Thursday, October 9, 2008
Arcadio Quiambao mopes out of the unemployment office in Salinas. The 70-year-old Salinas resident was laid off about six weeks ago and is still battling the California Employment Development Department, trying to convince the state to cut him a check.
“I feel depressed,” Quiambao says. “I have no money as of now.”
The state initially disqualified his unemployment insurance application, claiming he’d previously been given benefits; Quiambao says it’s a mistake. EDD workers in Salinas can’t resolve the dispute; it’s up to Sacramento bureaucrats. So the staff gave him a list of resources, highlighting the local food bank and Salvation Army.
Before the company eliminated his job on Aug. 21, Quiambao had worked as an assistant lab tech at Seed Dynamics. But he says the company didn’t fire many younger, less-experienced workers. “Most of the ones that stayed there,” he says, “I am more senior than them.”
Quiambao is not alone. Monterey County had 14,900 unemployed residents in August, according to EDD figures. The same month, the county unemployment rate hit 6.8 percent, compared to 7.7 percent for the state and 6.1 percent for the nation.
Despite the fact that the number of job seekers is expected to rise, the federal government will cut off unemployment benefits for many locals on Oct. 11. (Jobless benefits normally last for 26 weeks. In June, a 13-week extension pushed by Democrats had been OK’d by the reluctant White House.) An estimated 101,248 Californians will run out of unemployment benefits this month alone.
After approving the $700 billion bailout to shore up failing lenders, the U.S. House passed legislation that would extend unemployment insurance another 13 weeks for residents of states with high jobless rates including California. But Republicans blocked the bill from being introduced in the Senate. Lawmakers won’t revisit the issue until after the Nov. 4 election.
So while Congress authorized the government to buy up toxic mortgages, the down and out will have to wait.
Rep. Sam Farr, D-Carmel, who voted for the bailout bill, says its passage was critical to help lenders and return liquidity to the financial system. “The credit market is drying up and that is affecting college and car loans,” he says.
Farr supported continuing unemployment benefits, adding that the need for an extension was bolstered by the latest Labor Department figures showing that the United States shed 159,000 jobs in September. “We are trying to get money into the hands of people who most need it,” Farr says.
Back at the EDD office, people search for jobs online and submit résumés. While most jobseekers here are unemployed, some, like Esther Barriga, are underemployed. Barriga isn’t making enough money as a babysitter, so she decided to pick up an application for unemployment benefits.
Richard Garcia finishes his morning job hunting. Last month, the Salinas resident lost his position selling tractor parts for John Deere.
“I haven’t had to look for a job for 15 years,” he says. He qualifies for unemployment compensation, but supporting his wife and kids with his weekly check is a struggle.
But Garcia remains optimistic that he will find a job soon– even though he faces stiff competition, and local ag companies have made cutbacks due to the high cost of diesel and fertilizer.
He’s cheerless about the government’s $700 billion rescue plan, however.
“We are bailing out people that are greedy and careless and the taxpayers are carrying the burden,” Garcia says.
Ruben Sumagang is also looking for work. A diesel mechanic who most recently spent three months working at a fish processing plant in Alaska, the Salinas resident has applied for unemployment insurance. He’s still waiting to hear from the state.
“Hopefully, I’m going to qualify,” Sumagang says, adding that it’s expensive paying for gas to drive around and look for a job.
But Sumagang doesn’t seem to have it as bad as Quiambao, the jobless senior. Quiambao receives Social Security but has no savings and is struggling to make his car payment. He moved in with his daughter because he couldn’t afford rent.
“I have no more money to spend,” he says. Now he may take a menial job, working as a cashier– something he hasn’t done since he moved to the U.S. from the Philippines.