San Diegans Worry President's Unemployment Plan Won't Be Enough

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With Congress failing to pass a new Coronavirus stimulus bill, President Donald Trump signed an executive order calling for an additional $400 in benefits for unemployed Americans with states picking up 25% of the tab, but Governor Newsom has already said that California won't be able to contribute.

The uncertainty surrounding unemployment benefits at a time when nearly 15% of the region is out of work is a cause for anxiety for people like Shania Smothson-Burciaga.

Shania Smothson-Burciaga, 20, was a server at a restaurant in Chula Vista before she was laid off in March when the stay at home order began. She filed for unemployed, but it took her about two months to start getting any money.

Applying for benefits in the first place wasn't easy.

"I would do all the multiplication, division, addition, subtraction and then it would kick me out I. got kicked out, I got erased maybe I would say at least three or four times which just caused absolute breakdowns and anxiety," she said describing the struggle using the state's Employment Development Department's website.

She went back to work in June, only to have her restaurant close down again in July. She's been unemployed again for another month, but this time she hasn't had any luck getting her benefits.

Smothson-Burciaga lives in Tijuana and says she crosses the border everyday to spend four hours on the phone trying to get help from the EDD. She completed three semesters of community college and ran out of money to pay her tuition. She has now used all of her savings she wanted to spend on school to pay her bills and rent while she waits for her benefits.

"This has just put everything on hold: my education, my career, my life," she said.

California's Employment Development Department has distributed $59.8 billion in benefits and processed 9.7 billion claims since the pandemic began. Many people in the San Diego area say the legislation that has been passed by Washington to help them during the pandemic isn't doing enough.

Cheyenne Sales has been getting $86 a week in unemployment insurance since May. She works as a meeting planner and gets most of her income through this independent contract work. Traditionally, independent contractors don't qualify for unemployment benefits, but the CARES Act created Pandemic Unemployment Assistance so that contractors could also get financial help if they were struggling with work because. However, because Sales has a part time job at a golf course, she only qualified to get benefits on the very small amount of income she earned on her W-2 at the golf course.

"I don't know how I'm going to live," she said.

President Trump did say that the new unemployment benefits would be retroactive to August 1 -- when the last set of benefits ran out, but unemployment experts say because of the new breakdown in assistance it could take weeks for the money to hit people's bank accounts. There are also still a lot of legal questions surrounding Trump's order including whether or not states can even issue benefits that are not authorized by Congress.

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