Aid groups expect 2011 to be hardest year yet

A growing number of jobless San Franciscans are going from the unemployment line to the welfare line as they exhaust their benefits, city officials say.

While Congress is poised to extend unemployment benefits for millions of Americans, it won’t do much for those who have already exhausted their 99 weeks of unemployment insurance, the maximum amount of time that someone can collect unemployment checks.

As of October, almost 4,000 jobless San Franciscans had lost their unemployment benefits after 99 weeks, which could explain the sharp increase in applications for cash assistance, according to the San Francisco Human Services Agency.

Since the beginning of the year, San Francisco has seen a 35 percent increase in the number of families applying for CalWorks, the state welfare program.

That’s on top of the 7 percent increase in caseloads at the County Adult Assistance Program, which offers cash assistance for individuals who do not qualify for unemployment.

“All of this is attributable to the economy and even more specifically to folks hitting their 99-week limit on unemployment benefits,” said Trent Rhorer, director of Human Services Agency.

Unless more jobs become available, the demand for cash assistance will only grow, as more than 26,000 San Francisco residents are currently on unemployment insurance, according to the Human Services Agency. As of October, The City had about a 10 percent unemployment rate.

“This tells us there is more need out there,” Rhorer said. “Even though folks argue we are in a recovery mode as a nation, it’s a jobless recovery.”

But just because you apply for welfare, that doesn’t mean you are eligible. In fact, 40 percent of those who have applied over the last year have been rejected, Rhorer said. The criteria to qualify for CalWorks are stringent, targeting only the poorest groups, Rhorer said. For instance, if you own a vehicle valued at more than $5,600 or you are a two-parent household, you might not get assistance.

That’s when people turn to food banks and soup kitchens, which are bracing themselves for another year of increasing need.

At the St. Anthony Foundation, which serves more than 9,000 homeless and poor people annually, the demand for food and clothing increased 15 percent since the start of the recession in 2007. But next year, officers are expecting — at the very least — another 10 percent increase in the demand, said Francis Aviani, spokeswoman with the St. Anthony Foundation.

“We are anticipating 2011 to be the toughest year,” Aviani said. “We are really seeing the impact of the economy as people’s unemployment runs out and they have gone through their 401(k)s and their network of families and friends have been extended and are getting tired.”

No work

With rabid unemployment and benefits running out, people are turning to welfare to provide for their families.

40,000: Unemployed in San Francisco
26,000: Have unemployment insurance
3,799: Have maxed out their unemployment insurance
7,700: Residents enrolled in County Adult Assistance Program
4,700: Families enrolled in CalWorks welfare program

Source: San Francisco Human Services Agency

esherbert@sfexaminer.com

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