Unemployed? Blogging? Don't Put Ads On Your Site Or You Might Lose Your Unemployment Check

from the well-how-about-that dept

For quite some time, many people credited part of the rise of blogging to the fact that many folks in the tech industry found themselves out of work in the wake of the dot com bubble bursting. Suddenly there were lots of tech geeks, who were always online and had stuff to say — and now plenty of extra time to say it. It didn’t take long for a whole slew of tools to pop up to make that happen, and voila, blogging revolution. I’m not sure I really believe that story, but there have been some suggestions that the current financial crisis my lead to something similar, with the unemployed speaking up online. Except… you might not want to do that if you’re unemployed and in New York. Forbes is reporting that a lawyer’s unemployment benefits were greatly reduced, because his blog earned about $1/day in ad revenue. The whole thing sounds like a bureaucratic nightmare, with NY State asking her to get a form from her new “employer” who didn’t exist. Then NY Department of Labor started giving her all sorts of contradicting information, and eventually an “investigation” into her “business” — during which time her unemployment benefits were stopped entirely. She’s now pulled the Google AdSense from her blog (total earned over the life of the blog $238.75).

It’s really stunning how various labor departments are simply ill-equipped to handle a modern labor force. Reading through the story of this lawyer is not at all surprising. While most of our employees are in California, we’ve had employees in a few other states, and none of them seem to know how to deal with the idea that people in their state might work remotely for a company in another state. Just last week, we were dealing with one particular state, where we had an employee who hasn’t worked for us in nearly two years — but the state insists we still owe taxes for him and on our “office” in that state, for every day since he no longer worked for us. We’ve written letters, filled out forms, spoken to people at the local labor department — and all to no avail. Every couple of months, they send us an updated statement insisting we still owe them money for someone we haven’t employed in ages. All of these labor departments are designed based on an old model whereby there was a big company that had a presence in the state, and employed people. They can’t handle the idea that someone might work remotely or that people might make some other income from a blog or other source. One of these days, perhaps they’ll update their systems, but until then, it’s just a bureaucratic nightmare.

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Comments on “Unemployed? Blogging? Don't Put Ads On Your Site Or You Might Lose Your Unemployment Check”

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another mike (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Virginia should be able to handle a resident who works in a different state. Imagine, for example, an Alexandrian commuting across the river to Bethesda, MD, every day.
It’s the District and the Greater DC Metro region. I’m sure they have something in place for this sort of work situation. A state resident working for an out-of-state employer; it can’t be the first time they’ve seen this.

scofflaw says:

Sales Taxes too...

Back in the late 80’s-early 90’s I was riding the Apple LaserWriter/Aldus PageFaker Desktop Publishing wave and did business with multi-state clients. I dutifully collected and remitted sales tax in my home state.

The problem was Ohio and New York, and this concept they had of “nexus”. They didn’t believe that I had NONE with their states.

I never set foot in either state. UPS did my shipping. My LZR1560 (an AWESOME early 11×17 laser printer, remember?) was not in their state, my 7 Macs were not in their state, and my Dove FaxModem zipped proofs across state lines over Ma Bell.

basterds. always wantin somethin from everyone…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Or you know, if you have a skill marketable enough to write a blog that actually makes a little money, then you probably have a skill marketable enough to stop blogging long enough to go out and get a real job.

So yeah, stupid situation, but sounds like this person wouldn’t be unemployed for long anyway.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

This is the stupidest post ever. “If you write a blog that makes money than you have what it takes to go get a job if you stop blogging.”

Did you read the article, professor? What it has to do with is that the unemployment law is by definition anti-entrepreneurial in nature.

What the hell does America care if a person gets off of UE via getting another corporate hell job or create something new, so long as they are WORKING and SUPPORTING THEMSELVES.

Anonymous Coward says:

For a state that supports ultra liberals as much as they do, one would think that their unemployment benefits would be better. They suck. I live in NJ but have to collect NY Unemployment (that is where I worked) and even NJ has better benefits.

