Wednesday, 21 February 2024

State Senate passes measures extending unemployment insurance benefits

SACRAMENTO – The State Senate voted Friday to approve two bipartisan bills that will provide additional federally funded unemployment insurance benefits to out-of-work Californians.


The action comes at a time when the state’s official unemployment rate currently stands at 10.5 percent.


Here in Lake County, an initial Employment Development Department report for February shows that the county's unemployment rate is 15.9 percent, as Lake County News as reported.


AB 23 X3, authored by Assemblyman Joe Coto (D-San Jose), will provide an additional 20 weeks of unemployment insurance benefits to California workers who have already received benefits for the current maximum duration of 59 weeks.


The funding will come from federal stimulus dollars from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009.


“This legislation enables California to gain up to $3 billion from the federal government in 2009 without creating an additional cost burden for our state,” said Senator Patricia Wiggins (D-Santa Rosa), who voted to pass AB 23 X3.


The bill, which was previously approved by the Assembly, cleared the Senate by a vote of 38-0, and now heads to the desk of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for his signature.


The second bill, AB 29 X3 – co-authored Assemblyman Coto and Assemblyman Martin Garrick (R-Carlsbad), establishes an “alternative base period” to determine if jobless individuals have earned sufficient wages to qualify for unemployment benefits.


The ARRA will provide California $839 million in federal funds to support the unemployment program if this bill is implemented.


California's existing base period excludes earnings in the last three to six months of employment. AB 29 X3 specifies that unemployed persons who fail to qualify for benefits under the existing base period would then have their eligibility determined under the alternative base period, in which earnings as recent as one to three months may be counted.


“AB 29 X3 is essential for the tens of thousands of seasonal workers who are currently unemployed in California,” Wiggins said.


AB 29 X3, which passed the Senate on a 31-7 vote, also includes efficiencies in the dispute resolution process between employers and workers by allowing for telephone participation during hearings of the Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board.


The bill, which now heads to the Assembly for a final vote, also provides assurance that employers are notified when a former employee files for benefits.


“The most important thing we can do right now to help our economy and the day-to-day lives of Californians is to make sure those who are unemployed have the cash to pay their bills and feed their families,” said Senate President pro-Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento). “The Legislature and the Schwarzenegger administration moved quickly and worked as a team to make the needed changes to guarantee these much needed federal funds. I look forward to continuing to build on this positive momentum.”


Last Saturday, the Employment Development Department began opening its unemployment insurance call centers on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in order to meet the higher demand.


The agency's staff also will remain available to file unemployment insurance claims or assist customers in submitting questions online for response. Claims will be filed and issues resolved within five days.


Call center phone numbers are 800-300-5616 (English) or 800-326-8937 (Spanish).


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