The state Employment Development Department (EDD) announced a trifecta of horribleness for the unemployed this week that belies a slow, but steady drop in the California jobless rate.
Extended benefits for more than 1 million recipients have run out, those still getting benefits are seeing their checks slashed and customer service hours are about to be whacked.
Regular state unemployment benefits cover the first 26 weeks of joblessness. In the past, federal extensions provided benefits for up to a total of 99 weeks. Congress has reduced the extensions, and in California that means the maximum assistance available is 73 weeks.
According to EDD, 1,044,000 unemployed workers have now run out of all their benefits.
Those with checks will get less because of the sequester dictated by the Budget Act of 2011. Sequestration uses a meat cleaver to indiscriminately hack domestic and military spending with little regard for need. It was enacted by a Congress that felt it required the incentive of calamitous budget cuts to reach a more sensible accord on its own.
The calamity has arrived in lieu of a sensible accord.
In California, this means weekly and maximum benefits were cut 17.9% as of April 28. The cuts kick in when a recipient moves between tiers of the federal extension program, each of which runs up to a few months. The EDD conveniently provides a sequester calculator for figuring out just how much money will not be coming your way, if you are a recipient.
If you can’t figure out how to work the sequester calculator or need any other information on jobless benefits, good luck trying to get through to EDD via telephone. The department is “dramatically” reducing its hours of phone customer service because of a $158 million cut in federal funding.
Those cuts are a combination of sequester slashing and already existing administrative underfunding by the federal government. The administrative underfunding has cut federal contributions to California by 27%, compared to 22% nationwide.
Beginning Monday, EDD personnel will only handle calls between 8 a.m. and noon, Monday through Friday, instead of working until 5 p.m. EDD staffers will abandon their phone duties to focus on answering online questions and processing applications dealing with eligibility issues.
The funding shortfall has already cost 900 EDD workers their jobs, and another 1,600 are expected to join them in the unemployment line within 15 months. Those workers and former workers know all too well what awaits them.