I guess they just support paying for other people when it doesn’t come out of their pocket.

bubbadog99 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

There are a lot of liberals living here in NY, but don’t be mistaken, the state government and the politicians that run it are as pompous and dishonest as state governments go. It’s tax and spend in NY, but why waste the money on UI insurance (NY’s max UI amount of $405 is one of the lowest in the country), when it could be given to crooked state assemblyman and legislators, for all of their pet projects and benefactors?

Sarah Black (profile) says:

Reduced by 25% = "greatly"?

“unemployment benefits were greatly reduced”

Since the average unemployment benefits is $292 a week and the maximum in only a handful of states is $475 a week ($400 being the maximum in most US states)…

I can see that reporting on your weekly unemployment continued claim form that your earnings of $100 (through ads) during a week’s period would mean $100 will be deducted from your weekly befits. That should not be much of an issue and to my best of understanding, that is basically how it works.

The same could be said that $100 out of $405 (in NY) could also mean that “unemployment benefits were greatly reduced”… by about one quarter… for that weekly benefit amount. The following week resets to your full weekly benefit’s amount.

That being said, if you report an amount on your claim form, your weekly benefit will be reduced by that much unless the amount you are reporting is higher than the maximum amount your weekly benefit is for, in which case, you will not receive any benefits for that week.

But to say, “greatly reduced”, can be read as a shocking amount until you actually know all the numbers involved. In this case, “greatly reduced” equals “by 25%”.

At least there is a federal stimulus payment of $25/week being added to people’s unemployment checks that does not get touched.

Marcel de Jong (profile) says:

Re: Reduced by 25% = "greatly"?

Her’s got completely scrapped during the time that her ‘business’ was under investigation.
So from 405 to 0, that’s ‘greatly reduced’ in my view. (Yes initially it went from 405 to about 300 according to the article, but later on it went to 0.)

And since when is ‘earning’ $1.30 a day from ad-revenue on a blog considered work or even owning a business?
Mind you, she didn’t earn $100 a week, she earned about $9.10 a week, but didn’t get it each week. Google only pays out per $100.
Using the numbers from the article you get a picture like this:
Week 1-10: $0 extra income.
Week 11: $100 extra income.
Week 12-21: $0 extra income.
Week 22: $100 extra income.
So after 11 weeks ‘work’ she got $100.

The bigger problem would be the contradicting info from the NY DOL.

Sarah Black (profile) says:

Re: Re: Reduced by 25% = "greatly"?

I believe her mistake in this was filling in the “reason for no longer working” box incorrectly. she may have used the example of, “still working” as her reason, rather than “residual income” or even, “temporary work”.

The basic understanding of “Employer” vs “Payment from” means completely different things in the eyes of the government.

I am pretty sure at this point that she was not employed by Google at any time during her unemployment claim. So to fill out the box that says “Employer Name” or even the one labeled, “Reason for no longer working”, would be the wrong answer… even though she meant well.

The Continued Claim form does have an error on it, in the fact that it’s required question, “Did you work or earn money”, “Employer Name (required)” and “Reason for No Longer Working (required)” insists that all money earned is received from an employer and that you were employed to be able to have received that money… Rather than receiving money from any source of gambling winnings, gift or in this case, residual income.

Peter says:

Re: Re: Re: Reduced by 25% = "greatly"?

Well, her “Employer” was herself.
She was self-employed as a blog-writer during that period.
To the tune of 1 dollar per day.
(so she was less than part time employed)

Her business was Creating content on the web, and earning money provided by Ad revenue. Her business (self employed) outsourced the Ad side of the business to Google.

Makes perfect sense. She was never “employed” by google, and the system doesn’t imply that she was.

Anonymous Coward says:

Sorry, I can’t get worked up over this. In fact I’m kind of surprised they didn’t get fined a large some of money. When you claim unemployment and other welfare type systems from the government they ask you how much income you have. If you provide an incorrect number, many times they can simply turn it all off and make you restart at a later date with correct information. She probably wrote down 0 income, they pull records and find that she had income makes between $30 and $100 a month and reduced her benefits, then made the decision to force a whole renewal.

