California lawmakers extend unemployment benefits
Associated Press Writer
SACRAMENTO ” The state Senate on Thursday passed legislation that will extend benefits to the unemployed by 20 weeks, sending Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger the first bill involving money from the federal economic stimulus package.
The bill, which passed on a 38-0 vote, would allow the state to draw up to $3 billion in stimulus money. Schwarzenegger is expected to sign it soon.
California is among more than a dozen high-unemployment states that need to make changes in its unemployment insurance system to qualify for the additional federal money.
The bill extends the maximum time Californians can receive benefits from 59 weeks to 79 weeks.
One Republican lawmaker requested making it easier to disqualify applicants, but majority Democrats delayed consideration of the request until later.
The Senate also approved a second bill to update the unemployment insurance program.
Under the changes, an employee’s most recent earnings will be considered in deciding eligibility, a move that will help about 30,000 workers statewide, many of them seasonal. The bill also allows employers and employees to participate in appeal hearings by telephone.
That bill was passed quickly by the Assembly on Thursday and will go to the governor’s desk.
“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,” Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said in a statement.
California’s unemployment rate has been in double digits the past two months and hit 10.5 percent in February, more than 2 percentage points higher than the national jobless rate.
The Legislature wrapped up work Thursday on stimulus-related legislation by passing three bills that will let the state take advantage of more than $10 billion in federal money for health care, $2.6 billion for highway and road projects, and $443 million for drinking water and wastewater treatment programs.
Schwarzenegger said he would sign the entire package of five bills immediately.
“I applaud the Legislature for working across the aisle and as quickly as possible to pass this needed legislation that will help boost our economy, provide critical services for Californians, create jobs and put people back to work,” the governor said in a statement.