Workers laid off by governor eligible for jobless benefits

What the government takes away with one hand it makes up for with the other.

The 10,000 seasonal and part-time state workers laid off by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s executive order can apply for unemployment benefits through the state’s Economic Development Department. Weekly benefits range from $50 to $450.
“Anybody who is laid off or terminated is eligible to file for unemployment benefits,” said Vicki Bradshaw, Schwarzenegger’s secretary of Labor and Workforce Development. The state first determines eligibility, and then there is a one-week waiting period until the payments actually begin, Bradshaw said.

The Republican governor said the layoffs, which went into effect immediately on Thursday, would save the state $100 million per month. The state faces a $15 billion shortage over two years, and the 2008-09 budget, which was supposed to be signed by the beginning of the new fiscal year on July 1, has yet to be approved.

The money for the jobless benefits comes from the federal government. Money is paid by California employers into a federal fund that is tapped as needed for jobless workers.

Also in the governor’s executive order was the reduction of salaries of some 150,000 state employees to the level of the federal minimum wage, $6.65 per hour. That action is likely to wind up in court, as state Controller John Chiang has said he will continue to pay full salaries. The controller, who is independently elected, signs the state’s checks.

This week, the Schwarzenegger formally requested Chiang to begin the pay cuts. Chiang, again, refused. The actions are likely to serve as a precursor to a court battle.

The governor, acting on his own and on the requests of a number of  state departments, is making exemptions for workers who otherwise would have been affected by the executive order governing the layoffs.

By one estimate, the governor has exempted 50,000 workers in 14 departments from the layoffs, including departments with public-protection functions, like the California Highway Patrol and the state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
The layoffs came during a period of worsening economic news. California’s unemployment rate rose to 6.9 percent in June, up from 6.8 percent in May, the state Employment Development Department reported earlier. A year ago, in June 2007, California’s unemployment rate was 5.3 percent.

According to the separate survey of households, the number of Californians holding jobs in June was 17,149,000.
This was a decrease of 38,000 from May, and down 65,000 from the employment total in June of last year, the EDD reported.
The number of people unemployed in California was 1,278,000 – up by 19,000 over the month, and up by 310,000 compared with June of last year.

According to the Department of Personnel Administration, the average state worker in 2007 earned $63,048, or just over $5,000 per month. For those whose pay is cut to the $6.55 minimum wage, their newly reduced pay would be about $1,100 per month.

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