Ironically, as Californians celebrate Labor Day weekend, millions will see their unemployment benefits reduced or cut off altogether.
That’s because the federal government on Saturday is ending four key programs intended to help keep people afloat amid the pandemic — a shift that will cause about 2.2 million of the 3 million Californians currently receiving some form of unemployment insurance to completely lose their benefits, according to the state Employment Development Department. The cutoff will primarily affect two groups of people. The first: gig workers, the self-employed and those ineligible for typical unemployment insurance. The second: those who used up their standard benefits but were still unable to find a job.
Another 500,000 Californians receiving regular benefits will no longer receive a $300 weekly supplement from the feds. President Joe Biden’s administration in August told states they could use federal relief funds to continue paying the supplement themselves, but California — which has already allocated all of that money — seems unlikely to do so. Meanwhile, nearly 19,000 people have signed a petition asking Gov. Gavin Newsom and state lawmakers to extend pandemic jobless benefits.
With the legislative session ending in a week, staffers told me they weren’t seeing any movement among lawmakers to repurpose federal funds. Newsom’s office did not respond to a request for a comment. Voters concerned about their EDD benefits could be a key voter bloc in the Sept. 14 recall election.
On Sept. 11, yet another federal program will end: a 13- to 20-week extension of unemployment benefits beyond the traditional 26-week cutoff. And, on Sept. 30, California’s eviction moratorium is set to expire.
The rapidly unraveling safety net comes as California seeks to jump-start its economy: Though the Golden State is leading the nation in job creation, it’s also home to the country’s second-highest unemployment rate. Yet there are signs things are heading in the right direction. Around 60,000 Californians filed initial jobless claims for the week ending Aug. 28 — a sizable decrease from the week before, federal numbers show.
Still, experts say it’s unlikely the expiring programs will result in workers flooding California’s job market. They also note it will take a while for jobs to be filled.
Michael Bernick, a former EDD director and an attorney at Duane Morris: “California employers and staffing companies can expect to see an uptick in job seekers, but the job placement process will be a gradual one, and the extent to which California workers are reconsidering their previous occupations remains unclear.”