After having received one darkly conspiratorial comment and one attempt at a helpful comment that directed me to the very blog post I was asking questions about, I decided to just go ahead and try the state's unemployment insurance website. All the concerts I'm scheduled to review for the last three weeks and the next month have been canceled, so since I'm paid for reviewing that makes me a genuine employment victim of the epidemic.
I managed to get through it, no thanks to the website which kept dumping me out of the system so that I'd have to log back in. Fortunately it saved my draft, but not the last page I'd completed as of any given dump, so I'd have to fill that out again.
And sure enough, at the beginning when it asks for the reason for your unemployment, COVID-19 is listed on the drop-down list. So I felt like I was in business.
Unfortunately, it got tougher than that. Most puzzling was way near the end, when it asks a separate question of whether you're unemployed because of a natural disaster. Well, uh, yeah. Pull-down list. Choose "public health" as the reason. (Others are things like fire, earthquake, flood.) But there's nothing in there specifically about COVID-19. There's a free-text box for an explanation, so I explain it there. The fact that they didn't put a specific COVID-19 option here makes me uneasy.
But that wasn't the beginning of it. First trouble was back up near the start when it asks how much I'm paid per hour. I'm not paid per hour, I'm paid by the piece. This is a standard form of compensation; I don't see why they don't give it as an option. If I'm working by the hour, are my hours only when I attend the concert, or does the time I spend writing the review count? Since I'm not paid by the hour, nobody's keeping track of my hours writing, least of all me. And I rarely write at one continuous sitting. I used the hours spent at the concert, which are typically two hours per gig.
Then I had to put in my other employer, the university press for which I co-edit Tolkien Studies, since I get paid royalties every year and pay taxes on them. Hours per week? At a wild guess, I spend half my time on that, so let's say 20. That puts my hourly pay rate down to something truly microscopic. That's even assuming my royalty figure is anywhere near correct. I don't have last year's figure; all the paperwork is currently with the accountant who's doing my taxes. I used the previous year's figure.
Nor was there any way to indicate I'm still working on that. I had to put today down as the last date. Am I ineligible for UI because I'm still working half-time, if it is half-time? Does the fact that my earnings per hour are truly derisory cancel that out? That's not even mentioning the impossibility of reconstructing the identity of the first day I worked at either job, another weird thing they want to know (I've been writing for SFCV for over 15 years, editing for TS over 7): approximations are not allowed. Or the surreal experience of trying to find a category that my employer's business is in. Nothing for publications of any kind. For a moment I thought "culture" was the answer - we cover cultural events - until I picked it and discovered they'd cut off the first four letters of agriculture. Christ. In the end I picked "Other."
Does the fact that I had to fudge, invent wild guesses, make up things, and even give totally misleading information on the form in order to fill it out at all make me liable for anything? At least, at the very very end, there was an evaluation form. In the free text box I said there was no way to indicate I'm paid by the piece, and that I could find no way to inquire about this. And for a rating of the site I picked "Very Poor."