Home > Unemployment the 2nd time around: lots of unanswered questions

Unemployment the 2nd time around: lots of unanswered questions

December 18th, 2010 at 09:11 pm


It's almost too much to wrap my head around now.

When I learned earlier this week that I may not get an offer of a permanent job (still no decision from the company, but they've changed the job description, which no longer fits me to a T), I started getting very anxious. The thought of returning to a long bout of being broke and out of work was not a comforting one. So I did what I do best. I set to work taking another look at my tightest of Tightwad Budgets, looking to see what my current expenses are, what could be minimized, etc. Because the more in control of my situation I am, the less fearful I feel.

I called my homeowner's insurance carrier and increased the deductible again, this time from $2,500 to $5,000, which saved me about $60.

I went online and checked current electric prices and switched again, from Public Power to ConEd, reducing my price per kilowatt from .0999 to .0849. Perhaps it will make some noticeable difference. The lower price is locked in for a year.

I learned how sneaky electric suppliers can be after switching the 1st time. When I switched to Public Power, they had a lower price than the default supplier, but that lower price only held for 3 months, and then they bumped me to a higher price, counting on the fact that most people won't take the trouble to switch electric suppliers more than once. Even though there's no charge to do so. Well, I took the trouble!

So my total monthly minimum expenses seem to be in the range of $2,291. I mean, that's REALLY minimum. Yes, that includes my mortgage and property taxes. Compare this to my more normal monthly expenses of $3,600.

Here is my ranked list of estimated 2011 minimal monthly expenses, based on current data:

Mortgage and property taxes: $1,146
COBRA $444
Food $219
Electricity: $66
Heating oil: $65
Sewer (usage and loan): $60
Gas for car: $57
Homeowners insurance: $56
Phone and Internet: $44
Car maintenance $38
Car insurance $35
Cable TV: $18
Water: $15
Borough taxes $14
Car tax: $7
Dump sticker: $7

Not covered: Health care out of pocket, home maintenance, chimney cleaning, furnace cleaning, mortgage prepayments, retirement savings, dining out, entertainment, clothing, Netflix, gifts, bird seed.

It's totally ironic that I'll be paying $444 a month for health insurance, yet I DON'T INTEND to use it at all. Why? Becus the plan has a $1500 deductible, so if I used it for a few doctor's visits or whatever, I'd be paying the whole bill anyway for most of the year. If I end up being out of work for say, another 6 months, paying the deductible would all be for nothing becus then I'd probably have to satisfy a whole new deductible with a brand new plan. So my strategy is, don't use it at all.

But keeping the health insurance accomplishes 3 important things I can't do without:

1. It ensures that when I do get a permanent job, the health insurer can't refuse to cover my pre-existing health problem (MS) for a year, or charge exorbitant fees to do so. Chalk this convoluted way things are to our screwed-up health insurance system.

2. It provides coverage in the event of unexpected, catastrophic health problem like surgery or something that would cost much, much more if I were uninsured.

3. It ensures that I can continue to fill my one prescription, the med I take for the MS.

Yesterday I called the employment agency that's paying my paychecks now and asked them what the monthly bill would be for my health care under COBRA. You might say I was pleasantly surprised, because since the agency is too cheap to contribute anything to employees' health care and I pay the full expense already ($425 a month), there would be no increase for COBRA, save for a 2% administration charge.

Still, that's a lot more than the $178 I was paying with the COBRA subsidy.

So, after doing all this number-crunching I felt like things were still "doable," even with the spike in my health insurance costs.

That is, until I reexamined my state's formula for calculating unemployment benefits. I have 2 key questions in my mind about which of 2 formulas would apply to me; maybe I'll call the dept of labor next week to try to get some answers.

Question 1: If I was collecting unemployment in September and then started this temporary job, worked the temp job (full-time) for 3.5 months and now it looks like the job will end 12/31 and I want to apply for unemployment again, do they just reopen my old claim, since I hadn't used up all the money, or will it be considered a new claim?

Dido, I actually think it would be much better if they considered it reopening the existing claim, because then I could expect to get the weekly benefit I got before, about $544 a week. (CT is an expensive place to live.) I already know I could live on that, even with the higher health insurance costs.

But if they treat it as a new claim, then my Question #2 is, Which formula would they use to calculate my weekly benefit rate?

I see from the DOL website there is the "standard" formula which takes the highest average earnings from the 1st 4 of 5 calendar quarters prior to the quarter you file the claim in. In other words, if I file the claim sometime in January, I can't use earnings from the 4th quarter of 2010 to calculate my benefit. I have to use the 4th quarter of 09 and the 1st, 2nd and 3rd quarters of 2010. You'd calculate the average of the 2 highest earning quarters, then divide by 26.

The problem with this is that I didn't work at all in the 4th quarter of 09 or 1st quarter of 2010. I worked for the census burea in the 2nd quarter and then for the census bureau AND the temporary job in the 3rd quarter. But the census was a p/t job and it all works out to a weekly benefit of just $162 a week.

However, the website says that when you can't establish eligibility using the basic formula, you are then allowed to use their alternate formula, which is using the 4 calendar quarters immediately preceding the quarter you file a claim. This would make a HUGE difference in my case becus it was in the 4th quarter that I worked this temp job making very good money, and my weekly benefit would be $554, not $162.

I am feeling very, very nervous about this.

As for the 2nd job I learned about at the company I'm working at now, I did apply but haven't heard anything yet. The guy i work with who told me about it did put in a good word for me, I know.

