This is the word I repeatedly told representatives from Indiana Department of Workforce Development during the past two months regarding my claim for unemployment insurance benefits. Each time, the representative on the other end of the phone was empathetic and informative, though nothing changed with my mysteriously stalled claim.
“From what I can tell, you’re doing everything right so far,” one DWD rep told me last month after waiting an hour to speak with her.
In the spring, I was told by my employer to take one furlough week off, unpaid, during the months of May, June and July, along with every other Post-Tribune employee and most Chicago Tribune Media employees, I’m guessing. Although the pandemic erupted with a volcano of news items and issues each day to share with our readers, the newspaper industry has been hit hard economically like every other business sector.
This is the current reality, which at times provides me with the job security of an eight-track tape. From the get-go, I understood the Tribune’s cost-cutting measures behind the forced furlough weeks. We all have to do our part to help our company during these truly uncertain times.
I was informed that I could file for unemployment benefits, something that didn’t cross my mind a few months ago. I’m still employed full time, technically, so I didn’t consider turning to the state for financial assistance. Still, I was appreciative for the opportunity despite what I already knew about the laborious process of filing a claim.
In March, my fiancée had to file for similar benefits. It was a nightmare for her. We weren’t sure how to fill out the initial claim online. We couldn’t get through to a representative for guidance. We encountered a technical problem with her claim that delayed the entire process and any eventual payments. It was a very helpless feeling.
When I filed my online claim in late May, I thought I did everything correctly. I clicked all the right boxes, answered all the detailed questions, and reread the instructions to make sure I didn’t encounter a similar problem or delay. Somehow I screwed up anyway.
The claimant application felt like an IQ test and I stupidly failed it. I had no idea how. In June, I began calling DWD for guidance. I’ve since memorized the fastest number prompts to be put on hold for an hour or more. And I can still hum the music I heard while waiting.
“We are currently experiencing longer wait times than usual,” a recording told me repeatedly.
I waited. I had to wait. A representative eventually told me I never filed the initial voucher for my claim. I didn’t know how this could be. I didn’t dispute it. Such hindsight complaining is useless in life.
“What should I do now?” I asked more than one DWD rep.
I was told to fill out state form 56923, a Request to File a Late Claim. On June 18, I scanned and emailed this form to the email address provided. I wrote, “Please let me know this email has been received. I need these insurance benefits to help pay my bills.” I never received a reply or a call from an investigator.
On July 2, I sent another email and attached form. On July 26, I sent it again. Nothing. I called DWD again. I can now recite by memory the audio recordings that claimants hear over and over.
Again, the latest representative was patient, helpful and kind. I don’t know how they do it from their end of all this. Call after call, complaint after complaint, frustration after frustration. I have no complaints about these reps who are surely overburdened and likely underpaid.
“Maybe you should try faxing that form,” the rep told me. “It can’t hurt.”
Really? OK. I printed and faxed it from a Staples store, clutching my receipt like a potentially winning lottery ticket. It didn’t hurt to do it. It didn’t help, either. I never heard from an investigator. Every time I received a call from a strange looking number, my hopes raced.
I’ve so far been offered new roofing for my home, a sweet deal for erectile dysfunction pills, alerts about an arrest warrant and multiple requests for my Social Security number. At least these scammers can’t fax me, I told myself.
I contacted DWD’s media relations department for the latest claims figures. And for any insights about countless other claimants in my helpless situation.
“Usually there is some type of issue that needs to be investigated,” said Scott Olson, DWD’s director of media relations. “Our claims investigators are working through each of those as quickly as they can. Each claim is different, though.”
Since March 21, a total of 907,534 initial claims have been filed by Hoosiers, he said. For the latest week ending July 25 (the most recent data available), there were 20,609 initial claims filed in Indiana. I’ve been one of those claims since late May.
“Sorry to hear about your situation,” Olson told me, echoing his DWD colleagues.
Such empathy felt encouraging. I was appreciative. I thanked him for his kindness.
On Friday, a report by the U.S. Labor Department showed 16.3 million people were unemployed in July — nearly triple the 5.9 million who were out of work before the pandemic. I’m thankful to be employed with a steady paycheck.
Last week, I learned that I listed “full-time employment” on my initial claim, which caused the issue that halted the process for any benefits. I was told it had been corrected and my claim would finally be processed. I was relieved to finally find out what I did wrong. I was thrilled and appreciative to finally receive needed financial help.
Throughout the process, I kept reminding myself to remain calm and polite to those DWD reps. I asked their name. I thanked them for their time. I was frustrated with the backlogged system, not with them. It’s too easy to get the two confused when desperation infects your outlook.