|Long-Term Jobless Benefits a 'Lifeline' That's Ending Saturday|
|BY JEFF ZELENY (@jeffzeleny) , SHUSHANNAH WALSHE (@shushwalshe) and ROBIN GRADISON||Dec 27, 2013, 2:05 PM|
Kathy Biscotti is in a "panic," she said just hours before her federal unemployment benefits -- her "lifeline" -- are expected to end.
"I have no savings. I went through all my savings. [The benefits] pay the rent and groceries and utilities, maybe if I'm lucky. If there's enough left," the Baltimore mother said of her $332 a week in unemployment insurance.
"Sometimes, we have to have Oodles of Noodles for dinner or skip meals. We've done a lot of skipping meals since this all started. We went from three meals a day to two meals to sometimes just one meal a day."
Biscotti, 51, is one of the estimated 1.3 million long-term unemployed workers who will lose their federal emergency unemployment benefits Saturday. 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 this month.
The federal emergency benefits, which kick in after state jobless aid expires at 26 weeks, have been extended 11 times before. This would be the first time the program lapses since President George W. Bush signed it in 2008.
Senate Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, say renewing the long-term insurance will be an urgent priority when they return from break Jan. 6. The Senate is expected to vote on a three-month extension, but Biscotti worries about keeping a roof over her head in the meantime.
She's "flabbergasted, appalled, disgusted" that Congress went home before extending the benefits.
"They go home to their wonderful, expensive, lavish Holiday celebrations and [they are] having a good old time and they're not worried a bit about us," Biscotti, out of work for six months, said at her small apartment in Baltimore. "They don't care about us, they don't care about us at all.
"If they cared they would've done something about this before they went away on their break. It's a Christmas break. How can you cut somebody off at Christmastime?"
Biscotti 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.
"I'm just totally overwhelmed with -- depression kicks in," Biscotti said, surrounded by photos of her two sons and granddaughter. "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 spent most of her life working as a waitress, but she said she wanted out of the restaurant industry in 2004 and took an office assistant position at Morgan Stanley. She was laid off in 2008 and it took her two years to find her position at the real estate company. She worries now that the combination of her age and being out of work for more than six months means she will never get a job.
"The longer that you're out of work, the harder it is to get job and they don't want to look at you if you've been out of work for six months to a year," Biscotti said. "I try and I try and I try and I try and I'm hopeful that I will eventually get something. It may not be what I want, but at this point I will take anything just to keep a roof over my head."
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has said he is open to extending benefits, but he wants the estimated $25 billion price tag paid for. Other Republicans, including Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., have spoken against extending long-term jobless benefits beyond what is already paid for by the states.
Paul told Fox News Sunday earlier this month "while it seems good, it actually does a disservice to the people you're trying to help."
"I do support unemployment benefits for the 26 weeks that they're paid for. If you extend it beyond that, you do a disservice to these workers," Paul said. "When you allow people to be on unemployment insurance for 99 weeks, you're causing them to become part of this perpetual unemployed group in our economy."
Biscotti's message to Congress is to "get back to work" and make extending benefits "first thing on their agenda." As for Paul's criticism of the program, she issued him a challenge.
"I don't think that's true, but if he's going to say that then come up with an idea how to get these people back to work, how to change unemployment in America," Biscotti said.
In the meantime, Democrats are increasing the pressure on the issue. At the president's final news conference of the year before he left for his Christmas vacation Dec. 20, he said of the lapsing of benefits, "I think we're a better country than that. We don't abandon each other when times are tough."
Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., and Rep. Sandy Levin of Michigan, the highest ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, held a conference call this week demanding Congress extend the benefits as soon as they get back.
Levin called the expiration "like being hit by an economic hurricane."
Reed said Thursday, "This is not a program that people are leaving good jobs, or not looking for jobs because they are doing very well. From a human level, cutting certainly 1.3 million Americans' lifeline, and there will be more in this month, it doesn't make any sense and it's not something that we should be doing."
Reed and Nevada Republican Sen. Dean Heller have proposed a bill that would extend these benefits for three months without a cost offset.
"I certainly hope that all my colleagues will respond to these two basic facts -- one this is the fair and right thing to do for our constituents who worked hard and just want the chance to work hard again," Reed said. "And two, it's just the right thing to do for our economy."
The liberal group Americans United for Change is also out with a Christmas-themed television ad slamming Republicans for protecting the "richest one percent" and accuses the GOP of "stripp[ing] 1.3 million Americans of jobless benefits -- folks who want to work, but cannot find a job -- kicking them to the curb during Christmas."
"So to the 1.3 million Americans losing benefits, Merry Christmas from the GOP," the narrator says in the ad running on national cable. "It's wrong to leave more than a million Americans behind. Tell Republicans: Restore unemployment benefits now."
As for Biscotti, who baked cookies as Christmas gifts in order to save money, she is trying to be optimistic about 2014.
"It's hard to have hope, but I am hopeful that things will get better," Biscotti said. "It's only one year I know not everything will get better, but if they do something to help the long-term employment, then that will be a tremendous step forward to make things better for 2014."
ABC News' Alisa Wiersema contributed to this report.