What’s the best revenge against someone who tries to steal your unemployment benefits? Hint: It involves Taylor Swift #fearlesstaylorsversion

I called Iowa Workforce Development late last week and by happy coincidence Anna the Angel answered the phone.

I called because I wanted to double-check that my benefits were on track to arrive on time.

This was more a triple or quadruple check. The first few times I called with questions on my benefits, I got into a verbal shouting match with a robot answering machine.

I followed that by a useless encounter with an unemployment office employee who seemed most interested in not answering calls from the public.

This series of frustration eventually landed me in the care of Anna, who seemed to give a damn whether or not I got my benefits.

She worked out some kinks in the paperwork and sure enough, benefits arrived. Another bureaucratic wrinkle meant I would wait two weeks to receive a check rather than the customary one.

That inspired me to call the unemployment office. You’ll forgive me if I’m skeptical of the agency’s ability to get things right.

Anna checked and to no one’s surprise, there was a problem. Apparently, somebody tried to file for unemployment benefits under my name.

Identity theft isn’t a new problem. I’ve lost track of the number of letters telling me my data has been compromised or text messages from my credit union telling me somebody tried to use a debit card in my name in a place I’ve never been.

I often joke that if someone is serious about stealing my identity, they’re welcome to it.

They can deal with the obesity, the mental health issues, the aches and pains, near-constant self-doubt, and the bird poop on the hood of my big black car.

Heck, if somebody stole my identity, my credit score would probably go up.

The upshot is that Anna the Angel of the unemployment office is on the case. She alerted the fraud department. The downside: I might not get paid on time. Again.

This adds stress to a stressful time. I’m 45 years old trying to learn a completely different career coming off a spectacular failure in my last job and getting my job cut at the one place I invested more of my heart and talent than anywhere else.

Restrictions on cash flow tighten the grip around the throat like Darth Vader force-choking an Imperial admiral.

But I chose to look at it another way.

Somewhere out there, there’s a fake me. They’re trying, at least for the benefit of a few hundred bucks, to pretend to be Daniel P. Finney.

I don’t know what Fake Finney was doing Sunday.

But OG Finney (that’s “original gangster” for my older readers) finished his linguistics homework. He fixed a few of his toys that needed glued. Finney finally retrieved one of the Millennium Falcon models and a Spider-Man figure that had fallen behind his bookshelves in the bedroom.

OG Finney picked up the new Taylor Swift CD, her remake of “Fearless.” Her voice flowed out of his car speakers like an enchantment as he drove about the metro with his windows down on a postcard-perfect day with periwinkle skies.

OG Finney ate a burger and fries from B-Bop’s in Clive. He sat on a bench by the trail with the sun on his arms and the breeze across his bald head.

He stopped by Snookies for a twist cone in a dish and played a few more songs off that Taylor Swift CD.

He got home and watched TV shows where things blow up and the good guys win.

He feel asleep reading a Conan the Barbarian comic book.

Whatever swindles Fake Finney was up to on Sunday and whatever hassles that may lead to for OG Finney, the real me, it’s all trivial in the end.

Sunday was a good day.

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. 
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Venmo: @newsmanone
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Update on Anna, the angel of the unemployment office

My phone rang this morning at the unholy hour of 10:30 a.m. Unemployment has few advantages, but unquestionably one is sleeping in.

I answered groggily and managed to choke out a greeting.

“Mr. Finney, this is Anna from Iowa Workforce Development,” the caller said.

I perked up. Anna, regular readers will recall, rescued me from the endless loop of robot answering machines and suicide-inducing hold music at Iowa Workforce Development, the fancy government name for the unemployment office.

I had run afoul of the unemployment bureaucracy due to a paperwork error. To the bureaucrat, a paperwork error is a mortal sin and those who commit one must be cast into the lake of fire.

The bottom line was I was looking at four weeks without a benefit being paid. Each time I called the office and wound my way through the Byzantine process to reach a person, I got a different answer.

Finally on Tuesday, I reached Anna, who fixed my problems and put me track to get paid. I would have offered my hand in marriage, but I think Anna’s smart enough to see an unemployed middle-aged journalist as a high-risk, low-reward investment.

