Congress set to vote on unemployment benefits


California's employment development offices are still packed during this recession with people looking for work online, in job binders, flyers, anywhere.

Juan Castro is one of the state's 400,000 long-term unemployed. His unemployment checks stopped more than a month ago because Congress failed to renew another extension of benefits. It would have been his fourth extension.

"I'm pleading to Democrats as well as Republicans," he says. "You guys need to come together and America needs you right now."

On Tuesday, a crucial vote is expected in the Senate, where they will try for a fourth time to extend unemployment benefits. President Obama urged passage, especially harping on Republicans who have concerns about the $34 billion price tag.

"We've got a responsibility to help them make ends meet and support their families, even as they're looking for another job," he said.

If sworn in on time, a new West Virginia Senator is expected to give Democrats the votes needed to overcome a Republican-led filibuster. Still, until passage happens, Californians are anxious.

"In a couple of weeks, my mortgage is due and I've got to come up with the money for my mortgage in a couple of weeks," says Michele Baird, also long-term unemployed.

While the latest Congressional action could help the jobless move from one extension tier to the next, another 150,000 Californians will not benefit because they have exhausted all five extensions, 99 weeks.

"Once you've come up at the end of those 99 weeks, or close to that, there's nothing further for anyone," says Loree Levy with the California Employment Development Department.

The state's economy could be struggling even more as fewer checks are spent. California had been paying out $90 million a day in benefits. Without the extensions, it is down to about $65 million a day.

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