So this morning I made it to a ninety-minute presentation on Shared Work, the Unemployment Service’s plan to provide a modicum of compensation for people who are being furloughed instead of flat laid off. In a nutshell, if your employer cooperates you can get unemployment compensation for those days that you’re not paid on your job. Within limits. The scheme has some nice advantages over regular full unemployment compensation, but it retains a few of the old program’s drawbacks.
Plusses are significant:
You do not have to reapply for every week in which you have a furlough day. Your employer takes responsibility for informing the bureaucracy of the days your pay is docked. That cuts an enormous amount of red tape and hassle.
You are allowed to earn income from a second job or from freelance gigs without losing the Shared Work benefit. This is a sharp contrast to regular unemployment insurance, which boots you off the system if you get so much as a day of back vacation pay.
If you manage not to be laid off and if you earn enough to get by on your reduced salary, you could in theory collect the ten or twelve weeks’ worth of payments and stash them, plumping your savings account a bit or using the money to pay down debt.
Cons are also significant:
These payments bite into your regular unemployment compensation, in the event that you do get laid off. If you collect, say, $400 from Shared Work, your unemployment entitlement will be cut by $400. This means that if you’re in the financial position that too many state employees find themselves in—below or right at the poverty line—and you have to use the Shared Work payments to make ends meet, you will suffer when you’re laid off.
The payments are piddling. The max payment would be something like $48 a day, barely enough to buy a bag of groceries—given that you will take off one day every two weeks.
To be eligible, you must be furloughed for at least 10% but not more than 40% of a given week. This means that if you take as many as 20 hours of furlough time in a week, you don’t collect a penny. In other words, you can’t bunch several or all of the furlough days together to give yourself a little unpaid vacation. Take off 16 hours or more, and you lose the compensation.
The default mode of payment is a debit card issued by Chase Bank. The Unemployment Service’s spokesman warned, in no uncertain terms, that these cards have all sorts of strings designed to nick and gouge users, including limits on where you can use the things, how you can use them, and how many times you can use them. To get the government to direct-deposit the payments, you have to fill out yet another form (we filled out seven pages of forms today, including one that gave the gummint permission to examine all of our bank account activities). It takes two weeks or so to put your request in action.
As with regular unemployment compensation, you have to sit out a one-week “waiting period” after your first day of eligibility. This means you will not and cannot be paid for your first furlough day. So instead of receiving Shared Wages for 12 days, GDU employees will get it for 11 days. It smacks of another right-wing whack at the working poor, highly offensive in my view. If you’re unemployed for x days, you should collect Unemployment Insurance for x days, not for x – y days.
It certainly adds insult to injury. We’re the ones who are suffering from the shenanigans perpetrated by outfits like Chase, and now we have to pay the SOBs for the privilege of using our own unemployment insurance? That truly does stink.
But hey! Beggars can’t be choosers, eh?
Anyway, there it is. Better than nothing, I guess. Better than being canned now instead of later.
Update: It now begins to look as though at least the first payment from the Unemployment Insurance Service, a munificent $48 on $240 lost to a day’s furlough, may never be retrievable. Stay tuned for more entertainment.