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Jun '09

Unemployed in Corpus Christi

It is near noon on Tuesday and I have been searching all morning long for positions suited to my skills. With each passing week, the situation is looking bleak. I am, above all things, an optimist, but my optimism is beginning to waver.

This morning when I checked to see if my Request for Payment through the Texas Workforce Commission had been deposited to my debit card, I did some quick calculations on my remaining funds and I must find work and quickly.  President Obama, of you read this, if this post ends up in your Purple folder – could we discuss the aspect of extending my benefits due to the shell shock of the lay off and my depression. It has taken me a while to mentally and emotionally hitch my britches up. Like hundreds of thousands of my fellow Americans, I was not prepared to lose my job. I came out of an unwanted divorce the end of last July with a dog, furniture and a pickup truck. If not for my family, I am not sure where we would be right now and it is getting to the point of eyeing some of my treasures and wondering what they will fetch on eBay.

I know I need to revisit my local Workforce Solutions Center, but since the "registering for school" debacle, I have been very resistant. I know, you are thinking, "what ‘registering for school’ debacle”, right? I have been holding on to this story for way too long. Live and learn.

One of the requirements upon signing up for unemployment (this may only apply to Texas unemployment – not sure) you must attend an orientation at the "Solutions" center, which I dutifully did. During this orientation, the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) was presented and I fell under the "Dislocated Worker" category and, from all the information gleaned from the orientation, eligible for funding to return to school.

I must say, at some point, how dismayed I was when the presenter, who would become my counselor, took a personal cell phone call smack dab in the middle of the presentation to discuss lunch with his wife. There was a room full of the unemployed hanging on his every word and he takes a personal telephone call. He did it again during one of our one-on-one sessions – same scenario, his wife calling about his lunch. Cell phones in a professional setting are rude. Just plain rude. There is nothing more important during these meetings than ME, or YOU! Certainly not him! He has a job. A government funded position. My taxes . . . . blah, blah, blah.

After the orientation and filled with optimism, I began the process of getting my transcripts sent to Del Mar College, visiting the campus and talking with a counselor, checking career options, applying for the Pell Grant (denied, BTW), and, finally, selecting the "approved" RN program. While my background reflects nothing of this career choice, (I had dreams of a Ph.D. in Anthropology a few short years ago.) it is a two year program which I would graduate from with a nursing degree and some job and pay security, and I have an empathic nature which would lend itself to this profession.

The entire time I was working through this process – it took one month from the time of orientation to getting my acceptance letter from Del Mar College – Workforce Solutions piecemealed the process as if I could not grasp the whole concept or guidelines for the program. Well, guess what? They, or more specifically, he (my hold-all-the-strings counselor), could not grasp the process and communicate ALL the requirements in a thoughtful, intelligent manner. After being subjected to what amounted to eighth grade equivalence testing – DID YOU LOOK AT MY RESUME???? – getting my Letter of Acceptance from Del Mar, contacting the employer who laid me off and requesting a letter, addressed to me, stating the date and reason for my unemployment (this was an odd request and never explained to my satisfaction), locating my original birth certificate, my social security card, and a signed Degree Plan from the Department Chair, I was finally eligible to request my meeting with the "committee". I have no idea who this committee is, but they are apparently purse strings holders for the Nueces County WIA funding.

Finally, the call came and I was in queue for my committee meeting. I put on my business clothes and my game face and organized my folder with all the paperwork required prior to the committee meeting. I was very excited. Well, I did not even get past my counselor. First, he could not locate my application paperwork I had dropped off at the front desk the previous Thursday and suggested I fill it out again. Are you kidding me, I am thinking. It is a six page document requiring detailed monthly expenses, names, addresses, telephone numbers – none of which I had with me. It is minutes before my appointment and he is telling me that unless I have been accepted into the RN program, I cannot have my committee meeting. WHAT? This man knew from the beginning of the process that I have four prerequisites to take prior to applying to the program. He even commented to me that WIA would "probably" not pay for all four prerequisites, but perhaps two. So my counselor is denying me a meeting with the committee and suggesting I take a PowerPoint course instead. My throat is closing and my mouth is dry and I can feel tears welling in my eyes and as calmly as I can, tell him "no thank you. I am proficient in PowerPoint." This man is holding my fragile self esteem, my future career in his hands and he is offering me a Microsoft Office course. No apologies, just a six week course.

I am not sure if writing about this incident is cathartic or not – I am breathing hard and I feel irritated – but I also think it is important, for everyone that is looking for work solutions, in today’s economic climate, to be treated with respect, dignity and care. Is it too much to ask of my government employees to know their job, EVERY ASPECT, and be upfront with every piece of the puzzle. Withholding the fact that I needed to be accepted into the nursing program was a deal breaker. If this counselor was doing his job properly, then I would have reconsidered my options during the orientation. I can not afford my rent, let alone pay for books and tuition. I did consider, for several weeks, the option of paying for these prerequisites with my credit card, but decided, wisely, that this was not a good time to add $300.00 to $600.00 to the financed-out-the wahzoo charges that appear every month. No wonder my balance remains the same!

Thumbing through my WIA folder, I notice how often paperwork is duplicated, and taking the time to reprocess this event I recall the day I dropped off my final-before-the-committee-meeting-request paperwork and the front desk assistant asking me is I had everything in order. I answered, "Yes". She said, "tuition and book costs?" I shakily said, "Yes", knowing the answer to be “no”, but also knowing it would take less than one hour to obtain the information. Why had my counselor not informed me of this requirement? BECAUSE HE IS NOT DOING HIS JOB! What I learned from this process is this office of Workforce Solutions is an unorganized organization. The only one across the nation? Probably not.

Sorry . . . .  I am on my soap box and cannot stop now.

I mean, how could they lose my paperwork? You should see the stacks of paperwork on my (if I could fire him I would) counselor’s desk. No organization whatsoever – just piles and piles of the unemployed. Hello – ever hear of an A – Z accordion file? Oh, and the best part of this story – one hour after I left the Sunrise Mall Workforce Solutions Center, in tears, I received a voice mail telling me they had located my paperwork and to please call them. I did not return the call. I have no faith in their ability to assist me. The system let me down. I even went as far as finding out the name and telephone number of my counselor’s supervisor and was going to call and complain, but what would happen if that action bit me in the butt? I have learned a lot in the past four months of unemployment; never assume everyone is on your page; never stop questioning ridiculous, rude behavior; speak up – your question will give an answer to at least two people that are to shy to ask the question; and, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

It may be old school and cliché, but I have believe in karma, and from first hand knowledge, karma can be a bitch.

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