News Column

Unemployment Compensation Nears Deadline

Dec. 21, 2012

Emily Shapiro

Unemployment Benefits

Porterville resident Adrian Garcia, who has received federal unemployment benefit checks for the past five weeks, is worried.

"I'm scared, because some of my family is receiving benefits from them [the federal government]. It's gonna be awful for them and for me. I'm not working," said Garcia.

Garcia is just one of the 5,296 Tulare county residents who could lose their Emergency Unemployment Compensation benefit if a deal is not reached in the so-called fiscal cliff talks in Washington, D.C.

President Obama has been working with Congress to come up with a spending plan to avoid the nation going into default. Part of that discussion is extending federal jobless benefits for millions of Americans.

"If you're on a federal unemployment tier, then at the end of the month that would be terminated unless Congress acts," said Dan Stephens, the information officer for the state Employment Development Department.

As of now, the last checks will be distributed the week of Dec. 29. According to the EDD, state benefits will still be supplied.

Federal benefits can last up to 73 weeks, while state unemployment insurance benefits last up to 26 weeks, making the overall unemployment benefit as much as 99 weeks. Federal benefits are given only to those who have exhausted their state unemployment insurance.

Both state and federal benefits in California, according to Dan Stephens, average $297 weekly.

In September 12,432 people in Tulare County received state and federal benefits. Those benefits in September amounted to $11,902,150.

In an email to The Recorder on Dec. 19, Stephens wrote that as of Oct. 30, 2,789 Tulare County claimants have exhausted all their benefits. However other programs are available for those who need them.

"With an immediate cutoff, claimants can apply for other state and federal programs such as disability insurance or public assistance. We also encourage the jobless to visit EDD's One-Stops, located in each county, for help with job searches," wrote Stephens.

However, for those facing a cutoff, the prospects are finding a job or some other form of assistance. Finding a job may be difficult as the unemployment rate in Tulare County was 14.4 percent in October.

At FoodLink, Executive Director Sandy Beals is realistic when it comes to the effect of the cuts.

"We live in terror that the current benefits won't be refunded. We're struggling to provide enough food as it is," said Beals. "FoodLink is dependant upon the local public. If the public can come through with help we'd certainly like to help people. If they don't, there's not much we can do."

The organization is currently providing 9,800 families enough food for the holidays as well as emergency food.

Beals said that the pantry will be very empty on Jan.1. She strongly encourages the affected population to write to President Barack Obama, John Boehner, the Speaker of the House, and Congressman Devin Nunes to let them know of the effect the cuts will have on them.

Jason Britt, director of Human Services for the Tulare County Health and Human Services Agency, is concerned about the people who don't qualify for certain programs.

"Not everybody who receives unemployment will be eligible for CalWORKS. We may have a good number of childless adults or adults whose kids are over 18, who would only receive food stamps. According to Britt, this portion of the population would not be able to pay the rent or utilities. Economically speaking, he said, that more money will be lost in Tulare County.

"The grant amount for CalWORKS may not be as much as they get on unemployment," said Britt.

Britt said that if an agreement is not reached and a family of three loses their income, then under CalWORKS they would receive a maximum of $608 a month.

Another concern is how Congress will act.

"What I am most worried about is that Congress at some point will be open to further shredding, or eroding, the safety net to save money. This has some very grave consequences for counties like Tulare that depend on these programs," said Britt.

His advice for those affected by the ending of the budget cuts is to visit TulareWorks to see what other benefits are available to them.

A resource available to those affected is the Employment Connection in Porterville. Junior Russo, the Porterville site manager, estimates that foot traffic will be heavier.

"We will have more people coming in looking for help. It'll be busy," said Russo.

The organization helps job seekers by providing, among other services, job searches, workshops for resumes, dressing for success and computer classes to monolingual persons.

Russo said that workshops geared to those who have been unemployed over a long term period will be offered.

Even if a deal is reached, the future remains unclear.

"We don't know. Further extensions are up to Congress and the president. Last year, as the extensions neared expiration, Congress and the president extended benefits for two months," wrote Stephens.


Distributed by MCT Information Services

Source: (c) 2012 The Porterville Recorder (Porterville, Calif.)

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