State workers confront jobless reality

Posted at 4:29 PM on July 1, 2011 by Paul Tosto

The state budget impasse put about 22,000 state employees out of work today. They began dealing with the reality of being unemployed and the uncertainty of not knowing when it will end.

MPR News reporter Martin Moylan spoke to several laid off state workers to find out how they're coping with unemployment. Here's his story.

Most state employees seem to have thought a shutdown was inevitable. But they differ widely in their assessments of how long it'll last and how'll they get by if the stalemate goes on for very long.

Debie Tsuchiya of Bloomington was laid off from her job as a health care fraud investigator at the Department of Human Services. She doesn't think the shutdown will last long.

"I'm quite hopeful this is going to resolve in a week. That's my bottom line. So, I'll never get any unemployment."

Despite the shutdown, the state is processing unemployment benefits, but officials say the soonest state employees would receive any payments is the week of July 17.

Still, Tsuchiya will apply for unemployment next week, following a directive to state employees to stagger their applications based on their social security numbers.

The Department of Employment and Economic Development reports a seven-fold increase in applications for jobless benefits compared with last Friday.

There were some complaints that the online application service crashed today. But the Department disputes that.

If the shutdown does drag on, Tsuchiya says she'll be OK.

"I'm close to retirement," she said. "I've got significant savings. I have no children at home. I have a husband who is gainfully employed. I could go a month without a paycheck and still eat and pay the bills."

Tsuchiya worries about younger people with kids. People like Jenny Foster of Hudson, Wisconsin. She was laid off from her job at the Department of Revenue.

For more than month, Foster, her husband and two teen-age two sons have been preparing for a shutdown. Foster's husband still has his job. But she says it'll be hard to get by without her regular paycheck.

"The loss of my wages when it's well over $600, $700 a month, that's a lot of money," she said. "You know, which bill are we going to able to pay or not pay or delay."

Foster says the shutdown will throttle back their plans for the fourth. There'll be no money for fireworks and other frills.

"With it being a holiday you know the kids want to go do stuff," she said. "Luckily my mother-in has a cabin we can go but we're not going to go spend money to do other fun things. We can't right now."

Laid-off employees are supposed to look for other work as a condition of receiving jobless benefits. And that's what Mark Fischer of White Bear Lake is doing. Fischer was laid off from his job job running the mail room at the DNR's main office in St. Paul.

He says things are going to be tight for him and his wife, Julie, if the shutdown goes on for very long. His wife won't return to her job as a school aide until the fall.

So, Fischer is trying get more money out of his moonlighting gig at the B-Dale Club in Roseville.

"I'm picking up some extra hours at the bar," he said. "And hoping they resolve this issue quickly. Get it done. Get us back to us back to work."

Fischer expected the shutdown would happen, given how the governor and Republican-controlled legislature had dug in their heels. But Fischer believes they'll soon be more open to compromise.

Today's seven-fold increase in applications for unemployment benefits came from people like Stacy Miller of St. Paul. She was laid of from her job at the Department of Commerce, where she works to promote energy efficiency and renewable energy.

Miller got her unemployment application in at 7 this morning, without any of the trouble others complained of.

Applications for unemployment benefits can be completed over the phone or via the Internet. After a one-week waiting period, unemployed workers are eligible to collect 50 percent of their pay, up to a maximum of $578.

Miller is heading to Ohio to spend the fourth with her mother. She plans to write --and read up on industry news. She's looking forward to getting back to work but there's a lot of uncertainty about when that'll be. She says the guessing around her office runs from one to eight weeks --or more.

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