Sat January 18, 2014
Long-Term Unemployed Wearily Watching Capitol Hill
ARUN RATH, HOST:
Also this week, there was more tough news for Americans who rely on federal unemployment benefits.
At the end of last year, Congress failed to extend Emergency Unemployment Compensation, which helps the long-term unemployed. And on December 28th, about 1.3 million people lost benefits.
This week, members of Congress brought the program back up for debate, but they could not agree on how to pay for the benefits. And each week, the number of people losing their unemployment checks grows. They're watching Congress closely.
AMY ROBERTS: I can't afford a newspaper subscription right now, so I go to the library, which is close to my house, every morning to read the paper.
RATH: Take, for example, Amy Roberts from Columbus, Ohio. She's been out of work for nine months. She spends hours every day searching for jobs.
ROBERTS: I just want anything. I'll take anything right now. You know, I'll take retail, but I don't have a retail background.
RATH: Her background is in marketing and event planning, and she's taking classes to earn her master's. Since losing federal benefits three weeks ago, no money is coming in. She's resorted to dog sitting and organizing people's closets.
ROBERTS: I'm selling everything I can. My savings is almost gone, so anything that I had around the house that I didn't need that was valuable I've tried to sell. And I've been pretty successful, but I don't have much left to sell. So...
RATH: Plus, she has her 9-year-old daughter to take care of. Roberts says the anxiety eats her up.
ROBERTS: You know, I wish I could stress about being late to work or not being able to buy the shoes that I really want. But this kind of stress is - it goes so much deeper. You know, how am I going to pay my phone bill? What if I can't pay for my car? What if my car breaks down? It's every single day and it's constant.
SALLY LINDA EDLUND: It was horrible.
RATH: In Minneapolis, Minnesota, Sally Linda Edlund has been in a similar situation. She was laid off last February. Her husband was let go two years ago.
EDLUND: Just that stress of looming over your day-to-day activities and knowing that you have to plan with virtually nothing to plan with, it was really stressful.
RATH: Edlund says the unemployment benefits had been a lifeline for her family. She and her husband have three young children.
EDLUND: We would use that to buy groceries that my car payment came directly out of that, any time we would have to pay medical expenses, yeah, I mean, as soon as that went into our account, it was gone. We relied on that basically for day-to-day living expenses and food and everything. Yeah.
RATH: But she is one of the luckier ones. A week after the family lost those benefits, Edlund was hired by a medical device company. But it's only temporary.
EDLUND: It's worrisome to know that it's eventually going to run out. And so every day that I go in, I'm wondering, gosh, how much longer am I going to be here?
RATH: Back in Columbus, Amy Roberts says she's not giving up.
ROBERTS: I'm just being optimistic. I'm just taking it one day at a time. I'm hoping that when I read the paper tomorrow, there's going to be good news.
RATH: Lawmakers are expected to resume debate on the legislation in the next two weeks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.