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Dec 1, 2010 8:49 PM by Monica Quintero

Locals concerned about unemployment benefits ending

If looking for a job wasn't hard enough, here's even more discouraging news for some. Extended unemployment benefits start running out Wednesday for nearly two million Americans.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Californians will be hit the hardest. Around 450,000 will be affected. Those unemployed were eligible for up to 99 weeks of benefits.

The federal unemployment benefits have been a lifesaver for some. Santa Maria resident, Pat Tobin, has been looking for a job for more than a year. He said, "Thank God for that because I don't know where I'd be, living in a car or something." But now that it's being cut off, he's concerned how he's going to survive. Tobin said, "I think there's going to be a lot of homeless people that weren't homeless before." Jeff Bangs is an Orcutt resident who has been unemployed for seven months. He has an 11-year-old daughter. Bangs said, "We'll see how much worse it can get."

The state provides 26 weeks of unemployment benefits. Then, there was the potential to get an additional 73 weeks of unemployment through the federal government. But unless Congress changes its mind, those on the federal extension program will lose their benefits. Bangs said, "Social Services is going to get flooded over. It's going to be a big pull on our country."

The good news is there are options for people who have exhausted their benefits. There's food stamps, cash assistance for families with children and health care coverage for certain middle and low income people. Bangs said, "I'm going through that right now actually." In the meantime, folks continue to search for jobs but are worried. Tobin said, "It's scary. I don't know what a lot of people are going to do."

So why are the federal unemployment benefits ending? Opponents say fiscal responsibility should come first. Some House and Senate leaders have said they're open to extending benefits, but not if it means adding to the $13.8 trillion national debt. The Federal Reserve expects the unemployment rate to hover around nine percent next year.

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