Recently I received a notice from my state’s Department of Workforce Services. Apparently I had underreported my income when filing a claim for unemployment, which they take seriously. I don’t doubt that there are those who have gone to jail for this type of fraud. In my case, it wasn’t deliberate. I simply had underestimated my week’s earnings by $1.53.
I ‘fessed up to the mistake, confident they would see it for what it was and fully willing to write out a check to correct the error. Turns out it’s not that simple. The amount isn’t what’s important. They were primarily concerned with my intent.
I eventually received a notice saying it was determined I hadn’t committed fraud and I was in the clear. Before this, however, I had to fill out a form claiming financial difficulty would prevent me from paying back the state. It actually wouldn’t; I’m broke but could shake $1.53 out of my penny jar if necessary. But not making an official statement about my finances would lead me down a dark road.
I took care to keep any sarcasm or snarkiness out of my answers in the multiple questionaires I completed through this entire process, but I can’t promise I was entirely successful.
I mean, really. You have to precisely report your weekly income, but not everyone (myself included) has access to the exact amount they’ve earned. Even if you have a down-to-the-minute accounting of your hours, it’s easy to make a mistake in calculating the week’s salary.
I’m sure our state lawmakers pounded their fists when voting on the unemployment fraud laws and said, “they must answer for any discrepancy!” leaving the DWS with a ridiculous amount of paperwork for honest human error. I’m betting most of those suits have never stood in the unemployment line or gone through the tedious and somewhat degrading process of collecting money when you’re out of work. Their decisions are academic.
Which leads me to wonder: how many other decisions do they make without valid background information? Don’t get me wrong. I have a great deal of respect for our elected officials as a whole. They are tasked with challenging decisions on a day-to-day basis.
But they don’t always know what their votes mean.
We have a responsibility to paint a picture with our words for our state and federal congresspeople. Fill in the blanks for those who sincerely want to do right (let’s work with that assumption). The controversial issues make the headlines, but there are mundane decisions made every day.
Like where you draw the line in unemployment fraud. How much did it cost the state to process my error when a first glance would tell a reasonable person that, indeed, no fraud was intended?
Do we have the time? Do we believe it will matter? I’m confident that a well-written letter can make a difference.
You can make a difference.