Diane Richardson, head of the state's mortgage relief effort, has a message she'd like to shout at unemployed homeowners: Don't wait until after the holidays to sign up for mortgage help.
The director of Keep Your Home California says the end of the year may be too late for thousands of homeowners who are receiving extended jobless benefits to take advantage of the state's Unemployment Mortgage Assistance Program.
The program provides up to $3,000 a month for nine months, with a maximum of $27,000. It has helped about 16,000 homeowners with more than $150 million in aid.
But Richardson said she thinks there are thousands of qualified homeowners who haven't sought assistance and who could be in danger of losing out.
"We think there are a lot of people eligible for our program who haven't yet applied," Richardson said. "We want to be able to help as many people as we can. They need to apply now."
Wait too long, she said, and you may be out of luck.
The reason is that come the new year, the federal government may stop paying extended unemployment benefits if lawmakers can't keep the country from falling off the so-called "fiscal cliff." Unless Congress acts, the extra federal aid which at one point stretched unemployment pay to 99 weeks in California will end Dec. 29.
Letters from the state Employment Development Department already went out to nearly 350,000 California recipients of federal unemployment benefits, alerting them that their payments might stop.
Why does this matter? Because only those receiving California Employment Development Department unemployment benefits can sign up for Unemployment Mortgage Assistance.
The good news, Richardson said, is that all anyone now receiving unemployment has to do to qualify is to attend a counseling session before the end of the year. Then, even if their jobless checks dry up, mortgage aid can continue.
"We want to give them breathing room and help pay their mortgage while they're looking for a job," Richardson said.
Homeowners must have their loans with participating servicers and meet eligibility criteria. For more information and to apply go to keepyourhomecalifornia.org or call (888) 954-5337.