274K Californians Out of Work, Out of Luck

99ers have been out of work so long, they’ve used all the benefits available to them

By R. Stickney
|  Friday, Dec 17, 2010  |  Updated 10:15 AM PDT
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The tax-cut bill President Barack Obama is expected to sign Friday will not help hundreds of thousands of Californians who have exhausted their unemployment benefits.

In California, 5,000 unemployed people use up their extended benefits each week. And 274,185 Californians will have exhausted 99 weeks of benefits by year's end.

Those individuals, known as 99ers, have been out of work so long, they’ve used all the benefits available to them – even under this proposed legislation.

The bill keeps 99 weeks as the maximum anyone can receive. It doesn't provide any more weeks of benefits to people who have reached the limit in their state.

The legislation renews federal programs that extend benefits beyond the 26 weeks states always provide. Those federal programs expired Nov. 30.

The Labor Department says it doesn't know how many Americans have used up all their unemployment benefits. But the number reaches well into the hundreds of thousands.

Many more people could be joining the 99ers. Job losses peaked in January 2009. Those who lost jobs then, at the depths of the recession, will soon lose their benefits if they haven't found work or run out of aid already. The number of people who applied for benefits for the first time peaked at 651,000 in the week that ended March 28, 2009 -- 94 weeks ago.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., in August introduced legislation that would help the 99ers by tacking on 20 more weeks of benefits in states with unemployment of 7.5 percent or more. But her bill has gone nowhere in a Congress that's been reluctant to spend more federal money to jolt the economy.

"They have to be taken care of," says a supporter, Rep. Sheila Lee Jackson, D-Texas. "They are next to be homeless. They are the people who have hit the wall through no fault of their own."

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