Michael J. Sorba, Staff Writer
Posted: 03/25/2010 06:46:19 PM PDT

Tim Graston of Adelanto hasn’t had much luck during the recession – he’s been unemployed for two years.

Living on an income provided by unemployment benefits, Graston’s been able to pay for his basic needs. But starting next week that will end when his benefits expire.

“I’ve been trying to find a job,” Graston said. “Ninety-nine percent of us are trying really hard to get a job. There’s just no jobs out there.”

Graston is one of 100,000 to 130,000 Californians the state’s Employment Development Department says could exhaust their state and federal unemployment benefits over the next three weeks.

Manfred Keil, an economics professor at Claremont McKenna College, said the prospect could have potentially disastrous effects locally, given the Inland Empire’s 15 percent unemployment rate.

Keil said there are other state metropolitan statistical areas that have higher unemployment rates, but none are as large. The metropolitan statistical area of Riverside and San Bernardino counties is the second largest in the state, behind Los Angeles and Orange counties, he said.

High unemployment rates in the Inland Empire throughout the recession means its a good bet the region will experience a disproportionate affect, Keil said.

After a year of employment, Californians are eligible for up to 26 weeks of unemployment benefits, Keil said. The prolonged national recession prompted the federal government to fund an expansion of benefits through the Recovery Act that makes them available to those who had run out of state benefits, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Federally-funded benefits allow those eligible to receive as many as 99 weeks of benefits when prior weeks of state benefits are included. State Employment Development Department spokesman Patrick Joyce said Congress is not expected to consider any new legislation that would extend benefits past 99 weeks.

Though the number can change daily, the most recent figures show about 1.4 million people in the state are receiving benefits. Around 3,300 have exhausted them, Joyce said. Unemployment payments are based on past earnings and range from at least $40 aweek to $450 a week, Joyce said.

Earlier this month, President Obama signed into law an extension of the filing deadline for federal benefits to Sunday so they will continue to be available to those who’ve exhausted state benefits or those receiving federal benefits, an Employment Development Department statement says.

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