If You Are Receiving Unemployment Benefits– READ THIS!!

“Give me back my money!”  We can all see little Michael Banks shouting these words in Dawes-Tomes-Mousley-Grubbs Fidelity Fiduciary Bank in the classic film, “Mary Poppins.”  (For those who haven’t seen the film, the scene I’m referencing depicts a little boy who wants to spend his toppins buying bird seed from a sweet old lady trying to feed the pigeons.  The bank president tries to convince the young lad to place the money in a savings to watch it multiply.  Seeing the boy’s hesitation, the bank president snatches the coinage out of his hands, causing the boy to scream, alerting the patrons of the bank and causing a run on the financial institution.  Go borrow the film; it’s great.)

When I moved to this small town in the foothills, I made a decision.  I decided to bank locally.  I opened an account with First Credit Union, a small institution with only six branches and superior customer service.  I have not regretted that decision.  I no longer wanted to carry on with a national banking corporation.  I decided to end my 23-year-old relationship with Bank of America.

Imagine my dismay when I received a letter from the Employment Development Department (EDD) notifying me that they were no longer issuing checks.  I was briefed of the following: “In one to three business days from receipt of this letter, you will receive an EDD Debit Card in the mail from Bank of America.  Your first electronic benefit payment is immediately available to you when you activate this card…Future benefit payments for which you are eligible will be issued directly to the card.”  I’m furious.

Like many people now receiving unemployment benefits, I used work in social services.  I worked for an agency that worked closely with the welfare department.  I remember speaking to a welfare worker to inquire about a client’s possible address change.  I was informed that the client was under investigation for possible fraud, that the client hadn’t used her EBT card near her address for months.

“How do you know where the client uses her card?”  I asked.

“We track all purchases.”

I understand that welfare is a very touchy subject, that many honest tax payers, including myself, have a vested interest in knowing that programs which tax dollars fund are as effective as a possible, and that the money isn’t going towards things that contribute to the further demise of a society.  I also believe that people have a right to privacy and that if welfare recipients are buying groceries at Traders Joes or at Safeway or at the local gluten-free health food store, it’s nobody’s business.

As I read my notice from EED, the conversation that I had had with that welfare worker echoed in my ears.  “We track all purchases.”  I wasn’t notified by EDD that my purchases would be tracked.  But what’s to stop EDD from tracking my purchases?  The constitution?  We threw that out the window years ago when the American people acquiesced to The Patriot Act.  And our silence has been our consent ever since.  Several unconstitutional laws and policies have been enacted since and nobody seems to bat an eye.  As the current state of things would have it, there isn’t anything to stop EDD from tracking a recipient’s purchases.  Or investigating a person for what might be seen as a “discrepancy.”

A friend of mine, who was laid off from the same agency, was as wary as I was.  She has an adult son who just started community college.  Cautious about the new EDD “benefit”, she was sure to use her husband’s account to purchase books and pay for the units at her child’s school.  Could she have been investigated for starting a “training program” without checking the box on the EDD questionnaire?  What if I make several purchases from a hardware store in a week because our john backs up?  Will I be investigated for starting a landscaping business?  Perhaps the underwire on my bra just broke and I spend money at a lingerie store.  Or maybe it’s my anniversary and I’m feeling frisky.  The reason for my purchase is obsolete.  Will I be looked into as a possible stripper?  Or just maybe life is a little depressing and I choose to spend a weekend at Mateo’s Pub sampling the many beers on tap.  (Which are excellent by the way and worth a trip to Nevada City.)  How will that reflect on my record?  Regardless of the situation, it is none of EDD’s goddamn business.

At this point, almost all of us knows of someone receiving unemployment benefits.  Each person’s situation is different.  The benefits are distributed based on a whether or not a recipient is looking for work.  We are all looking for work.  There are no jobs.  But if the state and federal government can pin it on the fault of the lazy, no-good American people, then they can wash their hands of the whole operation.  Right?

Maybe 20 years ago we could call me a conspiracy theorist and write me off as just another kook.  But we are living with a congress that is seriously looking for a way to do away with social security and kick little old ladies out on their asses.  So what?  So that private investment firms can level the homes that they used to live in and build vacation condos for the many CEOs still receiving million dollar bonuses while the American people are paying taxes to fund the bailouts that they were provided?  It’s messed up.

Meanwhile, in the world of unemployment benefits, cash, which we’ve been told is king, stays out of circulation and in control of Big Money.  The bank gets to hold onto the money for three or four days while the EDD recipient uses the money that is supposed to last two weeks to pay as many of the bills that he or she can afford to pay and wait for the next check.  The government and banks know that if people are cashing out the benefits going to their EDD card, then corporate banking and state institutions can’t hold onto it for that extra amount of time.  The state knew what they were doing when they stopped issuing checks and, as far as I can tell, it has less to do with saving the state money than it has to do with turning the money’s control over to the hands of big banking.

And you know what the bitch of it is?  I held my nose and walked into my ex-bank to ask for my money.  The guy at the counter didn’t know how to help me.  He told me that, while the account was through Bank of America, the ins and outs are handled by EDD so he didn’t know how to ensure that I had a pin for the card or had any ability to withdraw the money.  How convenient.  Fortunately for me, I procrastinate.  Though my old account had a zero balance, I never closed it.  I was able to transfer the money for one account to the other and withdraw it that way.  It makes a person wonder how many new Bank of America accounts have been opened this week.

My advice to the class of people receiving unemployment benefits?  Get cash.  Get it immediately.  Don’t let Bank of America use your benefit money to benefit itself.  Don’t disclose to some state organization whether or not you take your family out to dinner this week.  Keep your private affairs private.  Keep cash.