Today, Anna called me to say that she didn’t want me to worry about the benefits statement on the unemployment website.

I hadn’t checked it yet, but Anna had. It showed that only one of the payments I’m due had been authorized.

Anna, apparently out of a sense of near-extinct concept of due diligence, checked on my case when she got to work Wednesday. She saw a small error, had it corrected and then called me to let me know it would be resolved within a day.

I told Anna she was a superhero. If I knew her last name (and had been paid my unemployment), I’d send her flowers.

We hung up and I rushed to the window. The sun was in the clear blue sky. A chilly March wind blew.

But there was no sign of the apocalypse.

Anna is quite clearly the real deal: a public servant who believes in helping the people who need her.

Until Tuesday, I would have assumed such a person was as rare as the fearsome snipe or the elusive jackalope.

Now I know governmental customer service is no longer a myth, like the leprechaun, but rare, like the four-leaf clover.

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: @newsmanon. PayPal: paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

A month without unemployment benefits? How robot customer service answering systems made being unemployed worse

I’m unemployed. That happens. Jobs don’t work out. Sometimes it’s no one’s fault. Most of the time it’s the fault of greedy Wall Street hustlers whose lone way to goose profit margins for the past 30 years is cutting jobs.

This was the case at the end of my newspaper job. It wasn’t at the end of my TV job. That one was on me: I was bad at the job.

Regardless, this is why we have unemployment. We decided as a society that it was better to give people a cushion when these changes happened than to increase the homeless population and give foreclosure departments and repo outfits more work.

I’ve used unemployment a few times in my life. The teachers warned us as freshmen at Drake that we wouldn’t spend our whole lives in one job. I tried anyway. I failed often.

Most of the time, applying for unemployment is a breeze.

This recent attempt was a disaster.

I made a mistake, which fouled up the works from the start.

Government bureaucracy is less forgiving of paperwork errors than retired English teachers are of typos.

The suggested means of dealing with problems on the Iowa Workforce Development webpage, which is the fancy name for the unemployment office, is to email. You’ll get a response in a business day, they say.

That seems simple. But bureaucrats have very rigid interpretations of that sort of thing. Does the day start the moment the email lands in the inbox, or does it start the moment someone opens the message, or does it start on alternating days following a new moon? It’s impossible to tell, but there is likely a webpage filled with rules longer than most religious texts with less sex and violence.

I’m old-fashioned. I like to talk to a person on the phone. The unemployment office recommends against this. They have a very high call volume, they say. This makes me feel better. I’m not the only person who wants to talk to someone on the phone.

So, I called with my question. My question was: “Why am I not being paid unemployment benefits?”

It turns out the mistake I made was applying too late in the week after my final paycheck from the previous employer. I should have filed on the Sunday or Monday after that, but I filed on Friday.

The problem is there would be a 10-day waiting period to evaluate the claim, check with former employers and so on before I could be paid. That seemed reasonable.

Ten days came and went. I checked the status of my claim and it was still in review status.

I called again.

I should mention that each time one calls the unemployment office, you must navigate one of those robot answering machines that requires you to press buttons and sometimes talk to a machine that cannot understand spoken language.

Here is a partial transcript of my recent call to the unemployment office:

Robot: I know you want to speak to agent. Please tell me what problem you are having so I can route your call to the appropriate person.

Me: I’m not getting paid.

Robot: I’m sorry, I didn’t hear that.

Me: I’m not getting paid.

Robot: I’m sorry, I didn’t hear that.

Me: I’m not getting paid.

Robot: I’m sorry, I didn’t hear that.

Me: I’m not getting paid.

Robot: I’m sorry, I didn’t hear that.

Me: I’m not getting paid.

Robot: I’m sorry, I didn’t hear that.

Me: I’m not getting paid.

Robot: I’m sorry, I didn’t hear that.

Me: I’m not getting paid.

Robot: I’m sorry I could not be of assistance. Goodbye.

