In the real world, collecting unemployment benefits can be quite a chore

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A recent two-part Safety Net story [“State support for jobless on the rise,” May 7, 14] gave our readers access to officials of Minnesota Unemployment Insurance and their views on how their agency works.

There are at least two sides to every story. With mass unemployment affecting Minnesota, the Spokesman-Recorder put out feelers in the Twin Cities community to get the other side of this story.

On March 11 we interviewed Mr. Charles Cox (CC), who recently had some unpleasant dealings with Minnesota Unemployment Insurance. His story illustrates, among other things, the complexities and frustrations that collecting unemployment insurance can entail.

MSR: Last year at this time, were you employed full time?

CC: No, I wasn’t.

MSR: When was your last full-time employment?

CC: My last full-time employment was with Macy’s from 2001 to 2006, and that’s when I was drawing full-time employment benefits.

MSR: So you were working for Macy’s until 2006? At that time did they lay you off?

CC: Yes. I was offered a buyout package, and they gave us so many days for every year of service. My full-time employment was at Marshall Field’s, and I was drawing unemployment based on that. I drew that out until it was finished.

They then gave me an extension. I drew that until it was finished. And then in November, on the 28th of November, 2008, they wrote me and said I might be eligible for another extension. It was a federal program initiated by George W. Bush, and it explained to me what I was eligible for, and so I applied.

MSR: This program extended benefits for people who were unemployed?

CC: Yes. I was not employed full time. I had a one-day-a-week job.

MSR: So you were working part time?

CC: Yes. In between the two times that I was receiving [unemployment] benefits I worked part time for Sears. I worked for them for about six to eight weeks.

MSR: When the letter arrived, you are saying that you were working for Sears part time?

CC: Yes, from January to end of June is when I was working for them [Sears].

MSR: Did Sears lay you off?

CC: No. I quit Sears because I got put out of my house and moved to Minneapolis, and I told Sears I was not coming back. And that is where the contention is. They [Minnesota Unemployment Insurance] wanted to say I was ineligible because I quit Sears. But I wasn’t filing my unemployment based on my employment with Sears. I was filing my unemployment based on my employment with Macy’s.

MSR: The extension that was offered was based on the Macy’s employment?

CC: Yes. I knew I was not going to qualify with Sears because I did not make enough money.

MSR: So what happened at that point?

CC: When I filed for my unemployment extension November of 2008, that’s when they started to question me about Sears. I figured I had cleared that matter up, but they [Minnesota Unemployment Insurance] kept on questioning me during this period about Sears.

MSR: Did the Minnesota Unemployment Insurance want to make your employment with Sears an issue?

CC: Yes. So they sent me information which I answered — “You indicated that you were suspended due to an arrest, that you were not getting enough hours and you decided to quit.”

MSR: Is this the letter that they sent to you?

CC: Yes — “Did your employment end with Sears on 5/15 or 8/15?” I told them I was suspended until my court case was settled, and then when I went to court, my court case was continued. I called them and told them that my court case was continued and that I had moved in the interim and that it was too far away for me to travel. In the meantime, I asked them about the availability of full-time hours. They said they didn’t have any [full-time hours], and I said I am not coming back because I can’t drive that far.

MSR: Based on the lack of hours?

CC: Yes… They asked me if I had moved out of the area. I told them yes… They wanted to know everything about my separation from Sears, but I was not filing my claim based on my employment with Sears. But I couldn’t tell anybody that.

MSR: Why were you not able to explain this to any person? Did you talk with anyone?

CC: No. They never gave you any number where you could call except for the
number on the bottom of their pages. I went around with this for a long time.

This was the first set of questions. I answered those questions. Then they had another set of questions and I answered those questions — about Sears, everything was about Sears.

I don’t know — I only made $1,400 the whole time I worked for Sears. But they limited their questions to Sears. By the time I finished looking at this we were into February and then into March.

I called down there and finally I got someone, and one guy said, “I can have someone call you back, but it will be tomorrow.” I asked him why I can’t talk to someone today. I left a message with them, and I called them back that afternoon.

MSR: Were you able to contact any particular person and talk with them?

CC: Finally somebody picked up — they must have not been busy or without phone calls — and I explained to her what was going on and that I was not filing about Sears because it was part-time work, and according to the rules, if I am drawing benefits based on full-time work I can quit any number of jobs that are part time.

MSR: Did they deny your application for extension?

CC: They had denied that… The woman told me that my case had been decided already and that I was determined to be ineligible. And I said, for what?

MSR: When did they decide that you were ineligible?

CC: On January 16 I was determined to be ineligible.

MSR: Did they inform you on January 16 that you could appeal?

CC: Oh yeah, I appealed, and when I appealed I was locked into that date in March — March the third — and nothing could be changed.

MSR: When did you file your appeal?

CC: My appeal was filed on January 29. I faxed a copy to them.

MSR: When did they get back to you and give you a date?

CC: On February 4. And I had to go through with that appeal date. That’s why I called. I wanted to know who was making these decisions up to the law judge. I couldn’t get that.

MSR: So, you had to wait from February 4 to March 3 to get your appeal hearing?

CC: Yes.

MSR: Did this have an impact on your lifestyle?

CC: Oh yes. My bills went unpaid. It was this way until I was able to get my decision and I received my back pay, and then I was able to pay my debtors off.

Up until then I did not have anyone to talk with. The problem is that this could have been resolved in a week.

MSR: But instead it went on for more than a month.

CC: No, it went on longer than that. It went on from November of last year until March of this year, five months.

Next, this writer will publish his own experiences with Minnesota Unemployment Insurance. He promises this is something our readers will not want to miss.

Karl Johnson welcomes reader responses to nabikj@gmail.com.

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