Doug Adams, 501(c) Services’ Director of UI Solutions, knows unemployment insurance. He’s worked in the field for 40 years through such calamities as 9/11 and the Great Recession. But nothing, Doug says, has matched the unemployment insurance (UI) havoc that COVID-19 has wrought.
Since the end of March, when the U.S. began its great lockdown, Doug has worked remotely from his San Francisco home. From dawn past dusk each week day, he has helped 501(c) Agencies Trust (a nonprofit trust administered by 501(c) Services) members navigate the UI tsunami that’s followed the national shutdown.
During an interview with 501c.com, he talked passionately about helping Trust members understand the changes that a global pandemic provokes and strategies for surviving this latest hit.
What was your life like before COVID-19?
My role was to handle our New Jersey members plus any members whom I’ve had contact with through the years. I’d do a lot of research for marketing. I’d answer 5 to 10 calls a day about a claim or a change in a law — 20 calls top.
What would you talk about?
We’d talk about their balance in the Trust and what their estimated charges for a claim would be. We’d review their options and I would make sure they had all the information they needed to make the best decision for their organization.
How did COVID-19 change your working life?
A lot of my members are concentrated in the states that were hit the worst – New York, New Jersey, California, Florida, and Washington. We also handle a lot of YMCAs and Boys & Girls Clubs. When they shut down, their furloughed employees started filing claims. The volume of my work tripled overnight. I started getting 40 calls and up to 50 emails a day.
What were common questions?
A lot of our members hadn’t had many claims for maybe three-to-five years. They wanted to be reminded how unemployment works. I had to go back to the basics and explain the unemployment process from A to Z.
Some wanted to know the benefits or consequences if they laid people off, or cut their hours, or created a work-share situation.
The amazing part is our members were so worried about their employees. Yes, they were anxious about the number of claims they were incurring. Still, these members had tremendous concern about how they could make things right for their employees. Their employees were struggling and needed the unemployment benefits but employees couldn’t access the state systems to file a claim or get anyone at the state to help. Our members sought assistance from us to help their employees get the benefits they were entitled to.
New state unemployment insurance laws must have been a bear to keep up with.
Each state has its own unemployment laws and different ways to calculate weekly benefit amounts, which are charged to employers.
The basics remain the same, like what someone needs to qualify for unemployment benefits. What did change is that some states dropped the one-week waiting period and the requirement to look for work.
I spent a lot of time perusing state websites, so I knew what was going on in each state. I passed that information to our members and others in our office.
Were some members panicking?
A number were panicking, but it was a measured panic. But most were reasonable. “This is what’s occurred. Now, what do we do?”
What did your working day look like?
I’d sit down at my desk at home at around 7 a.m. and work about 12 hours in front of a screen with some short breaks to run into the kitchen for some snacks or a quick sandwich. It was nonstop. I spent a lot of time researching how states were changing their unemployment insurance protocols and emailing members with links that would help them.
How did you hold up emotionally?
This has been the most difficult time in my 40 years dealing with unemployment. At no other time did we have everything shut down at once.
Mentally, it was tiring for sure. I felt the pain everybody was going through. I wanted to listen and try to alleviate their fears by being a conduit for information.
My passion is to help. And it’s been both energizing and demoralizing because I couldn’t always help their pain. I could give them the information I had. But during this time, there were so many unknowns.
What do you think is the biggest advantage of being a member of the Trust?
All the help we provided. That was our role during this pandemic. People are not familiar with the layoff and furlough process much less unemployment. But they got a lot of assistance from us surrounding these things, which they wouldn’t have gotten from the state if they paid unemployment taxes and didn’t have their own programs.
About the Author
Lisa Kaplan Gordon is a veteran content producer, e-book creator, and social media writer with two Pulitzer Prize nominations and three National Headliners Awards. Her writing has appeared in Washingtonian Magazine, Redbook, Yahoo!, AOL Real Estate, AOL Daily Finance, USA Today, and US Weekly, as well as major metro dailies. She writes several times a month for 501c.com.