Sunday, April 7, 2013

Take Care of Yourself

Today marks the beginning of my 36th week.  Four more to go.  My pregnancy book suggests I take some time in these last few weeks to pamper myself.  "In a few weeks you won't have any time to devote to yourself for the next 18 years.  Your entire life will be consumed and ruined by this helpless little human and you will want to kill yourself.  So, get a hair cut!  Get a pedicure!  Get a massage!  Go now while you still can, you fool!" 

Lugging around an extra 35 pounds is murder on my feet and lately I've been getting excruciating shin splints if I attempt to walk more than a mile at a time.  So a massage would be awesome.  And a hair cut would be a nice treat.  Here's a picture of me from my latest gig:

But I can't afford these luxuries and, more to the point, I don't have time as my next few weeks will doubtless be spent on the phone with the Departments of Labor in both California and New York State. 

In my ongoing saga with the California Department of Labor I received a notification back in February that I would be required to complete a phone interview to determine my continuing eligibility for collecting unemployment benefits.  Because my original claim had expired in October and I was now receiving "extension" benefits, there were all kinds of hoops to jump through now to prove continuing eligibility.  The appointment, I was informed, had already been set for two days from then.  I would receive a phone call some time between 10am and 12pm.  Failure to make the interview would result in denial of benefits.  If I couldn't make this appointment and needed to reschedule I could do so by emailing the Department of Labor.  So, I emailed the Department of Labor informing them that I had a prenatal appointment at 11am on the day of the interview and unless someone called me between 10 and 10:30, I would need to reschedule.  The response I got back via email basically went like this,

"How is this our problem?  We gave you an appointment time and we're not giving you another one.  If you don't take the appointment we will cut you off.  Go fuck yourself."

On the morning of the appointment the phone rang at 5 minutes after 10.  I thank the guy profusely for calling me so early and he's like, "Whatever, you're the first person on my list today."  I explain that while I was looking for work, I didn't think anyone was really going to hire me considering my finite availability.  He gathers my information and reminds me to file for disability insurance when I hit the 36 week mark in my pregnancy.

I was deemed eligible to continue receiving benefits. 


A few weeks later I receive another notification from the California Department of Labor informing me that I was required to show up at the local jobs center and attend a training and interview in order to prove that I was looking for work and therefor eligible to continue receiving unemployment "extension" benefits.  Failure to show up would result in denial of benefits.

On the day of the appointment about 50 of us amass in a room with an ominous looking laptop, projector and screen up front.  As the reality that I'm going to have to sit through some kind of asinine "training video" about how to look for a job sinks in, a woman comes in through a side door and hollers,

"Are we awake?  Ha ha ha ha ha!" 

She asks us how we were all doing today.  Our response is apparently unsatisfactory, and so, like one of those really funny stand up comics, she says,


Har har har.

The next 30 minutes are filled with what may have been the dumbest questions ever asked by apparent adults in the history of time.

"I worked one day last week.  Do I put that down as that I was looking for that job?"

"You said not to list SAG/AFTRA under union membership, but I already wrote it down.  What do I do?"

"It says here we should apply for a minimum of three jobs per week.  But I applied for four.  What do I do?"

This is my competition in the job market.  Apparently hiring a moron is favorable to a pregnant woman who will have to leave by May but will at least do the job competently while she's there.

Finally the stupid video is started, which I figure couldn't be any more stupider than the stupidity I was being subjected to.  But at the part in the video where "how to open an internet browser" was being explained, I "struggle" out of my seat, "waddle" over to the stand up comic/training lady and use my pregnancy to get out of watching the rest of the video. 

I do my one on one interview and am released with the assurance that everything looks good and I would be able to continue receiving benefits.


THE NEXT DAY I receive a notification from the California Department of Labor informing me that I may be eligible to start a new claim and therefore will no longer receive extension benefits despite the balance remaining in my extension claim.  I could file this new claim, I was told, online!  So, I hop on the computer.  Unfortunately since I hadn't watched the training video, it takes me about an hour to figure out how to open an internet browser window.  I finally manage it, though.  I go through the steps and am then informed that since I worked out of state in the past 18 months I would have to file my claim over the phone.

Anyone who has had the pleasure of trying to get someone from the California Department of Labor on the phone will understand my urge to throw myself off a roof at this point.  Having spent countless hours trying to reach someone back in January when my benefits were inexplicably and completely erroneously halted, I did not have much hope.  And the thought of my "anytime" minutes being, once again, eaten up by repeated calls to the California Department of Labor was starting to make hooking look more and more attractive.

