Jobless Californians to lose unemployment benefits if no Congressional action

SACRAMENTO

While millions of people are looking for work, more stress is possibly on the horizon. Unemployment checks are scheduled to end at the end of the year for 400,000 Californians, who are beyond the normal 26 weeks of benefits and receiving extensions.

Terri Holt is an unemployed medical assistant who's been look for work for a year. She is worried.

"I don't feel good about it. Nobody knows if it's actually going to happen," said Holt. "If you don't do an extension, where does that leave us?"

California has already paid out more than $40 billion in jobless benefits over the past four and a half years. The system's so broke, the state is surviving on federal loans to keep benefits afloat.

Congress has approved a couple of extensions during the recession, but it also has shortened the maximum period from 99 weeks to 73 weeks.

Add to that, the feeling among more and more lawmakers that federal assistance is unsustainable and approval of yet another extension isn't such a sure thing.

The state is sending out warning letters.

"It is scary, and we know that people really rely on this money," said Patti Roberts, California Employment Development Department. "It's up to Congress to make that decision on whether the extensions are extended one more time. But our role is to make sure that everybody knows so they can plan accordingly."

Advance notice is little comfort to Terri Holt.

No matter if she still hasn't reached her maximum 73 weeks, she'll be cut off along with everyone else on extensions.

"That's my only source of income at the moment," said Holt.

Like so many other Californians, Holt has lots of questions. But getting questions answered won't be easy. A new report by the State Auditor found the new phone system hasn't improved service.

In fact, through the fiscal year that ended in June, of those who asked to speak to an agent, 84 percent were unsuccessful.

"We're pushing buttons, 20 buttons, and then they tell you 'Too many calls on hold, please call back later,'" said Holt.

People seem to have better luck getting their emails answered.

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