Unemployment insurance appeal turns a couple’s life around

Legal Aid at Work clients Olivia and Jose Hidalgo

For a decade after leaving the U.S. Marine Corps in 2005, Jose Hidalgo worked full time in construction, supporting himself and his long-term girlfriend, Olivia; they had a nice home near Fresno, they bought a dog together, and they were building the life they wanted.

But in just a few months — after Jose took medical leave for surgery and was fired — the couple lost everything and became homeless. Now getting back on their feet, they credit Legal Aid at Work’s assistance with Jose’s unemployment insurance claim for providing critical stability.

Jose had enlisted almost straight out of high school, right after the 9/11 terror attacks in 2001, and proudly served four years as a helicopter mechanic. But in his civilian construction work, he was subject to harassment because of his military service and because he is Latino.

Then, while on leave for the surgery in 2015, Jose was scheduled to return to work before he recovered. He set a meeting with his boss to rectify the situation, but the company fired him. They also cancelled his health insurance (even though state law mandates continued coverage for employees when they take medical leave in circumstances like Jose’s).

A cascade of negative consequences followed. His Workers’ Compensation claim also was denied.

And he was denied unemployment benefits, which left him and Olivia without income. The couple was evicted, and they went to live in a homeless shelter. It felt like “rock bottom,” they said in an interview.

In 2017, Jose met Legal Aid at Work senior staff attorney Elizabeth Kristen at a “Stand Down” event in Fresno for veterans seeking community and a variety of services, including legal advice. She helped Jose with his unemployment insurance appeal and wrote a demand letter to his former employer, and he soon secured the unemployment benefits he should have received earlier.

“We called so many people who told us we didn’t have a case; it wasn’t until we found Legal Aid at Work that we got help,” Jose says. “Legal services gave me a light. I thought I was already broken, and I never thought I’d be able to receive help or seek compensation. Now I have hope that I should keep fighting to fix it.”

The benefits provided critical income as the couple was trying to get back on their feet. Jose also resolved his Workers’ Compensation claim, though other claims are still pending. Jose and Olivia are now working in the fields in Tulare County.

“We’re in the kind of place now where, since we’ve already been at rock bottom, each step we take at this point is for the better,” says Olivia. “Once we got support, things really started coming together for us. Now that we’re in a better position, we are both in a better place to be there for each other and help each other.”

Categorized as Blog Post
Quick Escape