Standing behind President Obama today at the White House were a group of unemployed workers whose long-term jobless benefits have been cut off. One of them, Kathy Biscotti, said she was happy to be invited to the event, but is still panicked about losing her home, worried that even if Congress does vote to extend long-term unemployment benefits for three months, it may be too late.
“I’m just concerned about it taking a long time and in the meantime what’s going to happen?” Biscotti said from her home in Baltimore after the event.
The Senate cleared the way today for debate on the legislation, but Republicans and Democrats must still negotiate over the final bill and how it will be funded. Six Republican senators broke away from GOP opposition to the legislation in favor of advancing toward up to thirty hours of debate on the bill.
Biscotti, 51, is one of the estimated 1.3 million long-term unemployed workers who lost their federal emergency unemployment benefits late last month. The benefits, which many Republicans oppose unless the costs are offset in other parts of the budget, were left out of the bipartisan federal budget agreement reached last month.
The federal emergency benefits, which kick in after state jobless aid expires at 26 weeks, have been extended 11 times before.
Biscotti, who stood right behind the president wearing a red scarf, said she told President Obama, “We have to get these benefits reinstated so I can afford to look for a job.” She said he responded, “We’re going to do all we can.”
Biscotti, a grandmother, said she has been out of work since June when she was laid off from a real estate company. She spends at least five hours a day on a laptop in her bedroom applying for jobs and believes she has applied for between 200 and 300 jobs, with 20 interviews, including one company that called her back four times.
ABC News first spoke to Biscotti last month, days before her jobless benefits, which she called her “lifeline,” were cut off.
“I’m just totally overwhelmed with — depression kicks in,” Biscotti said in her small Baltimore apartment last month. “Fear is the hugest factor. I don’t want to have to end up living under a bridge. I don’t want to have to go to a women’s shelter. I’ve worked my whole life. I’ve worked since I was 14 years old, always taken care of myself and now I feel like I may not be able to take care of myself anymore.”
Biscotti said she has been following the debate in Congress and said her “heart just dropped” when she hears it may not pass.
She said she is already behind with her rent and keeping a roof over her head is her biggest worry.
“If I go a month I’ll lose the ability to purchase anything besides food,” Biscotti said, noting she did receive $175 worth of food stamps. “I won’t have the money for bus fare to go and do an interview, the cable will get cut off so I won’t have the Internet to look for jobs, and the library only lets you use one hour at a time. It would completely put a huge roadblock in my job search.”
Biscotti added that she is “hopeful these congressman … are people.”
“I’m appalled at the Republicans that think we are just sitting around eating bon bons living off the government dole,” Biscotti said. “I’m just furious. I’m sure there are some people, but the majority of people want to get up in the morning and they want to work.”
At the White House event the president praised the Senate for taking the first step and said for many people, long-term unemployment benefits are “the only source of income they’ve got to support their families while they look for a new job.”
“These aren’t folks who are just sitting back, waiting for things to happen,” Obama said. “They’re out there actively looking for work. They desperately want work. But although the economy has been growing, and we’ve been adding new jobs, the truth of the matter is, is that the financial crisis was so devastating that there’s still a lot of people who are struggling, and in fact if we don’t provide unemployment insurance, it makes it harder for them to find a job.”
Another vote in the Senate is likely to come later this week, but it is unlikely the House will vote on the legislation anytime soon.
Following the Senate’s vote, House Speaker John Boehner said he believes six months of state unemployment benefits are already a “strong safety net” and though he may be persuaded to extend emergency benefits, that’s only if it is paid for and includes “something to help put people back to work.”
ABC News’ Jeff Zeleny, John Parkinson, Chris Good and Arlette Saenz contributed to this report.