Navigating the New, Completely Incomprehensible Unemployment System

            Have you ever heard the saying, “they could foul up a one-car funeral procession?” This describes the state’s recent unveiling of its new unemployment compensation system which was released last week.

            That you need an advanced legal degree with a Ph.D. in human resources seems to be a prerequisite for this abomination of a website.

            News reports say that the new system cost the state $60 million. The makeover took six years to overhaul what they acknowledge was an “antiquated” system. Yes, antiquated indeed. Reports said that the antiquated system “confounded and frustrated” unemployed workers during the pandemic. That is an understatement.

            Wait until the newly unemployed get a look at this system.

            It took exactly 24 hours after the unveiling for me to get my first phone call from a client asking me to walk him through the forms consisting of more than a dozen pages, plus subsections depending on responses.  Calling a lawyer costs money. It eats into your unemployment pay.

            Under the antiquated system, I received exactly zero calls over 25 years from any clients looking for assistance in filling out the forms. Zero.

            I frankly believe that the intention of the system is to frustrate unemployed workers to the point where they say, “The hell with this, I’d rather starve.” Unemployment insurance is supposed to be a safety net. Instead, this system is the high-wire ten stories above the safety net. And there’s a strong wind blowing across the wire.

            The labor department’s response to the pandemic seems to have been intentionally designed to inflict as much pain as it could on an already battered, scared, and exhausted workforce.

            We heard stories early in the pandemic about folks who simply filled out applications for benefits, without assistance from anybody at the department, and began receiving benefits. Then about a year after the benefits had been paid in the thousands of dollars, those same folks began receiving notices from the labor department informing them that they had been overpaid erroneously, or worse, that they had committed fraud, and that they now owed all the money back plus interest and penalties. These were people without jobs through no fault of their own.

            It is sadistic. It is cruel. It is the state bureaucracy.

            And nobody in the gold-domed building overlooking Bushnell Park seems interested in doing anything about it. “Not my problem – your problem,” is the refrain from the righteous crew in their gilded offices.

            Reporting on the problem at the time showed that while some overpayments were tied to fraud, a substantial number were the result of unintentional mistakes by the applicants or the state. And while legislators said they would address the problem in the last session, typically they did nothing but grandstand. And the overpayment notices keep coming.

            At a hearing before the General Assembly on a bill intended to provide amnesty for nonfraudulent overpayments, the Department of Labor sent its legal director to testify against passage of the bill. The bill died before it could receive a vote in either house of the Assembly.

            Over the next week, expect your Democrat legislators to be taking a victory lap over the newly revamped unemployment system. If you get the chance, ask them why the system has suddenly become so difficult to navigate that it requires legal advice before submitting a claim. And ask them what they are doing about the department’s gross incompetence in administering claims during the pandemic. I’ll bet you don’t get any answers.

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