Monday, January 17, 2011

The Ins And Outs Of Collecting Unemployment - NPR


This is TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington.
The Labor Department announced today that the number of people seeking unemployment benefits last week jumped to the highest level since late October. And today, we focus on two words in that familiar announcement: seeking benefits.
If you've never been to the unemployment office, it's difficult to understand the many rules and regulations, the paperwork and the overworked staffers once you finally reach an employment consultant. If you are out of work, what don't we understand with dealing with the unemployment office? Our phone number is 800-989-8255. Email us: You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at

And we begin with Andrew Stettner, deputy director of the National Employment Law Project, a group that works to enforce worker rights and help unemployed workers. And he's with us from our bureau in New York.
Nice to have you with us again.
Mr. ANDREW STETTNER (Deputy Director, National Employment Law Project): Good afternoon.
CONAN: And last month, President Obama signed a deal that, in addition to extending the Bush-era tax cuts, extended unemployment benefits for 13 months. Now, to a lot of people, that sounded like the 99ers, those who've been on unemployment for two years would be eligible to receive more unemployment insurance.
Mr. STETTNER: Yeah, that's correct. I think many people did think that. What that legislation did was it made sure everyone had at least the access to that same package that could go as long as 99 weeks. Many people who got laid off, you know, in the second half of the recession hadn't even received that and were going get cut off immediately in January. So what that bill did is that each individual will be able to receive that full package of benefits.
CONAN: So as much as 99 weeks, but for nobody beyond that.
Mr. STETTNER: Yeah, that's correct. And in many states, it's less than 99 weeks. And for some individuals with a spotty work history before they were laid off, it could be much, much less.

CONAN: And all of this is in a very confusing set of systems called tiers. If you're out of work through no fault of your own, you're eligible for unemployment insurance, but maybe just for tier one or tier two, and maybe not all the way to tier four.
Mr. STETTNER: So basically, the way you think about it is you get a certain amount of weeks added to your account. And if after each set of weeks, they're either 20 or 13 weeks at a time, if you're still out of work at the end of that tier and the program is still operating, you'll get the next tier. And that's what was crucially continued through December 31st, 2011. Workers will not have to worry. If they need to move from one tier to another in 2011, they're going to be able to do that. So it gives many people, three or four million people, the time they need to seek work.
CONAN: All right. We're talking with Andrew Stettner about unemployment insurance and what it's like to collect it. We'd like to hear your stories, as well. If you're unemployed, tell us about your difficulties or wonderful time dealing with the unemployment office. 800-989-8255. Email us:
Lisa's on the line from St. George in Utah.
LISA (Caller): Hi. I recently lost my job - well, last November. And when you file your weekly claim, you have to say whether or not you've had any work hours or anything like that and if - one thing I didn't understand before having been unemployed is that if you have a little bit of work, that you report that and then that deducts out of what your unemployment check is going to be for that week. And I have to say that our unemployment office down here has been extremely friendly when I've gone in, but they are so busy that you often wait - yesterday, in fact, I waited 50 minutes just to talk to a worker about it.
CONAN: Fifty, five-O, minutes?
LISA (Caller): Pardon?
CONAN: Fifty, five O, minutes?
LISA (Caller): Fifty, yeah.
CONAN: Oh, wow.
LISA (Caller): Fifty, as in almost an hour. And it's cut across all social and economic backgrounds and types of individuals that I've seen in there. I sat by a man last week where he had been at the same job for 30 years, and he was filing his first ever unemployment. I, as well, am filing my first ever unemployment, and I've been a worker since 1987.
CONAN: So quite - Yeah.
LISA (Caller): So I've never been unemployed. And you see - from young mothers - I saw a young mother in there the other day waiting on the phone with two young children, sitting underneath the desk that she was at because there was no place for her to take her children while she was waiting to talk to an eligibility worker on the phone. It just is - it's stunning when you go in there and you see all of the talent, all those individuals that are looking for work and of all different kinds, and there just isn't any.
CONAN: Well, Lisa, we wish you the best of luck as you look for work.
LISA (Caller): Thank you. I appreciate it.

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