California vote this week on extending jobless benefits

Richard Cadena, jobless for months, has a four-letter word for any California lawmaker unsure whether to pass or defeat legislation to extend unemployment insurance benefits: pass.

"Anything is a blessing at this point in time," said Cadena, 47, a former auto painter.

Robert Williams, a 36-year-old custodian, said he has hunted for work since December and has submitted a thick stack of job applications.

"Probably 30," he said, anticipating the next question. "Nothing."

The Assembly is expected to vote this week, probably today, on a bill that would pave the way for California to extend its lifeline for out-of-work residents by five months at federal expense.

The measure would ensure an extra $2.5 billion to $3 billion in federal funds for emergency benefits at a time when California is mired in recession, with an unemployment rate above 10 percent.

Passage would mean $6,140 in additional benefits for an out-of-work person receiving the state's average benefit of $307 per week. Benefits range from $65 to $475, based on previous income earned.

In a separate but related issue, the Legislature also is considering permanent changes to eligibility rules that would allow about 26,000 seasonal workers to qualify for unemployment benefits.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger supports both concepts but has not taken a position on specific legislation, aides said.