1M Californians will lose benefits day after Christmas if Congress doesn't pass COVID-19 relief bill

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- The race for a COVID-19 vaccine is reaching the finish line - but so are unemployment benefits for millions of Americans.

Unless Congress acts fast, nearly one million Californians will suddenly lose their unemployment benefits on the day after Christmas - casting yet another bleak shadow over the 2020 holiday season.

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And it's not too far ahead. Congressional leaders are still bickering over a possible relief package. It means thousands of gig workers, contractors, the self employed, and part timers - would lose the one lifeline they have.

"This is my last haircut and color for the year," Alicia Orabella is closing her Oakland hair salon. "I'm really bummed and I'm scared," she says.

With the latest shutdown, Orabella is counting on unemployment to kick in.

"A little anxiety today for sure. I kept looking at the clock," Orabella says.

But without quick action from Washington, that lifeline will suddenly drop off.

Andrew Stettner studies unemployment policies as a senior fellow at the Century Foundation in Washington. "The benefits will actually end the day after Christmas. And it's a hard cutoff," he says.

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He says many don't see what's coming.

"It is kind of a cliff that people were ignoring. They're starting to become aware of it, but I think it's gonna hit hard as we get closer to the holidays," says Stettner.

Benefits will end abruptly on Dec. 26 for workers getting Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, and a 13-week extension of benefits - the lifelines known as "PUA" and "PEUC."

"Anyone on any of the programs that have a 'P' in them, PEUC or PUA, those benefits will not be available after Dec. 26," Stettner says.

That means benefits end for millions of gig workers, contractors, the self employed, business owners, part timers and caregivers - groups that were not covered under traditional unemployment.

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It also ends a special 13-week extension for those who ran out of the usual 26 weeks of benefits. That goes away even if you didn't use all the extra weeks.

"People are going to be in a very negative position. We need to underscore: poverty is going to go up. Hardships are going to go up. Children are going to be hurt," says Stettner.

The California Policy Lab estimated 750,000 Californians will lose benefits without a new relief package. However, that number could easily top one million due to the latest shutdown.

However, those on "regular state unemployment" won't face these cutoffs - at least not yet.

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They can get a 13-week extension under a program called "FED-ED,'' which kicks in during periods of high unemployment. That will cover most Californians until mid-March.

But - it would still leave millions with no income, and leaders still bickering.

"Why are they fighting? We're all out here choking," says Alicia Orabella.

Advocates are urging workers to apply now for other benefits like Medicaid and food stamps. If you're a gig worker or contractor about to lose benefits, we're here to help; contact 7 On Your Side at the link below.

Take a look at more stories and videos by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.

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