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Our forum revealed in todays Orlando Sentinel

Post  Unemployed In Orlando on Wed Sep 02, 2009 10:59 am

Welcome new members who have joined recently, we are glad you are here Very Happy

Below is the article from the Orlando Sentinel ran today :


Online forum offers tips and home for the jobless
By Jim Stratton

Sentinel Staff Writer

September 2, 2009

Before being laid off, Stuart James was a manager for a manufactured-home company.

Today, he's a stone in the shoe of state unemployment officials.

The 36-year-old Altamonte Springs man is one of a small band of agitators who have become accidental advocates for the unemployed.

Armed with brains, free time and Internet connections, they have given voice to the jobless and become a resource for people trying to navigate the state's sometimes cumbersome unemployment system.

Have a question about filing your claim? Check out James' message board for tips. Looking for the state's best customer-service reps? The board — and its contributors — provides names and back-channel phone numbers for how to reach them.

"Cassandra rocks," says a recent post. "She answered my questions in like one minute and solved the problem!"

The forum, created in July, has emerged as a virtual town hall for people on unemployment. Part how-to manual, part therapy session, it's the place jobless go for answers in plain English and an opportunity to vent.

James, laid off at the end of 2007, started it after spending time on another board that he felt wandered too far afield. He wanted a place where the unemployed could trade notes and talk one another through the process. James' site has 119 registered users and features about 900 entries.

"I just wanted people to know they weren't alone on this," he said. "I can't imagine going through it by yourself."

'Bad information'
Florida's unemployment rate stands at 10.7 percent, and more than 600,000 people are receiving checks from the state. The office that administers unemployment — the Agency for Workforce Innovation — has strained under the demand, sometimes creating friction with its clients. Claimants say phone lines are constantly busy, agency instructions impenetrable and customer-service reps unreliable.

"You get different answers depending on who you talk to," said Thomas Samuel, a Kissimmee resident on unemployment.

That's where forum participants step in. They've become adept at teasing information out of claims managers and posting their newly acquired intelligence. When they can't nail down details, they highlight conflicts to warn others.

"There's so much bad information being handed out," said Nancy Mandowa, a Hollywood resident who's become one of the board's moderators. "When you finally get through, there's no confidence they'll get it right."

Mandowa is a 62-year-old graphic artist who last worked full time in 2006 as creative director for a small online company. When she was laid off, she freelanced until those jobs dried up.

She became part of the unemployment underground a few months ago and today spends much of her day online looking for work and monitoring the forum. When she contacts the agency, she said, she's polite but persistent.

"I'm not sure they understand how little communication is getting out to people," Mandowa said. "And how critical it is."

Recently, for example, claimants discovered checks were being delayed by sometimes more than a week. Forum posters began grilling customer-service reps who explained the state was freezing payments until a claimant's job-search efforts had been reviewed.

Policy reversal
The policy conflicted with a U.S. Department of Labor advisory that suggested states should pay first and review later. The advisory was posted on the message board within minutes of being found. Days later, state officials reversed the policy, saying they had been considering doing so for some time.

In an e-mail, agency spokeswoman Victoria Heller said AWI regularly tracks message boards relating to unemployment. Generally, she wrote, the forums are of "great value" to people looking for guidance, though, at times, they contain "outdated or erroneous information."

Asked about the frustration expressed in the forums, Heller wrote, "Posters are certainly within their rights to express frustration, and we understand and empathize with those who are facing the challenges presented by these extraordinary times. While the vast majority of our 650,000 Unemployment Compensation customers receive timely and accurate payments and satisfactory service, our goal is to have every interaction with our customers be satisfactory."

Heather Boushey, an economist with the Center for American Progress, said technological advances and the severity of the recession likely have contributed to the rise of Florida's unemployment watchdogs.

This is the first significant downturn since Internet access became widespread, giving people an easy way to communicate. And in this recession, large numbers of midcareer professionals have lost jobs. These are folks comfortable with computers and familiar with bureaucracies.

"They have the skill sets you need to do battle with an agency," she said.

James brings the methodical approach of a business manager to his project. As moderator, he gently redirects posters who go off topic and provides links to job-resource sites. He translates confusing agency language and monitors AWI's Web site searching for additions or changes.

"It's not at all user-friendly," James said. "It's like they're more focused on meeting some legal requirements."

Despite the message board, James says he carries "no grudge" with AWI. In fact, he said he'd love to have someone from the agency sign on and take questions.

"That'd be great," he said. "We'd welcome them in."

Jim Stratton can be reached at jstratton@orlandosentinel.com or 407-420-5379.

Copyright ©️ 2009, Orlando Sentinel

Last edited by Unemployed In Orlando on Wed Sep 02, 2009 11:00 am; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : Added Link)
Unemployed In Orlando

Posts : 551
Join date : 2009-07-12
Age : 45
Location : Altamonte Springs, FL.


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