On Filing Unemployment During COVID-19
Geoff applied for unemployment for the first time in his life, and it was really hard for him, as it is for many Americans facing job closures and zero paychecks. However, we look for the silver linings, always and especially even in times of stress. So, after trying to break through online for days with the unemployment site, he decided he would just call, stay on hold, and wait forever to speak with a human. Geoff is better with people. He is sort of terrible with technology, and I’m not sure even a pandemic forcing us all to work remotely from home on computers and phones is helping that out. However, a lovely young woman, high spirited and probably only on the job a few days, answered his call. Geoff has a cell phone, but the person on the other end hears him better if he is on the speaker phone, which, to be honest, after sharing work space with him and our two loud children for the last month, is getting the best of me.
So, this young woman is kind and compassionate and takes Geoff through the application carefully question by question. She clearly has a checklist of questions, and my charismatic husband is treating the conversation as if it’s a job interview. I’m only half listening because I’m sitting at the kitchen table trying to help our son with his schoolwork.
I hear her ask Geoff what he does for work. Instead of beginning with the job, which was ended by COVID-19, he begins the litany of careers he dabbles in all the year through. “Geoff,” I scream-whisper, “just your one job for now is all she is asking about, the one you lost because the mountain closed down.” While I’ve never applied for unemployment, I can only imagine there are follow up questions. But there is the part of him who wants her to know that just because he is disabled doesn’t mean he can’t have a bunch of really cool jobs like running Eastern Adaptive Sports, a summer program for people with cognitive or physical disabilities, or being a public speaker for schools and businesses about overcoming adversity, and, training director for Loon’s Snow Sports School, the one they should actually be discussing.
Then I hear her again, “Do you consider yourself to be disabled.”
It’s a question on her list of things to ask, probably prompted by him earlier mentioning he is also a disabled professional skier. I sigh. I wait for it. I wait for it.
“No, of course, I don’t consider myself to BE disabled; I’m more able bodied than a lot of people you probably know,” adding a casual chuckle as if they are neighbors on an airplane bound for westward adventures. There it is. He wants her to understand who he is, as a T7-8 paraplegic adventure athlete and professional skier and why it’s so very hard for him to be applying for unemployment.
“But you are, in fact, DISABLED, honey,” I whisper- scream again into the breezeway which is doubling as our “office” during the pandemic. Just answer her questions so we can finish up this never-ending phone call, which it seems Geoff is beginning to enjoy.
Then I hear her voice, embarrassed and apologizing, “Oh, sir, I hope my question didn’t offend you. It’s just something we have to ask.”
And I want to scream loudly for his sake, “No, you did not offend him!” He should have just said yes. So simple. Just an answer to her question. However, nothing about COVID-19, unemployment, the pandemic, the waiting, the stay at home order, the remote learning and teaching, the telling your otherwise adventure seeking children to be extra careful and not to break themselves because we can't go to the hospital-- nothing about any of this is simple.
As a family with young children and one disabled parent, who would like nothing more than to still be a professional athlete straight through retirement, how do you know when the time is right to go on disability? Why can’t you be on disability for half the year when you work in a seasonal industry? Why do you have to go five months without earning an income to apply for disability? Can you apply for disability while receiving unemployment benefits? Thoughts to ponder while worrying about the uncertainty of our new normal during COVID-19. And a special shout out to the young woman working for the NH Unemployment Department for her patience, compassion, and sense of humor. Her job isn’t easy either.
Heather Ehrman Krill is a writer- wife- teacher-mom who lives in the White Mountains of NH with her husband, Geoff, a paraplegic and professional skier, and their two children, Carver and Greta who are 10 and 8. Please check out her novel True North, website www.heatherkrill.com, author FB page Heather Krill, and @heatherkrill1 on Twitter.