The Breakdown

Explaining Southern California's economy

53,865 in Los Angeles county set to lose unemployment benefits

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For 53,865 people in Los Angeles County, this week is likely bringing less holiday joy than dread. That’s the number of people – according to the Washington-based National Employment Law Project – who are set to lose their federal unemployment benefits on Saturday.

At least one of those people is trying to think about the silver linings.

“I guess the good news is that I’ve been on a weight loss program so I eat less and less all the time,” said a former contractor at NASA, who was laid off last year, in part because of sequestration. (He asked that his name not be used)

“I feel abandoned,” he said. “The government just doesn’t have its act together.”

This former contractor says he’s been receiving $1600 a month since the end of the summer, when his state unemployment expired.

With the federal unemployment checks ending, he’s going to have to rely entirely on his wife’s income and what he has left in his savings account. The problem is, the account is now almost empty.

“Ever since I lost my job I’ve been slowly peeling back discretionary spending,” the contractor said.

In all, more than 1.3 million unemployed people nationwide – 222,000 in California alone -- are scheduled to have their benefits cut off.

The federal unemployment program started during the depths of the recession in 2008 to give the long-term unemployed benefits when their state payments ran out, which happens after 26 weeks in California.

Since 2008, more than $41 billion in extension benefits have been paid out in California. A third of the more than 712,000 people who receive unemployment benefits in the state are long-term unemployed whose federal extensions are scheduled to run out Saturday, according to the California Employment Development Department.

“These are folks who are by definition already stretched to the limit financially,” said Maurice Emsellem, Director of the Access and Opportunity Program at The National Employment Law Project. “They’ve been unemployed for at least six months, so they really have no means to support themselves.”

Emsellem says even for those lucky enough to have jobs, the cut in benefits will still have an impact because of the ripple effect on the economy.

“If the program is not reauthorized through 2014 the hit to California is going to be around four billion dollars,” estimated Emsellem.

But even he admits it may not come to that.

Majority Leader Harry Reid says the Senate’s first item of business when it returns from recess will be to vote on a bipartisan bill to extend unemployment insurance.

“We have every expectation that Congress is going to come back and vote on this issue,” said Emsellem.

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