State unemployment benefits at risk of expiring


The state EDD office estimates more than a million jobless Californians will somehow be impacted if Congress doesn't act. But by the end of the year, the AFL-CIO says, about a third of those will completely lose their benefits.

The Great Recession hit the construction industry hard. Millions have lost their jobs.

Jeff Davis, an unemployed sheet-metal worker, recently became a "99er," someone who has exhausted all 99 weeks of unemployment benefits: That's 26 weeks of normal benefits, plus five extensions.

"I'm not quite sure what's going to happen to me. I spent 20 years basically getting to where I was, and was happy hanging sheet-metal duct work all day. Now that's gone," said Davis.

The AFL-CIO estimates more than 300,000 Californians will be joining Davis if Congress doesn't act to extend benefits by the end of the year.

Washington is hung up on its usual fights.

Bud McKinney saw the same stalemate last year. He was at 97 weeks when he decided to retire rather than risk no money coming in at all.

"I could see that my benefits were running out," said McKinney. "I didn't see that Congress was acting to extend anything. I didn't know if they could extend anything. I was one of the lucky ones. I had a way out. I had my retirement."

McKinney's decision turned out to be the right one. Congress barely approved extensions last year, but not beyond 99 weeks.

But extending jobless benefits is costly.

Because the state's unemployment trust fund is broke, California has been borrowing money from the federal government for two years to keep the checks going.

Taxpayers forked over $300 million in interest to the feds this fall; another $400 million is due in nine months.

"That continues to be very costly to the state the longer we go without a solvency solution," said Loree Levy, Calif. Employment Development Dept.

Labor unions say the economy can't afford to let the benefits expire.

They are readying signs to picket Congressional offices across the country Thursday, urging lawmakers to set aside partisanship.

"Now is not the time to be playing a political game with unemployment benefits that are keeping people alive," said Jeff Davis.

It's not just the 99ers on the line. If you, for instance, are on your third extension, you cannot move into the fourth extension without the Congressional approval. The average extension benefit is about $300 a week.

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