Some 213,000 California residents will lose their unemployment insurance benefits Saturday, leaving sidelined workers such as Robin Schirle even deeper in a financial hole.
"I want to go back to work and I don't want to be on unemployment," said Schirle, 26, of San Jose, who was laid off in May and is actively looking for a job as an administrative assistant. "But I was hoping it would last another three months to help me find a job."
The federal budget passed by Congress and signed by President Obama on Thursday failed to include funding for a 26-week extension of federal unemployment benefits that had kicked in after California residents used up their 26 weeks of state unemployment insurance.
The end of the federal extension immediately affects 1.3 million Americans, both those like Schirle who started receiving their federal benefits this month and those nearing the end of their 26 weeks of eligibility.
Eventually, the cutoff of federal benefits is expected to impact another 492,000 California recipients after they use up their 26 weeks of state unemployment insurance. Benefits average $303 per week and range from $40 to $450 per week, depending on the recipient's previous salary, according to the California Employment Development Department.
They will join the 1,255,000 unemployed California workers who had as of Christmas Eve already exhausted all of their state and federal benefits, according to the Employment Development Department.
Last year, California paid out $13.8 billion in unemployment insurance benefits, and it has paid out another $10 billion through October of this year.
The federal extension began in 2008, as the recession took hold, and has been modified several times, providing benefit extensions ranging from 13 weeks to 99 weeks. It was signed into law by President Bush when the average unemployment period lasted 17.1 weeks. By last October, according to a White House study, the average unemployed American spent 36.1 weeks without work. But across the country, the median number of weeks that a person received benefits dropped from a high of 53 weeks in 2010 to 28 weeks now, according to the study.
Because federal unemployment benefits typically are spent directly on local businesses, the White House study cited the Council of Economic Advisers' estimates that canceling the program will cost 240,000 more U.S. jobs by the end of 2014.
Last year, Congress reached a last-minute deal to extend federal benefits until the end of 2013.
Six bills already have been introduced in Congress that would extend the federal benefits anywhere from three months to two years. But their prospects of passage are dim given the acrimony between Congressional Republicans and Democrats in Washington, D.C., that led to a government shutdown from Oct. 1 to Oct. 16.
Across the country, the expiration of the federal benefits immediately impacts 1.3 million Americans. Nearly 40,000 of the 213,793 unemployed California workers who will immediately lose their federal benefits live in Alameda, Contra Costa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties.
The largest number of Bay Area residents who are affected -- 8,828 -- live in Santa Clara County.
The sudden cancellation of their federal unemployment benefits likely will put even more pressure on social service agencies.
"We may see a surge of increased traffic next week," said Denise Boland, director of the Santa Clara County Department of Employment and Benefits Services. "Just how much, we'll have to see. Along with health care reform, January will be a busy month for us."
Poncho Guevara, executive director of San Jose-based Sacred Heart Community Service, said the sudden loss of federal unemployment benefits will add to the "ongoing assault" on social service agencies that provide a safety net for people in need.
"Our concern is that some of these people even could end up homeless," Guevara said. "We're talking about people with families. So kids are going to feel this, and they're so vulnerable. It's just going to be a rough year in 2014 because, once again, our federal politicians can't get their act together."
After she learned on Friday that her newly acquired federal extension of unemployment benefits is suddenly over, Schirle was left to wonder how she was going to put food on the table.
Her husband has a full-time job, but his salary still leaves them $800 to $900 short of meeting their expenses each month.
For Schirle, her husband and their toddler, Christmas this year "was not quite what we hoped for."
"Unemployment (insurance) has saved us," she said. "But I need to get back to work because it's been rough."
Staff writer Mark Emmons contributed to this report. Contact Dan Nakaso at 408-271-3648. Follow him at Twitter.com/dannakaso.