The Situation, Day 2

12 Mar 2013

Original Blogger tags: The Situation 2013

So, unemployment does have a few benefits. Although I’m putting in dedicated time every day on the job search front, I’ve also gotten to go to the gym — the local YMCA — for the first time since we got a family membership. I was pleased to find out that despite getting very inadequate exercise for the last few years I haven’t lost all the fitness I used to have from regular biking and weightlifting. Not by a long shot. My joints are complaining a little bit today, but overall I feel much better for having had a workout. So I am hesitant to cancel our YMCA membership, even though it is not strictly a necessary expense.

I also have been volunteering to help with our church’s youth minister who is teaching a beginning guitar class. I helped some kids tune their guitars, changed some strings, and did some minor repairs. I will probably be performing music with her, and eventually with the group of kids, although the details have not all been worked out yet, and I’ve let her know I might have to drop out if a new job demands it.

Trying to figure out what to focus on each day is confusing. I want to feel like I’ve secured our finances for the immediate future — the next ninety days or more — so I can stop worrying about that side of it and focus harder on the job search. Unemployment compensation and food assistance won’t actually do that — there’s too big a gap left between income and non-optional expenses. Of course, the definition of “optional” is debatable. We could stop paying things like my life insurance policy. It’s not an immediate necessity as far as making sure everyone is fed and housed. My risk of unexpected death at this age is not high. But the potential down-side for my family, when compared to the short-term savings, is huge.

I could take a distribution from my 401K account. Well, I have to, since I’m no longer an employee, but typically you are supposed to roll it over into another plan. I also could take a cash distribution. That’s generally considered a really bad idea, because it will have some large percentage of its value taken off the top, and get taxed. But it would be enough money to push out the date when our finances will hit a brick wall. I haven’t figured out exactly how long it will give us yet, but my wife and I are working on figuring that out. A few months of breathing room would be worth a lot to me.

Besides losing so much of the value, there is another downside — it will be considered income, so it will immediately affect our ability to collect any other benefits. Unemployment compensation is calculated in weeks earned. This is my first benefit week; I should be getting $362 for this week. What happens if I report earning a lump sum next week? Certainly they will not pay me for next week, since I had earnings. But how long will they consider that I was “employed?” I’ll have to find out. Maybe I shouldn’t even claim any benefit weeks at all right now.

But, there is an upside. I could afford COBRA coverage for a few months. Although it is very expensive and will substantially increase our “burn rate,” it could prevent a possible big downside, if someone has a big medical expense. There’s actually a grace period that lasts for a couple of months, during which I can somehow get us covered “retroactively,” although I’m not entirely sure about the details.

And do we go ahead and sell our second car so we can apply for food assistance, if we will be ineligible again in a few days’ time due to income? Probably not. Do I go ahead and start selling some things now? Maybe a few items. I’ve got something thinking to do.

Incidentally, the process of filing for Michigan unemployment is confusing as hell. I’m glad that you can do it online, but the form you’re filling out, under pain of committing a felony, is pretty vague. For example, they don’t explain what they mean by the income you are asked to report. Is it gross income? Gross income after pre-tax deductions? Net income after all payroll deductions? I hope I guessed right, although even if I didn’t, it wouldn’t have any effect on that capped $362 per week amount. Then you’re asked to give a total income for your entire period of employment. If they mean “net,” I’d have to add up over seven years worth of paycheck stubs, since the take-home tended to vary as health insurance costs changed and tax changes came and went. What a pain.

Anyway… today — I’ll make a few phone calls, work on some more résumé content and portfolio materials, read some job postings, send a couple of e-mails, work on an article, and then try to stop worrying long enough to go to the gym.

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