Lawmakers try to help out of work people


With California's 8.4 percent jobless rate expected to surge even higher, Democrats are targeting help towards the more than one and a half million people out-of-work.

One proposal would use the last four to six months of a worker's wages, when they typically earn the most money, to calculate unemployment checks. Right now, the state looks back even further, making many seasonal workers ineligible.

The other proposal would allow Californians to earn $200 a week in part-time pay, before deducting that income from their benefits, it's currently the first $25.

"Both of these provide real economic stimulus, helping unemployed Californians pay their rents and mortgages, feed their families, pay their bills and keep contributing to local economies," said Assembly Speaker Karen Bass (D) of Los Angeles.

If California started recalculating unemployment benefits based on recent wages, more people could be eligible or possibly get bigger checks. It'll also help the state qualify for $900 million in one-time federal help.

Part of the money could be used to modernize the State's 30-year-old unemployment system, including the benefits helpline. It can't handle the record two million calls a day that come in now.

"It's a mess! It's frustrating. I've been trying to get through for the last two weeks by calling," said Theresa Ocampo, a job seeker.

That $900 million could also help boost the state's unemployment fund, which will run out of money before the end of the month.

"The most important thing for claimants to know is their benefits will continue to be paid. It's just a matter of where's the money going to come from," said Loree Levy, from California's Employment Development Department.

California has already asked Washington for a $2 billion loan to beef up its unemployment fund, but the $900 million is preferred because it doesn't have to be paid back.

Democrats hope to fast track their bills and send them to the Governor's desk by the end of the month.

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