We, by which I mean I, spend an inordinate amount of time here at First Draft excoriating national or wannabe national politicians for their various grandstanding moves and Sunday Morning talk show blather. We, by which I mean I, never seem to talk about politicians doing the job they were elected to do.
Now yes politicians are elected for the most part to vote on enacting laws or to be our “leaders”, whatever that word might mean to you. But we are also supposed to elect politicians to help with more mundane everyday problems. The issue is that too often we forget about that last reason. Try and get a politician to help ME? They only want to help the big money donors. They only want me to remember them come election day, they’re not going to help ME with any personal problem.
But I’m here to tell you that political leaders can help you in your everyday life. One just did that for me.
Since the first days of shelter in place I’ve been on unemployment. All of my rather substantial work bookings for 2020 disappeared pretty much over night in late March and early April. Even though I got a job as an enumerator for the Census just as the bookings were drying up, that job ended up not beginning until mid August and ended in mid October. Thus I was four months without a paycheck.
I am fortunate to have other sources of income so the wife (Cruella) and I didn’t go hungry and we didn’t lose our house, but those bi-weekly checks from the Employment Development Department (EDD) went a long way to keeping us from the middle class’s greatest bête noir, dipping into savings. Even when we both started work with the Census and our wages were greater than what we were getting via unemployment we kept the accounts going because we knew the Census job was ultimately a temp gig. Sure enough when it ended it was easy to get back to getting checks from the state.
I wanna stop at this point to say something about Unemployment Insurance. It IS an insurance policy. Workers pay into it on a paycheck by paycheck basis. In my case I not only paid into it for forty plus years, but for many of those years I paid into it twice per paycheck, once as the employee and once as the employer (yes, in case you didn’t know, your employer matches your contribution on a dollar for dollar basis). What it is NOT is an entitlement as some in the political sphere would have you believe. Whenever I hear things like that I want to respond “so when the house you’ve made insurance payments on for years burns down you’d be okay with the insurance company saying they’re not going to pay you because that would be an entitlement”? It’s the rainy day fund and in 2020 it was pouring.
By the way, it’s the same story for social security and disability. Insurance policies, not entitlements. Both.
So everything was going along as fine as could be expected and then one day in March of this year I get an email saying that since it’s been a year I needed to reapply for unemployment. Not a problem I thought. Well it turned out there was a hitch. Since technically my last employer was the US Government (for the Census) part of my payment came out of a federal pot of gold, not the state’s. Confusion ensued, the upshot of which was that those bi-weekly checks weren’t coming soon to a mailbox near me.
I wasn’t the only person this was happening to. Not only were checks not going out, it was becoming impossible to get through on the phone to EDD. Website messages went unanswered. People were getting worried. The local news lead with fear porn stories about people running out of money. Cruella and I decided that though we were owed more and more money each pay period we wouldn’t add to the Gordian Knot that EDD had turned into. We could wait a little while longer for it to untangle.
But a little while turned into a long while. When over three months had gone by without a check or a returned message or phone call we decided enough was enough. Fortunately we stumbled onto a potent solution in the form of Marc Levine, Assemblyman for the 10th District.
Yeah, we got in touch with our elected representative. His office staff could not have been nicer about it. They took all our information via the website, then called to confirm a few details, and then said they’d get back to me by the end of the next day.
Amazing what happens when you get City Hall to fight for you.
The very same night as I had spoken to Assemblyman Levine’s office I got an email from EDD saying my account was being processed. Actually I got seven emails from the EDD, each one for a consecutive two week period. And the next morning I got another seven emails saying that period’s check had been sent. And that night the Assemblyman’s office got back to me and asked if EDD had contacted me. And the next afternoon there were seven checks in the mailbox.
This happened not only to me but to the wife (Cruella) and to a friend of ours. All because Assemblyman Levine’s office put the pressure on EDD to get their act in gear.
We shouldn’t have to do this, go sic an Assemblyman or a State Senator on a government agency, but the reality of the world is that sometimes that’s exactly what we have to do. And more so it is what we should be doing all the time. This is what we elect them to do, help us navigate the tangle of government red tape. It’s not just the rich who fund campaigns and make backroom deals who should be getting the helping hand. It should be all of us.
More so, we should be in touch with all of our elected representatives all the time. OK, maybe you’d only get a form letter from your US Senator or Congressperson, but at least your name would be on their radar system, aka, the contact list. Your more local politicians, the ones who can help with the garbage not being picked up or the traffic light that doesn’t work or, yes, your problems with the EDD, they are going to be more likely to respond directly to you. The reason is simple. As your humble political commentator who keeps up on most of the goings on in government, even I didn’t remember who my Assemblyman was. Assemblymen, state senators, city council members, they know most people don’t keep up with politics on the more local level, if at all. Therefore they need to get in the muck and mire and actually help their constituents on a personal level if they want to keep their job.
By the way, back in February Levine sponsored SB390, a bill that would force the EDD to have in place a plan to deal with an unexpected rise in unemployment due to a sudden downturn in the economy. Like a recession. Or a pandemic.
Trust me, I will remember that Marc Levine is my assemblyman. And you can be damn certain I’ll be voting to re-elect him next year.