New Round Of Unemployment Benefits Excludes Many Young CA Workers

A Redwood High School senior during a drive-in graduation ceremony at the Marin County Fairgrounds in June. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

This week, California began paying out new temporary federal unemployment benefits of $300 per week.

But nearly 200,000 out-of-work Californians won't get a dime under the new program, because their state benefits are too low. Younger workers are among the most likely to be shut out.

"I feel completely left behind," said Savannah Plasch, 24, a recent UCLA graduate who's among those excluded from the new program.

"It doesn't make any sense to leave people out because they don't make enough. That's just going to hurt us even more," Plasch said.

'WHERE IS THE LOGIC?'

The new $300 weekly payments — which replace half of the $600-per-week federal benefit that expired in late July — come from the Lost Wages Assistance program authorized by President Trump.

Californians who have already attested that they lost work due to the coronavirus pandemic have now started to receive payments for weeks dating back to July 26. The state has commited to providing these payments for a minimum of three weeks to eligible recipients, and state officials have since been approved to provide payments covering two additional weeks.

But not everyone is eligible for the new boost: Californians must be awarded state benefits of at least $100 per week to qualify. That leaves out many part-time and low-wage workers, as well as freelancers with mixed sources of income.

Younger workers are the hardest hit by the $100 cut-off, according to an analysis from University of California researchers with the California Policy Lab. Nearly 23% of Californians aged 16-19 won't qualify. Close to 10% of workers aged 20-24 will also get nothing.

"We probably need it more than those who make more," said Glendale resident Sabrina Schroeder, 27. "Where is the logic?"

Schroeder is taking community college classes in pursuit of a paralegal certificate. She had also been working part-time at a TV production company — before the pandemic shut down L.A.'s entertainment industry. Because of Schroeder's limited recent work history, she's only receiving $56 per week in state unemployment benefits.

Schroeder said the weekly $600 unemployment checks helped her build a financial cushion before they ran out. But now, she's earning far less than she did while employed.

"Fifty-six dollars a week is basically nothing," she said.

'I CAN'T EVEN GET A JOB AS A CASHIER'

The California Policy Lab also found that Black, Asian, female and lower-educated workers are more likely to be shut out of the program.

Middle-aged workers in California are much more likely to qualify for the new round of federal payments. For instance, 97% of workers in the 45-54 age group are eligible.

Plasch, the recent UCLA graduate, lost work as an office assistant in the university's music school earlier this year. Plasch (who uses they/them pronouns) said they have been struggling to find a job to keep up with rent and student loans.

Plasch gets $50 per week in state unemployment benefits. That doesn't go far, and it's too low to qualify for the new round of federal help. They said their post-graduate life has not gone according to plan.

"I've heard from my parents, my family, my teachers, my professors, that UCLA sets you up for life. You're going to get a great job," Plasch said. "And then this happens, and I can't even get a job as a cashier."

The $100-per-week eligibility requirement comes straight from President Trump's order authorizing the Lost Wages Assistance program. But other states have approached the rules differently than California. For instance, New Hampshire is bringing everyone on state unemployment rolls up to a minimum weekly payment of $100.

In an email, a spokesperson for California's Employment Development Department (EDD) wrote, "At present, the EDD has not received federal guidance regarding altering established claimant eligibility rules for the federal Lost Wages Assistance program."


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