Really, this sounds completely fair. The information provided to get my money from the government to sustain her was false or inaccurate, which I would expect to make them take notice. Second, running anything with income is income, regardless of if it was $1 or $1,000, it was unreported money that was coming in. If she was smart she would have incorporated or something so that the money coming in came into a tiny company or something and not her own pocket.

For once the government almost looks like it tried to look after my money… almost. I guess it’s better than their general strategy of wasting it all so fast I can’t demand anything back.

Hulser (profile) says:

Re: Re:

When you claim unemployment and other welfare type systems from the government they ask you how much income you have.

Granted, given the current system, the government was within its right to investigate. However, I think the point is that the overall system is not set up for the new types of income streams that are possible now given the Internet. If this lawyer wanted to do the right thing and report her AdSense blog income, what would she have put? As I understand it, you won’t know how much you make until after you make it.

And even after the investigation started, it sounds like the government was ill-equiped to handle her situation. She didn’t have an “employer” or a “business” in the traditional senses of the words. But that was the lens through which they viewed every scenario. (“To a man with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.”)

I’m not trying to absolve the lawyer all responsibility. But if you want to actually encourage people to report their income, maybe your system should be set up in such a way as to support the kinds of income which are in common use today.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re:

When you claim unemployment and other welfare type systems from the government they ask you how much income you have. If you provide an incorrect number, many times they can simply turn it all off and make you restart at a later date with correct information. She probably wrote down 0 income, they pull records and find that she had income makes between $30 and $100 a month and reduced her benefits, then made the decision to force a whole renewal.

Er, you should try reading the actual article. The exact opposite happened. She was quite diligent in reporting the tiny income made via Google AdSense, and the Dept. of Labor couldn’t deal with it, and basically told her she shouldn’t have mentioned that money at all.

Really, this sounds completely fair.

Except it’s the opposite of what actually happened.

Second, running anything with income is income, regardless of if it was $1 or $1,000, it was unreported money that was coming in.

Again, she did report it. That was the problem.

Hulser (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Except it’s the opposite of what actually happened.

Well, to be fair, the fact that the trouble started when she tried to report that she recieved income which was not documented on her original unemployment paperwork is a rather significant piece of information that was not provided in the TD post. Yeah, I know that reading the linked article will always provide more information, but this single fact changes — at least for me — the feeling of the story. I believe that including this fact in the TD post would have made it much more clear that she was trying to do the right thing rather than allowing for the possibility that she just didn’t think of the AdSense revenue as “income” or, worse, that she intentionally tried to hide it.

I read, therefore I don't make asinine comments says:

Commenting without reading the article makes you look ST00PID


The suppositions you make in your comments could have been avoided had you actually READ the article that Mike linked to.

It’s clear she wasn’t trying to get over. The only reason the Guvmint even knew about the income was because of her reporting it.

I enjoy the articles posted here on TechDirt, but I’ve noticed that the commenters are getting lazier and lazier.

Hulser (profile) says:

Re: Commenting without reading the article makes you look ST00PID

It’s clear she wasn’t trying to get over. The only reason the Guvmint even knew about the income was because of her reporting it.

Assuming that by “@15”, you are referring to me — you do ralize that in threaded mode, you can’t see the post numbers, right? — what is “ST00PID” about my comment? Nothing in my comment presumed that she was “trying to get over” on the government. Even someone with the best intentions can get caught up in the contradictory requirements of the government. Her not properly documenting her income on her unemployment paperwork may have just been a simple oversight or a function of the form not being set up correctly.

Maybe instead of making a non-specific insult to three people at the same time, you could try out that “(reply to this comment)” link — the results of which you can see in threaded mode, BTW — and, oh…I don’t know…actually provide some specific justifications for your opinion.