Now that’s a mean trick. The robot said “goodbye,” but there’s a pause. Then it says, “Please stay on the line for the next available agent.”

I’m not making up the repetition. I counted it. It took five times for the robot to admit it was useless and route me to a person, which is all I ever wanted in the first place.

If McDonald’s sold burgers and fries this way, they would be out of business by the end of the week.

I was placed in queue. Music played.

I don’t know what section of the music store businesses and governments select music from, but I am fairly certain they either send someone who is legally deaf or whose misanthropic attitudes toward their fellow humans is so great they want to exact whatever suffering necessary to make the process of seeking customer service so painful people just won’t bother.

The music played for a few minutes until another robot came on the line. Employment opportunities abound for robots.

This robot offered me the opportunity to have the unemployment office call me back when it was my turn in queue. I took them up on that offer and dug into my schoolwork.

A man called back about an hour later. I forget his name. I am going to call him George.

I asked George why I wasn’t getting paid.

George said my claim was still under review.

I asked George why that was.

George said it could be lots of reasons.

I asked George if he could pick one just for fun.

George looked at my claim. It seems that I filed late and the 10-day waiting period for the claim had not passed.

I told George the 10-day waiting period passed Friday.

George said sometimes it takes longer than 10 business days.

I asked George why the unemployment office says it takes 10 business days if it’s more of a willy-nilly-whenever-the-spirit-moves-us kind of deal.

George was unamused. To be honest, I wasn’t feeling very amused either.

George said the earliest I could expect to receive benefits was the middle of April. 

I reminded George previous agents had said it should be sometime this week.

George said the problem was my claim came at the end of a benefit year. (I applied for unemployment in March 2020 during a furlough.) I needed to open a new claim for a new benefit year.

I got the sense George was not engaged in customer service but instead choosing from a set of flash cards designed to end the call as quickly as possible.

I told George I had already applied for a new claim, but that should be irrelevant to the previous claim for which I have not been paid.

George said the unemployment office would want to contact my employers for both claims and would prefer to do this all at once rather than two separate times.

I found this difficult to believe. These inquiries are done by form letter. The employer has 10 days to contest a claim. If they do not contest the claim, the benefits are paid. None of my former employers were going to contest the claim.

Further, when has a government agency ever balked at sending computer-generated form letters?

I said goodbye to George.

The line between a worried mind and a mind overrun by anxiety is thin for those of us who live with certain brain chemical disorders. I panicked at the prospect of going a full month or more without income.

I called my friend Randy. He suggested I call the unemployment office back and talk to someone else. Randy gives good advice. He’s also good for gab at lunch. If you get a chance to have lunch with Randy, do it.

I called back. I went through the five times of the robot not understanding me and the other robot offering to have an agent call me.

The woman who called me back was named Anna. Anna was an angel.

Anna found a glitch in my paperwork. She corrected it and went to talk to someone to make sure the review could be taken off.

Great, I said to Anna.

She asked if she could place me on a brief hold.

Sure, I said. Then the line was disconnected.

Oh goddamint, I thought. I found the one person who was actually going to help me and my cell phone service decides to drop the call.

Defeated, I dialed the number for the unemployment office again, but before I could finish, Anna called me back. She told me she had fixed the problem and I should see the review status change in the next day or so.

I still wouldn’t get paid on Friday, but I would likely see benefits – including back pay – early next week.

I thanked Anna. She was the first person at the agency that made me feel like I was a person rather than an annoyance.

I am sure lots of people are upset and cruel when they deal with customer service people at the unemployment office. I understand this. The prospect of going nearly a month without benefits you’re entitled to can be vexing in the extreme. I’ve certainly gnashed a few of my teeth in this ongoing process.

But a person like Anna can actually help.

I hope that for every George, there’s three Annas, but I think the math is more like for every George and Anna, there are three robot answering machines, some terrible hold music and one or two more reasons for people to give up due to overwhelming irritation.

I am glad I worked with Anna. I repeat: She was an angel.

Angel is the appropriate word, because getting answers out of the bureaucracy takes nothing short of divine intervention.

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: @newsmanon. PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.