'Anxiety through the roof': Millions of Californians may lose a week of unemployment benefits

Stephanie Sierra Image
Wednesday, December 30, 2020
Millions of Californians may lose week of unemployment benefits
Unemployment benefits for roughly 12 million Americans have lapsed after President Donald Trump delayed signing the $1.4 trillion COVID-19 relief package Sunday night.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Unemployment benefits for roughly 12 million Americans have lapsed after President Donald Trump delayed signing the $1.4 trillion COVID-19 relief package Sunday night.

The President signed the package a mere 18 hours after unemployment benefits expired from two government programs under the Care's Act.

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"The first thing that went into my head was, 'Oh my God, how am I going to pay my bills?'" said Vanessa Bain, a gig worker based in San Francisco.

"For the second time during the pandemic, I'm finding myself having to defer my car payment," said Bain. "I'm not able to cover the most basic expenses at this point."

Bain was relying on the aid she received through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, or PUA, which provides benefits to freelance and gig workers.

The program expired on Dec. 26, along with the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program after President Trump refused to sign the COVID-19 relief package.

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Gov. Gavin Newsom expects California to extend regional stay-at-home orders in two large swaths of the state, he said in a press conference Monday.

"It's really sad and pathetic that the President felt the need to throw a temper tantrum about this legislation that his staff was involved in crafting," said State Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco. "His delay in signing is going to cut a week of unemployment off for everyone, the extra $300 that will be chopped off."

The delay is costing Bain her meal budget this week. She's worried about paying her bills and feeding her family.

"My anxiety is through the roof, my depression is at an all-time high," she said.

ABC7's analysis of the latest data released from the U.S. Department of Labor shows California's unemployment rate was just over 6.6 percent on Dec. 12 with more than 1.1 million claims filed across the state.

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That's slightly below the unemployment rate reported close to eight percent a month ago, on Nov. 14. At that point more than 1.3 million claims were filed.

A clear sign the backlog isn't getting much better.

"We certainly need to modernize our systems so there aren't such delays," said Jesse Rothstein, the Director of the California Public Policy Lab at U.C. Berkeley.

"We are stuck with antiquated systems that we've been patching together to get through this year, rather than taking the time to really redesign them," Rothstein said.

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Alicia Orabella is the owner of Oakland-based Orabella Hair Studio. She is scared she won't be able to withstand the wait.

"When you initially log on, it often bumps you off, so you get that 'ahhh' feeling," Orabella said. "Now we're in limbo to see what happens next."

A fear Bain can understand.

"Are you scared?" ABC7's Stephanie Sierra asked.

"There hasn't been a moment since I have been unemployed, unable to work that I haven't been in absolute, complete and total panic," said Bain.

The new relief package extends both the Pandemic Unemployment Insurance and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation for up to 11 weeks. Both programs would close to new applicants on March 14.

ABC7's Lindsey Feingold contributed to this report.