Liz Courtney - Make Work Pay NY website

“My husband and I launched a food truck that employed about a dozen people. I continued to work full-time at a marketing agency, managing both my day job and my small business. However, after Hurricane Sandy struck, we had to scale down to a part-time catering service. Then, I lost my job when the marketing agency I had been at for seven years laid off most of its  NYC workforce. When I applied for unemployment benefits, I had to plead my case before a judge since I was the owner of a business. I was approved, but I had to report breaks in my claim for any time I did work for the business. Meaning if I spent 15 minutes one day updating our Facebook page to attract new business, I had to forgo a full day of unemployment benefits, regardless that I spent five days that week writing cover letters and going to job interviews. I know the system is complicated but I feel that I was punished for being honest and reporting my status accurately. I took a chance at starting my own business and providing jobs for others, but now I feel like I would have been better off cheating the system.”

Liz Courtney, Brooklyn, NY

Onieka O'Kieffe - Make Work Pay NY website

“I filed for partial unemployment when the hardware store I worked at cut my hours back from 30 down to 10 hours a week. The problem with filing for partial UI, though, was that my hours fluctuated constantly. I never worked more than 20 hours a week, and my employer would spread out those hours over three or four days. This meant that I would only be able to collect my unemployment about every other week, and even then it was very low. Just because I was working four days a week didn’t mean I was making a decent living. I can’t pay my bills on 10 hours a week or support my family. The partial unemployment system needs to be reformed to be based on wages earned, not days worked.”

Onieka O’Kieffe

Nala Toussaint photo - Make Work Pay NY website

“I was working a full-time retail job until my hours were cut down to four or ten hours a week. I couldn’t make ends meet with my paycheck, so I filed for partial unemployment insurance. When my employer found out, they tried to stretch out my hours over three days so that I would not qualify. I hit rock bottom. I was paying for school tuition and on the weeks that I couldn’t pay, I was suspended. I never knew how much money I would be bringing home or if I would be able to go to school the next week. Partial unemployment insurance needs to be reformed to be based on income made and not on days worked. My income was practically nothing, but still I could not collect partial benefits. I could not use the job services that unemployment offered because without financial stability, there was no time to find more work. It was like living between a rock and a hard place. No one should have to live like that.”

Nala Toussaint, Brooklyn, NY

“After being on long-term unemployment due to a work-related injury, I accepted a part-time teaching job to get back to work. It paid way less than my unemployment, but my hope was that it would lead to full-time work. It was a huge mistake. I was working 5 days a week and 4 hours a day if I was lucky, making me ineligible for partial unemployment. I was stuck in a dead-end job with no chance of promotion, no money for gas, and no money for groceries. I should have just stayed on full-time unemployment. I would have made more money. Unemployment took me from the middle class to poverty. The law needs to be changed so that workers are not penalized for working part-time.”

Mary Driscoll-Heath

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