Trying to extend unemployment? Prepare to bang your head against the bureaucracy

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 writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com.
Venmo@newsmanone.
PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.

I have something in common with Aaron Rodgers: COVID

I pride myself on having things in common with famous people.

For example, New York Yankees Hall of Fame shortstop Derek Jeter and I have the same birth date: June 26. Jeter is exactly a year older than me.

I used to tell my editors at the local newspaper that I expected to be making what Jeter made when I was his age. The joke, of course, being I will never be Jeter’s age because he’s a year older.

The other joke is that newspapers don’t pay more for writers. They lay them off and hire young people at half the salary. That’s less funny.

I recently learned I have something in common with Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers: We both share a fondness for actress Shailene Woodley.

Nah, I’m kidding. I’ve nothing against Rodgers’ fiancée, but to give you an idea of how big a fan I am of Woodley, I had to look up how to spell her first name.

Like Aaron Rodgers, I have tested positive for COVID-19.

Unlike Rodgers, apparently, I am vaccinated.

This is one of those breakthrough infections that took out so many of the Yankees’ players and coaches early in the season. See? I still have things in common with my beloved Yankees.

I do feel a little lame. I got COVID more than 18 months into the pandemic. How behind the times can I get? No wonder my younger classmates sometimes shout “OK, boomer!” at me. I’m actually Gen X, but I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings with facts.

I don’t feel bad. If it had been any other time in my life, I would have assumed this was a chest cold. It feels like I get one with every change of season.

That’s how I treated the symptoms: runny nose, a slight wheeze, and a mild, productive cough.

What an odd medical term “productive cough” is. I suppose you need some less inelegant way of saying “hacking up lung butter,” but still “productive” is something I associate with work rather than the convulsions of my chest while ill.

Anyway, Mom 2.0, the kindly east Des Moines hairdresser who raised me after my parents died, suggested I get a test. My Uncle Jim recently endured a breakthrough COVID infection.

What could it hurt? The test is free. I drove to a sight by Hoover High School. They offered a rapid test with results within an hour and a slower, more accurate test.

I chose the slower route.

I got a text in just more than 24 hours: I was positive for SARS-CoV2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

I informed Drake University, which told me to stay off campus for 10 days since I started showing symptoms, which was Saturday.

I went to my Shakespeare class Monday morning to deliver a presentation, felt more peaked, and went for my test.

I feel bad for my classmates. Not only did they have to endure my Shakespeare presentation — which included references to “The Simpsons,” “Petticoat Junction,” and Akira Kurosaki’s “Ran” — they were also exposed to COVID.

That’s a crap morning.

I mean I think they can forgive the COVID exposure, that’s life in a pandemic. But a “Petticoat Junction” reference? That’s a step too far.

I informed my doctor, the magnificent Shawna Basener. She worries about my asthma, which tends to be sensitive to seasonal changes and my animal allergy.

“Buffy the Vampire Slayer” star Sarah Michelle Gellar has asthma and is allergic to cats. We’re practically twins! I’m not famous, just fame adjacent.

Dr. Basener wants me to go to the hospital Friday for something called Bamlanivimab treatment, or Bam treatment for short.

I like the nickname “Bam treatment.”

The 1966 “Batman” TV series displayed a symphony of onomatopoeia. “Bam!” I’m almost in the same company as the late, great Adam West.

Anyway, the Bam treatment, delivered by IV, sends in some synthetic antibodies to fight the spread of COVID while my own immune system churns out its own virus Avengers team to pummel the virus out of my system.

Bam is best for people within 10 days of their initial symptoms (that’s me) and have a complicating health factor such as asthma (me!) and obesity (sigh, also me).

Quarantine isn’t so bad, other than being sick.

I recall a time in high school when I got grounded for having a girl over to the house while Parents 2.0 were out of town.

That sounds more adventurous than it was. We sat in separate chairs and watched a video we rented. It didn’t rise to the level of “Netflix and chill.”

We actually sat and watched a movie — nothing happened. Then she dropped me off at my grandparents’ house, where I spent the night.

Anyway, Parents 2.0 were ticked off. A girl in the house without supervision was out of the question. They grounded me for the weekend.

I remember it being a beautiful October Saturday.

I mowed the lawn, showered, and finished my homework. I watched the baseball playoffs on TV.

Mom 2.0 decided to give me a haircut. She asked me how my day was going. I told her it was a great day. The baseball game was good. I was caught up on my reading.

Mom 2.0 tells this story to this day. My response chagrined her. She thought I would be mopey, forced to stay home all weekend. The lesson for both of us is you can’t punish an introvert by ordering them to stay home and keep to themselves.

