Ron Hansen has heard the horror stories about applying for unemployment in the District of Columbia -- the long lines, the five-hour waits, the harassed clerks, the 7 a.m. reporting time -- and he wasn't looking forward to it.
But when it came his turn yesterday, he didn't have to go to the District's unemployment compensation office at 500 C St. NW and compete with 150 other applicants for service. Instead, the District's Department of Employment Services came to him.
Hansen was one of about 400 members of congressional staffs who will be out of work next month who had their advance applications for unemployment compensation processed on Capitol Hill in the past three days. They got service with a smile, on the spot, from six DES workers who eased them gently through the painful process of signing up for nonexsistant jobs and putting in their claims for benefits. Feeling right at home in the Cannon House Office Building and spared the crack-of-dawn crush of C Street, they breezed through a process in 30 minutes that often takes six hours.
Hansen, 35, a legislative aide to Rep. Claude Leach Jr. (D-La.), who lives in Alexandria but filed for unemployment compenstaion in the District because he works in the city. He said he had "talked to a lot of people who applied down at Fifth and C and they told me 'brace yourself.' But this is painless."
An out-of-work consulatant was turnedaway when she sought to file her unemployment aplication at 7:15 a.m. yesterday because the two clerks on duty at 500 C could not handle the crowds. She said she could not decide "which is worse, the fact that they took workers out of here and sent them up to Capitol Hill or the fact that the people up on the Hill think they're to good to come down here like the rest of us."
But DES defended the Hill service.
The puprose of diverting staff to Capitol Hill, they said, was not to give sdpecial favors to workers there but to help staff and applicants alike by keeping Hil workers who are losing their jobs from contributing to the problems at 500 C by descending on thatcenter all at once next month. It is standard policy at Department of Employment Services, they said, to go to the scene of "mass layoffs" by any employer and take applications on the spot. It was done when Doctors Hospital closed in 1979.
On Capitol Hill, it was a welcome decision.
Joanne Skiscim 24, who will be out of a job after only none months on Capitol Hill because her boss, Rep. Robert Giaimo (D-Conn.) is retiring, said that when she heard about the special unemployment service, "I ran right over her. Ohterwise I'd have to fight the crowds, and I heard it takes all day. Here we can just sauterright in."
Indeed they could. There was no waiting as solicitous city workers showed each new arrival how to register for employment and fill out the applications for monthly unemployment benefits. Seated at tables in small groups, they responded obediently as David Clark and other clerks gave them instructions: "If you earn your living in a non-farm activity, put a 2 in the box. "That means, 'Would you be willing to relocate?'
"Select your occupational category according to the code listed on the sheet in front of you and enter it on that line."
"It's been a benefit to the staff," Clark said. "If a large number of people come down to the building [500 C] at once, it becomes unbearable. The building is inundated as it is. Here we can deal with people as a group."
Matthew Shannon, deputy director of Employment Services, said that on a normal day, only six clerks are available to process 150 applications for unemployment benefits. He acknowledged that the center at 500 C is overcrowded and that the long waits are common, but he said those conditions should be eased when five regional applications centers open around the city early next year.
For those congressional staffers who were unable to take advatage of the three days of special service on Capitol Hill, the application office at 500 C Street will be open exclusively for them on Saturday, Jan. 10.