There was another option that occurred to me. If the company cannot find a candidate who has both the skills they're looking for (strong writer with technical background) and if they liked me, but didn't think they'd have enough work to keep me busy on a full-time basis, I was thinking I could suggest maybe we could work out a 20 or 30 hour work week with commensurately lower pay.

There's 2 problems with that. One, I think the 1st thought they'd have is oh, she wouldn't want to stay here long at the lower pay and as soon as she had an opportunity, she'd find something else. And two, i don't want them to think I'm just desperate for a job, because that would be a turnoff to the employer.

Taking a lower salary of say $40 or 60K would be a lot less than I'd get f/t, but heck, if i can make it work on unemployment benefits i can make $40K or $60K work, for a time.

So I don't know if i should suggest this or not. I know i can't just freelance for them as needed, becus i had to sign an agreement with the employment agency saying I wouldn't work for the company for one year. This is standard, of course.

8 Responses to “Unemployment the 2nd time around: lots of unanswered questions”

  1. retire@50 Says:

    Even though it's a bad situation, I think it's really great how you are facing it head on and trying to find solutions, rather than hiding your head in the sand and hoping it magically gets better. I hope things work out for you in getting a new job.

  2. Single Guy Says:

    Although I had a similar thing happen years ago (2002-03) (8 months unemployed, then 6 weeks salary only to get laid off, then 6 months unemployed) I don't know if my situation can apply to yours. I was told my 6 weeks reset the UI clock, but for me the salary before and after was similar and I would get the same max benefit in either case. My benefit from the 6 weeks of work was the extension of UI benefits.

    Can't you cut down your expenses some? If you're not working can you drive less, therefore pay less insurance? And the food number seems high (its double what I pay), though maybe not in CT. Would using something like MagicJack for your phone service work for you? (Actually I should do that and have been researching it) Maybe cut out the cable TV and use over the air and online streaming (I do this). Even the dump sticker - is there some way to avoid that (recycle and compost as much as possible)? I see that the COBRA is the killer expense, shame you can't cut that out, its where you are bleeding money (no pun intended).

  3. Ima saver Says:

    I really admire you too! Hope things turn out ok.

  4. kerieellsworth Says:

    I think you have a great handle on the situation and just can definitely handle this.

  5. patientsaver Says:

    Thanks for your support. It means a lot!

    Single guy, these ARE my pared down expenses. You're right, if I had to, I could cut the cable. That would be easier to do if it were summer. I was looking forward to the start of American Idol. Smile That alone isn't going to make much difference though.

    I can take another look at my food. I'm semi-vegetarian, rarely buy red meat or even chicken except maybe on a Sunday I cook up a big meal so i can have leftovers during the week. Included in my monthly food bill is cat food for my 2 cats. They eat about 90% canned food, Fancy Feast. It's just .50 a can at wal-mart, but between the 2 of them, they go thru 5 cans a day. Cat expenses, which includes food and vet bills, average $118 a month I see from my records. I'm not saying they go to to the vet every month, but Waldo, for instance, had an ear infection that cost me $410 at the vet in Oct. He's feral, and he had to sedate him to rinse out his ears. I can add more dry food to their diet temporarily, becus it's cheaper, but it's really not good for cats... it causes problems over the long term if it's fed exclusively, especially for Waldo had to have 11 teeth extracted when i adopted him, so i don't think he can chew his food well.

    I already dropped collision and comprehensive on my 12-yr-old car. I already have the cheapest rate based on my having worked in my hometown several years ago, and i never told the insurer that changed. The car insurance is just $420 a year, which is pretty cheap as it is...i take a safe driver course every 3 yrs to qualify for a 10%discount that lasts for 3 yrs.

    I know that despite the current challenges, i'm in much better shape financially than a lot of people, even compared to some people who are still working. I don't mean to complain, but I am worried about what will happen. I've worked so hard for everything I have, and i'm including my life savings when i say that, and it would just kill me to have to backtrack on my retirement plans and have to live on that money now. People do it all the time, I know, but I want to come out of this whole dang recession none the worse for wear.

    I need the dump sticker to get rid of trash. The alternative is paying for someone to pick it up and that's quite a bit more expensive. I can compost veggies, but i'd still have trash, and they don't charge by what you bring in, it's just a flat annual fee.

    I will research Magic jack, don't really know anything about it....thanks for the ideas...even if i can't apply them, it's got me thinking of a few things in new ways. Maybe there's something I've overlooked...


  6. M E 2 Says:

    How/why can you not be able to live on "ONLY" $40-60k, all the time?

  7. patientsaver Says:

    ME2, my annual expenses for everything run about $43,000 a year. You'll see in a few weeks when I post my 2010 annual expenses how that breaks down (I've been tracking my expenses for years), but i don't think it's extravagant. I've also been prepaying my mortgage since I bought my house. Last year, for instance, I spent $17K on the mortgage, taxes and those prepayments combined. I did also spend $5100 converting a screened porch to a sun room and I spent about $2600 on food (which includes cat food). Health care costs, which included monthly premiums and out of pocket co-pays, was $2,362. Those were some of my biggest expenses.

    People in my neighborhood had to chip in for construction of a new sewer treatment plant by taking out a mandatory 20 yr loan that costs $600 each year, not including the usage fees. I also pay a small borough tax ($200). These are smaller bills, but they do add up.

    I did live on about $50K when I first bought the place, but prices for many things, like gas, heating oil, property taxes, food and health care, have risen, while my salary hasn't.

  8. Homebody Says:

    Good luck with it all. You are in so much better shape than many people who kept spending, spending, spending, even after becoming unemployed or had cuts in pay. Good for you!

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