By JAMIE HANSEN
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A lifeline that helped many people who lost their jobs during the recession stay afloat could be cut at the end of the month.
That’s when extended unemployment benefits provided by the federal government since 2008 are set to expire, impacting more than 2,200 Sonoma County residents who receive them.
“There’s a lot of concern out there,” said Steven Czegus, manager of Sonoma County Job Link, which partners with the state Employment Development Department to help people apply for unemployment insurance and find jobs.
California offers workers who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own 26 weeks of unemployment insurance ranging from $40 to $450 a week. When the recession took hold in 2008 and caused unemployment to soar, the federal government stepped in to provide additional pay through something called Emergency Unemployment Compensation. The benefit has changed over the past few years, but in 2013, Californians were eligible for 37 extra weeks of federal unemployment pay.
But the program expires at the end of 2013 unless Congress moves to extend it another year — something it would have to do before it adjourns for the holidays.
“It helped me pay my bills,” said Steve Loveday, a 54-year-old Santa Rosa resident, of the $435 per week he’s been receiving in federal unemployment compensation.
He lost his information technology job, which he’d held for a year and a half, last December. Before that, he worked for another information technology company for 18 years. He said he’s applied for 40 to 50 jobs over the past year without success.
Loveday’s wife works as a housekeeper, bringing in about $250 a week, he said. The unemployment pay helped him make his house payments. However, Loveday isn’t worried about making those payments if the federal program expires. In August, he qualified for a program called Keep Your Home California that helps distressed home owners make their mortgage payments.
“I was thankful to get (the unemployment compensation),” he said, “but I didn’t expect it to last forever.”
Job Link’s offices were busy Thursday with people searching for work and filing for unemployment benefits. Many of those people stood to lose their federal unemployment insurance in just a few weeks.
Sebastopol resident Jorge Gonzales’s state unemployment insurance is set to expire at the end of the year. After that, he would have to apply for the federally extended compensation. He only recently learned that program is set to expire.
“I thought, ‘Wow, well, I don’t see getting a job in the near future,” said Gonzales, 32, who has struggled to find work since he lost his full-time job in Windsor about two years ago. “I’d love to get a job; I’d love to work tomorrow if I could,” he said. Unemployment insurance has helped him buy food and pay the bills.
“If I didn’t have it,” he said, “my situation would be a lot worse than it is now.”
Dori Hudson, an 82-year-old resident of Valley Village mobile home park in Rohnert Park, was more circumspect. In March, she lost her job of six years when the company she was working for closed. Since then, she’s been receiving unemployment compensation of about $840 a month, which she said nearly doubles the modest amount she receives from Social Security and her deceased husband’s pension. It allowed her to pay her cell phone bill and help her sons, who are also on fixed incomes.
“I already told them, Christmas is not going to be big this year,” she said. She’s been coming to Job Link looking for a part-time job that can supplement her retirement income, so far without success.
But, she said, she worries more about others than herself. “I have enough to survive,” she said. “But there are so many people who really need it, who have young children. I pray for them.”
As of Friday, Democratic leaders in the House of Representatives were pushing for Federal Unemployment Compensation to be extended as part of a year-end budget deal.
Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, along with other California lawmakers, wrote a letter to House Speaker John Boehner in late November, urging him to push for extending unemployment benefits another year.
In the meantime, the California Employment Development Department is notifying more than 222,000 long-term unemployed Californians that they will lose their benefits at the end of the year, Roberts said.
Job Link’s Czegus said that when people lose their unemployment pay, his agency often has them file for other government assistance programs.
He encouraged anyone facing the year-end cutoff to come in to Job Link’s offices on Capricorn Way.
“We can help as much as possible,” he said.
(You can reach Staff Writer Jamie Hansen at 521-5205 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter at @JamieHansen.)