Tuesday, February 2, 2010

This Economy

When did the economic decline begin? It's hard for me to be sure because at the beginning of it I was dealing with my father's illness and eventual death, followed by a lengthy grieving process. There are about 5 years that have blurred together. And I know that my husband and I have had an economic decline for about that same amount of time, but nailing down the precise timing is impossible at this point. Not important though, really. What IS important is that we have been working on our own economic recovery. (And, of course, my emotional and physical recovery has also been my focus recently.)

The first set back we had, financially, was when my husband had to leave his highest-paying job ever because he refused to commit medicare fraud. Fighting an employer who is committing fraud is very risky because you have to be able to prove it. But continuing your employment without a fight is not a viable option if you don't play along. They will find some reason to fire you or they will make sure you are dissatisfied enough to quit. And, of course, playing along is illegal, unethical and immoral. I fully supported his decision to leave. (It's like being stuck between a rock and a hard place.)

My husband started a new job right away, but for a lot less money doing clinical psychology instead of directing a program. But he was a lot happier. Unfortunately, our health insurance coverage was with his former job. I asked if I could add my family onto the plan at my job and my boss said no. I did not want to argue because I was having go out of town a lot to help take care of my father. So, we got our health insurance independently for my husband and kids and I was able to get myself covered at my work. All of this was 100% paid for out of pocket. It was about $800 per month. It was painful. We were not in good financial health before, but now we were steadily declining. After 4 months we found out that due to some timing error in the dropping of one insurance and adding the other, my husband and kids were not covered. So, I went to my boss and insisted that I be allowed to cover my family on the plan there. By this time I had gotten the auditors involved in the interpretation of the benefits policy, and they agreed with me that this should be allowed. It did, however, cost more than the independent coverage. Now, our total cost for all four of us was $1,100 per month. (We were almost among the uninsured, employed.)

Understand, the increase in the insurance cost for my employer was 100% REIMBURSED out of MY payroll deductions AFTER taxes. This sucks for me and has zero impact on my company. Anyone who can understand this is smarter than my boss. (He was mad that I mentioned this to our auditors. That was the beginning of the end for me.)

Another aspect of my employment that the auditors discovered (because I told them) during all of this health insurance issue was that I was supposed to be a part time employee, even though I actually worked at least 40 hours every week. The job had become more and more complicated with an increasing volume of grants, projects and transactions. (I had not complained about working so many hours because I actually cared about the organization and wanted to help them succeed in completing their mission.) All this hassle and inadequate project management to understand the concept of doing a job within budget and time parameters required by grant contracts. Add that to a complete inability of project management to provide accounting with documentation required to issue accurate reports upon the completion of each job. Not to mention an executive director not willing to address any of these problems.

After these discoveries were finally conveyed to the board of directors via the auditors (I counted this as a great victory because I had been telling my boss about these issues, but he apparently did not say anything to the board), the board decided that I needed an assistant. And they were not happy about the fact that this had to be brought to them by the auditors and not by the executive director. Of course, his response was to insist that he was unaware of the problems because I had not informed him. This is where my fury began. He hung me out to dry. I made sure to tell him that I did not appreciate the way he handled that situation with the board. He did not apologize. In fact, he said he didn't think he had anything to apologize for.

So, I cut my hours back to part time, interviewed, hired and trained an assistant. I no longer had any respect for my boss, but because I cared for the organization, I hoped that my boss and I could continue to work together. He was angry with me that he had been put on the hot seat in front of the board. I guess, he blamed me for that, even though he was told by me repeatedly (at least once per month) about the problems I had with the volume of work and the lack of cooperation from project managers, including him. Apparently, he lied so much that he believed his own lie. I really think that he convinced himself that he was not responsible for not knowing that no one working for him was doing their jobs.

My assistant was great! She understood very well what I meant by a lack of cooperation from the project managers. We worked together to improve the whole accounting system and we TRIED to teach proper procedures to the project managers. But without the authority to enforce compliance with procedures and a boss who was unwilling to enforce their compliance, we still had problems. At the same time, my boss continued a very strange practice of asking me to "find" money in the budget to absorb overages on some projects. Every time I would explain why that could not be done and what HE needed to do to amend a contract in order to change the scope so that it COULD include funding for another project, he never would do it. I would think that he understood and that we were both in agreement with where the projects stood and then next time we'd meet, I would have to go over the same things again.

So, after another audit where we were found to be sloppy in our tracking of project costs and finalizing reports for the grants received, my boss began to plot against me. He thought I didn't know what he was doing, but I figured out that the "secret" meetings he was having were with an "accounting consultant." I knew that he wanted to get the consultant to find something wrong with my work, so he could get rid of me. Because I am human and DO make mistakes at times, I was not comfortable with having someone come in with the specific purpose of finding my errors. I discussed with our auditors what was going on and asked if they had been consulted at all. It would make sense that if you wanted to find my mistakes you might want to check with the people who have been checking my work for the past couple of years. Being familiar with the organization and the procedures involved, they would be able to find my errors faster. Less time in the consultant world means lower fees. Of course, our auditors had not been consulted. This just reinforced my belief that my boss was trying to get me fired.

I did not feel I could go to the board and tell them that my boss was either not understanding the information given to him OR was choosing to ignore the information given to him. There was really no proof that I had given my boss all the information he needed. It was just his word against mine that I was withholding information from him. I did not want it to get ugly. And I did not want to destroy my career or his. (I figured it had to be one or the other.) So, I resigned.

I did not find a job first. In fact, I did not find a job for about 6 months. Luckily, we had been able to transfer all four of us over to my husband's insurance by this time. However, the loss of my income was devastating to our financial well-being. The bills were piling up fast. I was able to get some part time work at Target. A CPA working as a cashier at Target. It was quite humbling. And it did not help a whole lot with paying bills and it did interfere with my job search. When I called a former employer to ask for a reference, I ended up talking to him about a job. It was part time, paid a lot less than my previous job, was a much longer commute, but was better than not having a job. So, I took it!

As my husband and I were struggling to crawl out of the financial hole we were in, my current employer responded to their own economic crisis by implementing a 15 % pay cut for their employees. Well, okay...

Did I mention that my oldest child is in college and my youngest goes to Catholic school? We have tried not to disrupt their lives too much. We can't afford certain activities, clothes, gadgets, but they have not been deprived of anything essential. (Unless you count movies, video games and eating out as essential.)

Schools require annual doctor visits, dental and eye exams. The schools don't care if you do not have dental or vision care insurance. So, the kids get to see the doctors, but my husband and I do not. So, it was time for our younger son to get braces. Good luck paying for that. And the car our older son had been driving died. So, we needed to find another used car for him. And my husband's car had been past due for an inspection, but we kept putting it off because we knew it needed more than we could afford. Christmas was coming. And we still owed a balance on our prior year school taxes. And we were out of heating oil because we could not afford to refill the tank. So, my husband was going to buy kerosene every couple of days just to get us through. And our "grace period" for various creditors had expired and the telephone was ringing all the time with collection calls. And my car needed to be inspected by the end of the next month and it was going to need tires and brakes to pass. And it was cold in our house a lot.

That's about where we are today. I don't know how we are making it from one day to the next except for the grace of God. And through it all, my husband and I love each other and we love our kids and we keep God in the middle of it all. It's scary, but we keep praying and we believe that God will provide and that's all we can do.

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