Unemployed workers could lose federal benefits due to fiscal cliff

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The unemployment rate is down, but 400,000 Californians still receive federal unemployment benefits that would abruptly end if Congress doesn't avoid the fiscal cliff.

It’s been a year since Lauren Deutsch lost her job — and things could soon get worse.

Deutsch may have received her last federal unemployment check. The payment comes from the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Program, which Congress has yet to renew. If lawmakers don’t allocate $30 billion to keep the program through the end of 2013, about 400,000 Californians will stop receiving federal unemployment checks.

Deutsch, who lives in Los Angeles, said she’ll try to make ends meet, but she’s not sure what else she can do except keep looking for work.

“I will need to look even harder, faster,” said Deutsch, who used to raise money for non-profits. “I have 40 years of experience, but no one wants to pay me for it.”

The Emergency Unemployment Compensation Program started in 2008 and has been renewed ten times, according to the National Employment Law Project (NELP), a non-profit that specializes in worker rights issues affecting low-wage workers and the unemployed. The program allocates federal unemployment money to the jobless after their state unemployment runs out for 14 to 47 additional weeks, according to NELP. On average, checks are $300 a week.

RELATED: Who would be affected if Congress fails to renew the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Program.

Another recipient, Leigh Philips, said the federal program helped save his car and home when he was unemployed for six months. It was a time when his bi-weekly, $450 federal unemployment check helped pay for food basics like chicken — which he would make last over several days.

“I would not have been able to survive without unemployment,” said Philips, who has since found a new job as a senior product manager at an online firm.  “I would have lost my house. I most likely would have lost my car. I would be back down in San Diego living with my parents — no ifs, ands or buts.”

Meanwhile, Deutsch said she will find a way to pay for her expenses.

“I’ll be eating savings,” she said.

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