Jobless benefits could help CA's unemployed

September 23, 2009 7:07:50 PM PDT
Congress hopes to extend unemployment benefits for people who can't find work. That will help tens of thousands of Californians who are facing a financial crisis in the next few months.

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California Employment Development Department offices across California are filled with people who have been without a job for more than a year.

Congress is working on a fourth extension of unemployment benefits, boosting the total number of eligible weeks to 92. Jobless benefits are normally 26 weeks.

"What Congress is doing is addressing the fact that there's a lot of people that have been looking, have not been able to come up with something, and they need some kind of sustenance to help them through this period," said Loree Levy from the EDD.

That will help 66,000 Californians who are set to run out of benefits this month, plus another 100,000 who will need it by the end of the year.

Curtis McInnis is relieved help will be available longer. The heating and air conditioning repairman has been out of work since June of 2008. He would be eligible for the extension Congress is debating, if his current one, which just got approved yesterday, runs out.

"It gets me going for another three months, December 13th. Then I have to reapply for another extension," said McInnis.

The unemployment extension could be timely. Stores are usually gearing up for holiday hiring about now, but 40 percent of retailers surveyed by the human resources consulting firm, the Hay Group, said they expect to hire up a quarter fewer seasonal workers than last year.

That's because consumers are geared to spend less.

"Normally, we do the classic 'spend way too much.' So this year, we're going to rope it in and make everything," said shopper Molly Eleen.

"Lower spending translates into fewer people needed in the stores," said UC Berkeley labor economist Professor Harley Shaiken. "Few people hired, fewer consumers out there. The recovery itself slows. That's the danger we face."

At some point, the legislature is going to have to address the state's unemployment fund, which is broke and paying out using federal loans to pay out benefits. By the end of next year, it's projected to be nearly $18 billion in the hole.

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