I am, however, ready to be done with my Aaron Rodgers impression.


Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com.
Venmo@newsmanone.
PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.

We should all delete #Facebook. Here’s why we won’t.

A made acquaintance with author Ramsey Hootman through Twitter several years ago. She followed my weight loss journey, which I chronicled in painful (and perhaps boring) detail for the local newspaper for several years.

Ramsey told me she modeled one of the villains in a book after me. It’s nice to be inspire art, regardless of how the final piece turns out.

One day, I made a negative (probably several) comments about how terrible I think social media is.

Ramsey took this personally. She sent several pointed tweets about how she met her husband through social media and her kids wouldn’t exist without social media.

I did what reasonable people who believe in polite discourse do when confronted with an opinion different than their own: I blocked her.

That was mean.

I should have just gone with mute.

I’m kidding.

What I really should have done is never typed the tweets in the first place. Everyone has an opinion about social media — good, bad, or indifferent.

Many people use social media to express those feelings, which feels ironic, possibly stupid.

If you hate social media so much, why are you spending so much time on it?

I thought about this predicament as the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and New York Times dissected the Facebook Files, a series of internal documents that show just how rotten Mark Zuckerberg’s empire is.

A lot of the reporting tells us things we could have guessed: Instagram, a product of Facebook (who recently changed the name of its parent company to Meta), creates damaging anxiety in young girls.

Facebook’s own data crunchers produced a report on how toxic the service was. The pooh-bahs at Facebook shrugged. So? People keep clicking, don’t they?

Facebook programmers have created an algorithm that takes advantage of every human weakness.

Facebook discovered people responded more often to stories that made them angry or sad.

So they pushed content at users that was more likely to make them react with extreme emotion.

Human beings are rotten at rational communication. We excel at tantrums, giggles, and sobs.

Thoughtful discussion requires calm to explore nuance and detail.

Facebook doesn’t care about nuance. Get angry. Comment. Get other people angry. Just keep clicking.

The longer your eyeballs are on Facebook, the more they can push ads, paid conspiracy theories, and pure lies at you to keep your mind inflamed, enraged, or depressed.

Here’s how insidious Facebook really is: The American newspaper, a nearly extinct medium, is so dependent on social media that even the pillars of the trade — the Times, the Journal, and the Post — use Facebook to promote and distribute their content.

That means their big scoops on the Facebook Files were posted and promoted on Facebook.

Every time someone clicked on a Facebook post by a newspaper about what a rotten, amoral monstrosity Facebook is, Facebook made money.

This is like firefighters arriving at the scene of a five-alarm fire at high-rise apartment building to find the hydrants pumped only gasoline.

If ever there were a company too big to fail, it’s Facebook.

Facebook and its sundry products, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Messenger have 3.51 billion monthly users.

That’s almost 45% of the world’s 7.87 billion population. They would have more, but China won’t allow them.

It’s a dark day in America when you kind of envy the Chinese media landscape.

If any of us had any guts or principles, myself included, we’d quit Facebook forever. Delete the apps. Never get involved in whatever the hell the Metaverse is, which promises to be even more immersive.

But we won’t.

I won’t either.

I won’t because I like an audience.

I’m just as weak and vulnerable to the algorithms as anybody else. I obsessively check to see if people have liked my post or clicked through to read the columns, listen to my podcasts, or other media dalliances.

Sometimes they’re moved enough to send a donation (always welcome, by the way) and that feels pretty good, too.

Somehow, I believe that if a few people read my paragraph stacks, I’m still a city columnist and not a castaway from the news trade that I loved (and hated) so much for so many years.

That’s my weakness. I’m sure the algorithm knows that and other sad truths about this middle-aged fat man.

I may delete Facebook and Twitter when it comes time to look for my teaching job. I don’t think I’ve said anything terrible.

But those emotive communicators play for blood. They don’t just want an apology; they want a person’s livelihood and maybe a public execution, at least that’s how it feels.

To be fair, Ramsey Hootman was right. Some positive things come out of Facebook. My friend Mary raised a lot of money so I could afford knee surgery this summer and people continue to support me while I wait for word on training extension benefits.

I’ve got some time before I have to decide about Facebook and social media. I built up quite a following on social media. It seems like a waste to throw that audience away.

Then again, that’s the rub, isn’t it? They keep playing off my confirmation bias that it’s important to have an audience, that my writing isn’t valuable unless published, and on it goes.

The algorithm is all powerful. I am helpless to resist it.

Just like every other addiction.

Still, I’m glad social media’s algorithm helped Ramsey Hootman find love and have kids.

For what it’s worth, Ramsey, if you’re out there, I’m sorry I blocked you.


Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com.
Venmo@newsmanone.
PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.