Our story so far …
May 2020: The local newspaper discards with your friendly neighborhood paragraph stacker in a round of layoffs amidst the pandemic.
August 2020: After months of fruitless job searching, Finney begins graduate school at Drake University to finish his master’s degree and become a schoolteacher.
December 2020: Finney takes a job as an assignment editor for one of the local television stations.
March 2021: Finney’s brief foray into broadcast journalism ends in an unmitigated disaster; his studies continue at Drake and a new unemployment claim is filed.
April 2021: After battling the voice-automated answering system of Iowa Workforce Development for weeks and employees who all gave different answers on different days, Finney reaches a real person, an angel named Anna. She discovers my identity has been stolen and someone tried to claim unemployment benefits in my name. She promises to correct the error. I was informed there was a lot of fraud.
May 2021: Iowa Workforce Development pays unemployment benefits after a three-week delay while they investigate the identity theft. Finney attends summer classes.
August 2021: Finney applies for two unemployment benefits related programs: Department Approved Training and Training Extension Benefits.
Department Approved Training allows a person seeking further education or retraining for a needed occupation, such as teaching, need not apply for nor submit job applications when filing for weekly unemployment benefits.
He is approved for this program.
Training Extension Benefits is a federal program managed by Iowa Workforce Development which extends unemployment benefits for up to 26 weeks to workers who’ve left a declining field, such as newspaper journalism, and are seeking education or retraining for a needed job; teacher is on the list.
Officials denied that program. A letter from Iowa Workforce Development states he was ineligible for the benefits due any or all of four reasons; one of the reasons is Finney did not leave a declining field.
This is particularly galling to Finney. Some 26% of newsroom employees have lost their job between 2008 and 2020, per the Pew Research Center.
Further, the decade long decline in newsroom employment struck mid-career workers — that’s people ages 35 to 54 — the hardest, again per Pew. Finney was 44 when his job was cut by the local newspaper and 45 when his job ended at the TV station.
Someone might argue this is an industry-wide age discrimination practice to rid payrolls of middle-aged workers whose wages have risen commiserate to their experience. But that is probably cynical thinking. Newspapers are mostly owned by corporations. And corporations are people.
The letter denying Finney Training Extension Benefits gives him 10 days to apply from the letter’s date of Aug. 11.
Finney contacts his caseworker at Iowa Workforce Development. She advises him that his TEB was denied because he had not exhausted his regular unemployment benefits.
Our man, by email, asks if he should appeal the decision to make sure he is not blocked from applying again.
His caseworker, in an email says, “No, you can still apply next month. … If you are denied then, you would also have the opportunity to appeal that decision as well.”
September 2021: Finney reapplies for Training Extension Benefits. He hears nothing for three weeks. He calls several times. He emails the help desk. He is told to call his local Iowa Workforce Development office located on the south side of Des Moines. He does. The person he speaks with tells him to call the main state offices of Iowa Workforce Development.
Eventually, he is told that there is no record of the paperwork he faxed in early September ever being received by Iowa Workforce Development.
Fine, Finney, says. I will submit the paperwork again. He sends the form and a copy of his student schedule for the fall 2021 semester.
He receives email confirmation that the paperwork was received; a decision should be reached within 10 to 15 business days, he is told.
November 2021: After multiple email exchanges with customer service at Iowa Workforce Development, our man is told by email “I am not even sure if the application (that you emailed on 10/08/21) has been looked at because I noticed I had mistyped your Social Security number.”
OK. People make mistakes.
Finney learns he attached the incorrect semester’s schedule and application to the email. He corrects this by sending his current schedule and his student teaching schedule for the coming spring semester.
Nov. 13, 2021: Finney receives, on a Saturday oddly enough, “Good morning Daniel. Unfortunately, once a decision is issued it can no longer be changed and new requests can’t be processed.
In your case the only option is to appeal the denial decision that was issued to you on 08/11/21.”
This is directly in opposition to what Finney was told by his caseworker months before. Also, the denial letter specified a 10-day period to appeal, after which the decision became final.
This, too, was something he had asked his caseworker about directly and told that he could let the grace period expire and apply the next month.
Finney calls his caseworker. She says she has never heard that you couldn’t apply again. However, she notes that she had worked for the unemployment office for five years, then left for some time, and returned recently. Perhaps a rule changed while she was away.
A cynic might think that the umpteen cuts to government staffing by administrations dating back to the first Branstad administration means updating new (or returning) employees on little details like the rules about applying for Training Extension Benefits is something that doesn’t happen as efficiently or as effectively as possible.
Thus, Finney’s caseworker gave potentially bad advice because no one bothered to tell her — and maybe she didn’t look up to be sure — that you can only apply for Training Extension Benefits once.
Then again, maybe she is right. The rules seem to be a mystery even to those who administer them.
Finney’s caseworker suggests he appeal the denial despite the expired grace period and include the relevant history.
Finney goes to the form to do this. Alas, it requires information that was on the denial letter. Finney foolishly threw this away because he was told he could reapply.
Finney requests a copy of his denial letter from August. A customer service agent promised to mail out a copy.
The letter has yet to arrive.
Finney is still in school. He finishes his last classroom work in December and will student teach in the spring. He fights on.
Daniel P. Finney wrote for newspapers for 27 years before being laid off in 2020. He teaches middle school English now. He writes columns and podcasts for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating $10 a month to help him cover the expenses of this site.
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