SACRAMENTO, CA - Even before the Jan. 1 deadline, hundreds of thousands of Californians are set to go over the cliff Saturday; Dec. 29 marks the last day that federal extensions for unemployment benefits will be paid out to people.
For any of the nearly 400,000 Californians receiving extended unemployment benefits, Saturday could mean the end of a lifeline. Once their claim is certified for this past week, their next payment will be their last, unless Congress and the president reach a deal.
Even as the president and lawmakers returned to Washington early from their holidays to try to reach an agreement to avoid the fiscal cliff, California's Employment Development Department was already preparing unemployment recipients for the worst case scenario.
The EDD administers the federal extension program. For the last few years the federal government has provided up to almost a year and a half of additional benefits to the unemployed who ran out of their original 26 weeks of regular state-provided benefits.
"Now, when they reauthorized the federal extension program in February, they set it to expire at the end of this year, which means here at the EDD, we can no longer pay any federal extension benefits after this week ending tomorrow," EDD spokesperson Loree Levy said.
That means anyone already receiving extended benefits who remains unemployed next week, they will not receive a payment even if they still have a balance left on their current claim.
"We're certainly hoping at some point in time, a lot of these folks will start getting those jobs, but in the meantime this is critical assistance to help them pay very basic things: rent, mortgage, groceries, gas, and that's very difficult to suddenly go without," Levy said.
The failure to reach a deal would affect families like Jaime Pope's.
"My husband was laid off last May, has been searching since then... and has not even gotten an interview..." Pope said on News10's Facebook. "He is one of those who is going to be effected [sic] by this loss of benefits, which is going to create issues for my family."
If a deal is reached soon, then it will be possible to avoid delaying future payments, but it will depend on how soon and what kind of deal.
"The problem is if they do decide to reauthorize the program a lot later, or for instance, they make significant changes in the existing extension program, now we're talking some complications in programming, and that's when we could start encountering delays in trying to restart these payments," Levy said.