: I have no doubt he will sell out to Israel and the MIC too if push comes to shove.

      Let’s list all the presidents since WW2 who went into war/armed conflict: Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Bush1, Clinton, Bush2. Did I miss anyone? OOPS, Obama in Libya, Oh well, we spend 600+ billions/year on the military, it would be a shame if all these brave soldiers did nothing but sit on their tootsies.

      // sarcasm off.

    • Oldskool

      You may already know that Obama;

      - was publicly against the Iraq invasion.

      - promised to pull troops out of Iraq.

      - promised to make OBL a priority.

      - helped to provide no-fly zones in Libya.

      So which state of reality makes you think Obama will start a war in the mideast.

  • Ogemaniac

    If I had a dollar for every Limbaugh-worshiping conservative I knew who was milking (or out-right scamming) UI, food stamps, home heating credits, etc, I’d be able to buy my wife and I a really nice dinner and enough wine to get us completely trashed. And they certainly have no qualms about SS, Medicare, etc.

    Let’s not pretend that your typical conservative is anything other than a flaming hypocrite.

  • Bebe99

    Ok as an employer I need to point out that in my state it is the employer who pays the unemployment insurance on behalf of the employee. It could be different in other states. Just a technical correction. And I don’t have a problem with anyone collecting on their insurance policy, whether they ‘believe’ in it or not. Although there is probably some karma involved in the fact that Gala’s benefits were denied. But I’m truly sorry about that.

    • dante

      Note, conservatives have been conflating the portion of your FICA taxes that the employer pays on your behalf with the ones that you specifically pay. If it’s a cost of employing you, it’s part of your salary…

  • budgiegirl

    He (Major Major’s father) was a long-limbed farmer, a God-fearing, freedom-loving, law-abiding rugged individualist who held that federal aid to anyone but farmers was creeping socialism.

    -Joseph Heller
    _Catch 22_. 1961

  • zephae


    Still loving you’re articles and the collision of ideology and reality that’s occurring. When you’re thinking about your pride over collecting unemployment insurance and other social programs like SNAP, remember that these programs were made for people like you. As David Frum said in a previous interview,

    I think that we’ve rediscovered in this crisis something that I think we all knew. Which is, there’s a reason why the people of the 1930s built some kind of minimum guarantee — unemployment insurance, health care coverage and things like that. And it’s not because they wanted to be nice. It’s because in a crisis when people lose their jobs, if there is no social safety net they loose 100 percent of their purchasing power.

  • andydp

    Ms Gala: I see reality has hit you right in the face.

    So you don’t want to take the unemployment insurance you’re legally entitled to for ideological reasons. As you get older you’ll find you have to compromise in many things. (mommy can I get a…?) It may feel nice to say “no thanks” but its not going to get a meal on your table. To paraphrase Pres Reagan: “…Go over the cliff with your banners held high and your standards inviolate” doesn’t get you anywhere.

    Now time for few reality based questions:

    Who is paying your apartment rent in DC ?

    Are you getting “loans” from your parents to pay for your food, clothing, job search ? (How did those free jeans you found on the street work out ?)

    How are your credit cards doing ?

    Have your parents told you to suck it up and apply ? I’d be telling my kids to do that. I can’t afford to fund their lives too. (OK a little help now and then is OK but not a full time subsidy)

    You know, you can appeal the decision – simply go to the main office with the documentation they may ask you to bring. That’s what those “bureaucrats” are there for. The “hurdles” are there to minimize the chances of fraud. Something you must be in favor of.