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Sonoma County's jobless brace for federal benefit cut

A lifeline that helped many people who lost their jobs during the recession stay afloat could be cut at the end of the month.

That's when extended unemployment benefits provided by the federal government since 2008 are set to expire, impacting more than 2,200 Sonoma County residents who receive them.

"There's a lot of concern out there," said Steven Czegus, manager of Sonoma County Job Link, which partners with the state Employment Development Department to help people apply for unemployment insurance and find jobs.

"We know it's a lifeline cut, and we're trying to let people know so they can plan accordingly," said EDD spokesperson Patti Roberts.

California offers workers who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own 26 weeks of unemployment insurance ranging from $40 to $450 a week. When the recession took hold in 2008 and caused unemployment to soar, the federal government stepped in to provide additional pay through something called Emergency Unemployment Compensation. The benefit has changed over the past few years, but in 2013, Californians were eligible for 37 extra weeks of federal unemployment pay.

But the program expires at the end of 2013 unless Congress moves to extend it another year — something it would have to do before it adjourns for the holidays.

"It helped me pay my bills," said Steve Loveday, a 54-year-old Santa Rosa resident, of the $435 per week he's been receiving in federal unemployment compensation.

He lost his information technology job, which he'd held for a year and a half, last December. Before that, he worked for another information technology company for 18 years. He said he's applied for 40 to 50 jobs over the past year without success.

Loveday's wife works as a housekeeper, bringing in about $250 a week, he said. The unemployment pay helped him make his house payments. However, Loveday isn't worried about making those payments if the federal program expires. In August, he qualified for a program called Keep Your Home California that helps distressed home owners make their mortgage payments.

"I was thankful to get (the unemployment compensation)," he said, "but I didn't expect it to last forever."

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