Friday, May 14, 2004

Last night one of the guys in the shelter asked our computer lab volunteer for some help applying for unemployment benefits. The unemployment office told him that the benefits are processed fastest with the online application, second fastest with the telephone application and slowest with the regular hand done form. It seems that the online application can only be filled out between 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday closed on holidays. The telephone application hours are something like 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Our shelter doesn't open until 6 p.m. and closes at 7 a.m. The computer lab isn't open in the morning. He thought he'd probably need some help using the computer so we arranged for him to come in today during the shelter office hours.

The website tells you that you need the following information: your Social Security Number, your employer's official name and address, and the name of your union, if applicable. Luckily, he had the application and had filled most of it out a head of time so he knew he needed more information than what they had listed. I got him set up at a computer and had to sneak away to meet with someone else. When I came back to check on him, he'd gotten about three pages of the application entered into the computer and was a little hung up because the dates of employment weren't being accepted. He just needed to enter the date 04/04/2004 instead of 04/04/04 before he could move to the next page and the end of the application. He hit the button and with the new page we got a message that read something like the following, "If it has been more than twenty minutes since you started this form, it has timed out and you need to go back to the front page and start again."

Now, the volunteer and I were already wondering about the limited hours for online applications, especially since you'd hope that someone would be busy job hunting during business hours. Whoever heard of an online application with time restrictions? It seemed obvious that they were trying to make it hard to apply for benefits. The difference in application processing times certainly favors people with access to technology. The twenty minute timeout on the application is completely unreasonable considering the amount of detail required on the form (and not listed on the first page.) If I'd just lost my job after working there for ten months and had spent the past couple of hours first completing the written application and then stuggling to complete the online form, only to find that I had to start over again, I would have lost it. Needless to say, he didn't. He took it pretty calmly. One of the shelter staff was going to do the typing for him as he tried it a second time.

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