SB says:


When you report your unemployment each week in NYS, it dosnt ask your income except to ask if you made more than $407 (around that amount, dont remember the exact number) Besides that it just asks number of days you worked. Since this lawyer didn’t actually work, she probably entered 0, and “no” for the question if she earned more than $407. and NYS unemployment is messed up. I worked a 1 day contract job, and because of that I made $30 less than I would have if I hadn’t worked the job and only took in unemployment. Fortunatly I start a new full time job next week and hopefully wont have to go back on unemployment for quite a while.

van buren says:

Her problem was that she reported it. She is only supposed to report WAGE income. You don’t have to report other types of income, like investment income, or rent income for renting out a room in your house. She wasn’t employed by Google. The payment from Google was income, and was therefore taxable, but it wasn’t wage income. She was unemployed, and until she got employed she was entitled to her benefits.
An analogy would be if a local restaurant asked her if they could put an advertising sign up on her front lawn, and pay her $25 a month for it. That’s not wage income.
And yes, “earned income” means “wages”.

Anonymous Coward says:

Key issue

This is not about if NY did the right thing, or if NY is up to date with the internet. She says she is working. She is generating additional income. It is a ongoing business, not a “day labor” like doing housework.

Yes, it is not making much money, but she has filled papers trying to explain, and screwed it up, she now needs lawyer now to clean it up. Maybe she should fire herself and get new lawyer.

Michael (profile) says:

Old Boundries only relevant because they used to exist.

The old boundaries are only relevant in the modern world because they used to exist. What really needs to happen is one set of common core rules that apply to everyone. Rules like these:

1) Neutral effect on environmental stability, or paying a penalty sufficient to outsource the task (with some profit).

2) Healthcare coverage mandatory for whatever constitutes a ‘full’ work schedule and pro-rated otherwise; any person would always have any public options including a government one, plus the options from any of their employers.

3) Standard ‘old’ laws, the basic concept of owning scarce resources with a provision that any new life you bring in to the world is granted a proportionate share of your resources. No murder, slavery, etc.

4) A recognition that community works projects are good ideas and allowing involved communities to establish ‘local government’ level support for them. Parks, Roads, other utility districts (water, sewer, power, data) to compete with any other local districts and private companies.

In all of this, old collections are largely meaningless. Countries, states/provinces, even cities only serve to add needless complication and friction to the business of advancing as a species and only minimally service the needs of getting by.

Anonymous Coward says:

I think that if a blog doesn’t assert intellectual property on their material and they don’t go suing people for infringement and they don’t charge people for their material then they should be considered a non profit charitable organization whereby the money they make are considered donations subject to a tax write off. Think of someone who writes free software and accepts donations, those donations are to cover costs. Or any non-profit charitable organization that receives donations, those donations are subject to tax write offs and are considered to cover costs.

The moment a blog requires people to pay for its material or the moment it starts asserting intellectual property then it should become a for profit organization subject to taxes.

Also, a blog should not be allowed to assert intellectual property only after the blogger has stopped blogging or later on in the game and get away with paying fewer taxes in the long term as a result. If you blog for a year as a non profit organization without asserting intellectual property and all of a sudden you want stop blogging or you want to start charging for previous posts and start asserting intellectual property on what you have already blogged about then you should have to pay all of the taxes you would have owed had you paid taxes as a for profit organization from the beginning plus interest and penalty. Or better yet, you have already given people the impression that you were a non profit organization during the time that you did blog as one and people have already used your material and depended on it not being subject to intellectual property so you should not be allowed to assert intellectual property on material after you have posted it as a non profit organization.

But of course I do not expect our government to do anything to encourage the benefit of society, this is just the ideal.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

sp /

all of a sudden you want stop blogging or you want to start charging for previous posts and start asserting intellectual property on what you have already blogged about…

/ all of a sudden you want stop blogging and you want to start charging for previous posts and/or start asserting intellectual property on what you have already blogged about…

pete (user link) says:

California Unemployment Trends - September 2009

California Unemployment Trends Visualized as a Heat Map:
California Unemployment in September 2009 (BLS data)

versus California Unemployment Levels 1 year ago

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