Since the federal extension program for unemployment insurance expired yesterday, thousands of Californians will shortly be cut off from their unemployment benefits. There are already 150,000 Californians receiving notices this week. Unless Congress takes action, approximately 454,000 of our Golden State residents will stop getting checks by the end of the year.
9.3 percent of San Francisco county residents were unemployed as of October. That means 76,000 people, out of an estimated population of 815,000 are out of work. This is slightly better than the state’s average of 12.4 percent.
Efforts to get a bill passed that would have extended the filing deadline by 90 days were squashed by House members. Democrats and Republicans are at a standstill over the cost of another extension, which is more than $12 billion dollars.
The cost of not passing the extension will certainly be felt elsewhere in places that are already strained for resources such as food pantries across the country. Paul Ash, executive director of the SF Food Bank, says that they have seen a 32 percent increase in people coming to the pantries in SF and Marin, due to recent economic crises like the rise of unemployment. “A lot of our clients fall below a point where their budget works,” Ash said. “That’s when we find them seeking out a food pantry.”
Those who remain unemployed after benefits run out will be able to qualify for other government programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – SNAP (formerly known as Food Stamps). There are many people that already qualify for this program that do not take advantage of it.
In SF, less than half of the approximately 78,000 eligible people receive the benefits they are entitled to. While the benefits are not enough to sustain most families, they can fill in gaps and ease the strain on food banks.
The county is also missing out on substantial federal funds due to the lack of usage, not to mention the $114 million in economic activity that could generated from SNAP usage in San Francisco alone.
The SF Food Bank is one of many across the state that is trying to increase their SNAP outreach and education efforts.
Whether or not Congress comes through with the unemployment extensions, those who have been on unemployment for 99 weeks are not included in the plan. 254,000 Californians have already found themselves in this category. Although two bills have been introduced that would provide an additional tier, there is no real movement on these measures. If Congress doesn’t move fast on any of the bills, nearly 2 million Americans will lose their benefits in time for Christmas.