The Jobcenter Berlin-Lichtenberg is located in the middle of prefabricated concrete slab buildings. Outside, the sky arches grey over the roofs. Inside, wide corridors with linoleum floors stretch out, it smells of coffee and authority. In the room with the number 248, the clerk Jonas Meironke is sitting at a large desk with two screens lit up. Wall calendar, file shelves, coffee cup. On the windowsill there is an aloe vera plant. Office wasteland. Jonas Meironke is a performance consultant. Every day he decides whether people get unemployment benefit II or not. The money everyone only names after his reform: Hartz IV.[“On this morning in May, his telephone rings often, it is the pandemic hotline. 18,000 employees have been designated by the Federal Employment Agency nationwide to answer telephone enquiries since the outbreak of the corona virus. The callers then want to know: What is the status of my application? Why hasn’t the money arrived yet? At the start of the lockdown in March, there were two million calls nationwide in one day. At peak times, that makes around 150 a second.”]
Between March and June this year, almost 177,000 people throughout Germany applied for basic security, almost 17,000 of them in Berlin alone. The number of Hartz IV recipients rose by 152,000 in June compared to last year, to 4,075 million recipients of unemployment benefit II. For example, because they were given notice to quit their 450-euro jobs or because the short-time work allowance is not enough to live on. They fell into a net of basic security – strained by people in ministries, but also by those sitting in duller offices. They are called clerks or technical assistants. Many of them have worked overtime and on Saturdays in recent months. Because a normal five-day week would not have been enough to deal with all the enquiries and applications they received. To transfer money to the account of those who suddenly had no more work or orders.
The Jobcenter Lichtenberg is responsible for about 37,000 people. Since March there are even more. 2,800 were added, the press office estimates. The work Meironke is doing now is the same as usual. The only difference is that now people are filing applications who don\’t do it otherwise. And more than in years. Does that stress him out? Meironke is shrugging. “No. That\’s his job, he says. “In times of crisis, to secure livelihoods “To pick up the pieces after the crisis. It\’s also a conscious decision to go to an authority that\’s in the front line when in doubt.” So he would have had more to do. “Among colleagues we jokingly say to each other: Well, let\’s go save the world again today.”
“Jobcenter Berlin-Lichtenberg, Meironke, good afternoon. What can I do for you?” A woman\’s voice on the other end of the line. “I\’ll see why you received lower benefits. “Can you give me the number of your convenience store?” If the number starts with 96208, then it belongs to Jobcenter Lichtenberg. It\’s a test, Meironke explains, to see if he\’s in charge.
Meironke is hanging up. “That was Mrs. Bröter*, she lives in the women\’s shelter,” he says. “It\’s lucky I answered the phone.” Because her file could only be opened by three people here in the team, who had been designated to handle such data protection-sensitive cases. One of them is Meironke. When women like Mrs. Bröter tell him how they were “beaten green and blue by their ex-husband. You get pee in your eyes.” Meironke says he has to keep his distance. the more people will confide in him. But: “We\’re not pastoral care.” He listens to the part of the story that\’s important for determining the merit cases. Whether people are entitled to money, and if so, how much. The rest of it is not his responsibility.
Mrs. Bröter is to hand in a document later. If she did not do so even after several weeks, her benefits would be reduced. That is the rule, says Meironke. According to the press office, there are no figures on how many applications the job centre accepts on average and how many it rejects. Meironke says that the legal barriers would help him in such a decision. “I have some legal discretionary powers. But in many places it\’s like this: Up to here and no further.”
Image source: https://bit.ly/30ZXKP0