Despite my fears, however, I manage to get someone on the phone on my first attempt.  After an hour talking to her and a "multi-state claims specialist" I am cheerfully informed that I should not have been getting extension benefits since October because it looks like I was eligible to start a new claim with either New York or Illinois back then instead (I was on tour with a show whose payroll company was based in Illinois, or something.). 

So, what does this mean?

It means that if I am, in fact, eligible to open a claim in either New York or Illinois, it will date back to the middle of October and I will receive all of that money backdated from October.

Awesome, right?

Yes.  Except...

I will then be responsible for paying California back everything they paid me since the middle of October.

"Don't worry," the multi-state claims specialist tells me, "you won't have to pay any penalties or fees on top of that."

But, Daisy, I hear you say, won't it all just balance out with the benefits from New York or Illinois?  It would, except my benefit rate in those states will be significantly lower than what I was getting from California.  This not only means I'm not receiving any benefits at all (nor have I for over a month), but that when I finally do receive the benefits, I will have to turn them directly over to the California Department of Labor PLUS a check for the difference!

This is fun, isn't it?

So, I call the New York state Department of Labor to begin a claim with them.  After an hour and 25 minutes on the phone with the New York State Department of Labor I am told that yes, indeed, I am eligible and my benefit amount will be about $130 less than what I was getting from California.  But I need to call back in a day or two to give them time to collect and verify all my wages.  In the interim I receive a six page notification from the New York State Department of Labor telling me that I am not eligible for benefits.  Granted, there seem to be employers missing, but whatever.

This is great news as it means I can get on with my claim in California and I won't owe anything, right?

I call the lady in New York and she tells me they're still gathering the information they need to make a determination and to ignore the notification.  But it looks like I will be eligible through New York State.

The next day I receive another six page notification from the New York State Department of Labor telling me, once again, I am not eligible for benefits.  There are still employers missing from the list including one that was listed on the notification I had received just a few days before.

I call the lady in New York and leave a message.  I call again an hour later.  I call again an hour after that.  She doesn't call back and it's Friday which means I get to spend the weekend in limbo.

If it turns out I am in fact ineligible for benefits through New York State, I will then have to go through this entire rigmarole with Illinois which would be bad enough on its own, but I'll also have to deal with that God forsaken accent they use. 

Yesterday I received a notification from California informing me that because I'm eligible for benefits in New York State I owe California over $6000.  This, despite the fact that as of the last manifesto New Your State sent me I was ineligible for benefits... 

It basically says this:

"Dear Daisy, we fucked up by automatically sending you extension benefits instead of having you file a new claim.  Because of our fuck up, you have to pay us back.  Now.  You can send us a check or money order for the full amount or we can go into your various bank accounts and/or take any tax refund you might have coming to you.  Go fuck yourself."

And so, far from getting pampered, my last few weeks of pregnancy, like the last few months, will be spent on the phone with New York State trying to get them to make up their mind about my eligibility and navigating the lugubrious, paperwork laden, mouse maze of a process to file for disability in California.  Meanwhile, for all I know, at the end of that maze will be another notification informing me that any disability benefits I am due will be used to pay off the $6000 I owe California for their phenomenal fuck up.  But by then, I'll have a precious, screaming baby sucking the life out of me and I will be too exhausted to care what the hell is going on beyond trying to make sure its head doesn't fall off.

I was unemployed when I found out I was 10 and a half weeks pregnant.  Thank God I was able to collect unemployment benefits to begin with.  Otherwise I might have found myself taking a job at Walmart (assuming I could land a job at Walmart over my clearly well qualified competition.  "This says two for the price of one.  What if they only want to buy one?").  Of course a job at Walmart would pay less than what I was getting on unemployment and comes with no health insurance.   I know I should just pull myself up by my bootstraps, but I can't reach my feet anymore.

There are people in this country who think what I'm doing is leeching off the system (Never mind that I've paid PLENTY of taxes over the last 25 years of my life).  Those tend to be the same people who don't believe in abortion.  And some of them are also the same people who don't believe in contraception.  True, I am a godless whore who got pregnant out of wedlock and God hates fags and all that.  But my marital status has nothing to do with my financial status (also there is no god).  Even if I were married, I'd be in the same boat, so where does that leave me? 

I shouldn't complain.  Getting pampered is a luxury, not a right.  And really, so is preparing for my labor and subsequent massive life change.