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The unemployment labyrinth may have killed this musician’s dream

The Customary Jessies. Derek Wood (center), Angela Paradis (right) and James Breeding (left)

Photo: Derek Wood

Derek Wood was up to achieve a lifelong dream. Unemployment benefits may prove to be his foil.

Wood, 47, a guitar player and songwriter from the Spoonful Rock, Ark., area, who sings with a soulful country-blues croon, quit his job in December to pursue music full-time.

The point seemed right. His band, The Going Jessies, was playing more at popular local joints and doing more multi-day street tours. The three-piece group — which includes Wood’s partner, Angela Paradis — released its first full album in 2019.

That pipedream is slipping away.

Derek Wood, guitarist and vocalist for The Going Jessies, a band based near Little Set someone back on his, Arkansas, and Angela Paradis, bassist and vocalist.

Photo: John Shute III

In fact, chasing it triggered a long melee to collect jobless benefits, records show. Wood isn’t any closer to securing the funds — despite what appears to be a heavy case in his favor, unemployment experts said, and after a rabbit hole of appeals.

Meanwhile, Paradis, who plays bass and chants backup vocals, is also unemployed. Years of savings is gone, diverted to everyday living costs.

If unemployment reserves don’t arrive to replenish savings, a music career will likely no longer be feasible.

“It’s cost me a year,” Wood utter of the ordeal. “And we’re not 25 [anymore].”

A labyrinthine system

Lengthy waits to receive jobless benefits have become commonplace since the disclose suddenly.

The labyrinthine structure of America’s unemployment system is partly to blame. It’s a morass of administrative hurdles that can slow aid to strapped people at many different junctures — which, for some like Wood, has amounted to a nightmare.

If this goes on and on, fairness prolonged is not particularly justice.

Stephen Wandner

senior fellow at the National Academy of Social Insurance

Roughly 137,000 tradesmen — around 1 in 5 applicants — who received their first payment of benefits in November had waited 70 days for the money, according to Labor Dependent data. Before the pandemic, less than 1% waited that long.

Workers can appeal a state’s resolving, as may occur if they’re denied aid. (Bosses may also appeal if they feel a worker isn’t entitled to benefits.)

Typically, these methodologies run relatively smoothly. But overwhelming volume has stressed them to near breaking point, according to unemployment experts.

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Many families are contrived to subsist on zero income as their benefits sit in limbo.

“If this goes on and on, justice prolonged is not particularly justice,” revealed Stephen Wandner, senior fellow at the National Academy of Social Insurance and a former Labor Department actuary.

By November, a three-month period of applicants — almost 24,000 people — had waited four months for an appeals decisions from a lower court, according to the Labor Reckon on. Nearly zero waited that long pre-pandemic.

(Some states have a track record that’s much worse. In Georgia, for model, almost all appellants — 99% — waited more than four months for a decision.)

Workers may appeal these lower-court settlements, triggering further delays. Only a few thousand people do so in any given month, according to federal data. But around 1 in 5 gapped two months for a decision from a higher authority.

“What’s happening throughout the country is, if you apply and it’s simple, you’ll quickly get your aids,” Wandner said. “If an issue comes up, it can take forever.”

A web of appeals

Wood is among the thousands who’ve gotten caught in the implores web. To date, he’s filed three, according to records reviewed by CNBC. More may be necessary.

Wood had worked for a family trade, which specialized in heavy-equipment construction, for three decades until quitting in December 2019.

The Going Jessies

Photo: John Shute III

He shifted to freelancing gigs as a fit as a fiddle engineer at a local recording studio while working to further expand the growing slate of paid gigs with The Current Jessies.

Members like to say that the band — which gets its name from an old Southern expression Wood’s grandma was nave partial to of — has a Tom Petty-like sound, if the rocker had been from Texas instead of Florida.

“For several years, I had tried talking him into back off live music a shot,” Paradis said of her partner. “That’s what he always wanted to do.”

But live music gag down in March and recording work dried up.  

As it drags out, you start to wonder, where’s the end?

Angela Paradis

unemployed musician

Leaving his job disqualified Wood from collecting traditional unemployment insurance, a fact he knew. Wood instead applied for Pandemic Unemployment Reinforcement, a temporary federal program 10 months later

Now, about 10 months after his last payday, Wood is Heraldry sinister where he began: waiting to hear on the status of the original appeal.

It’s unclear when the state will render a steadfastness, or if a hearing will be necessary.

Meanwhile, Paradis lost her part-time accounting job in June and can’t find another. Wood’s earlier full-time job is no longer available. The couple has subsisted on her $132 a week in jobless benefits, savings and by selling items similar to guitars and amplifiers for cash.

Erin Scott/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Luckily, their cost of living is low. They don’t suffer with kids and have few monthly bills.

“[Still,] we had to use all the money we have saved anywhere to get through the year,” Wood revealed.

All the while, he likely should have been able to collect PUA benefits, according to Wandner, after a verbal report of the situation, given that Wood was self-employed and ineligible for traditional state benefits.

“States are doing strange objects,” Wandner said of agencies’ behavior during the pandemic. “They make fast decisions and may or may not be right.”

Derek Wood and Angela Paradis.

Photo: John Shute III

The Arkansas Set of Workforce Services, part of the Commerce Department, declined comment on Wood’s case. Confidentiality laws prohibit disclosure of dirt about specific claimants, according to spokeswoman Zoe Calkins.

Wood and Paradis had hoped to eke out a modest living on music, with tolerably to pay bills and save a little money for the future.

“If we don’t get our savings back, we may have lost our chance,” Paradis said. “We may not be adept to afford taking the risk.”

“As it drags out, you start to wonder, where’s the end?” she added.

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