By Lisa Flam
Dec. 1 – Nearly 2 million Americans start to lose their extended unemployment benefits today, leaving people without jobs struggling to hold on to their housing and feed their families while facing a somber holiday season without money for presents and festivities.
Work has dried up for Shawn Slonsky, a union electrician who is using his last unemployment check to pay for groceries, utilities, gas and child support. Unable to afford gifts or a Christmas tree, he told The Associated Press he’s not looking forward to the holidays.
Felicia Robbins of Pensacola, Fla., lost her job as a juvenile justice worker in 2009, and her last $235 unemployment check will arrive Dec. 13. Her 10-year-old car isn’t running, and she walks each day to the local unemployment office to look for work.
“You don’t even get in the frame of mind for Christmas when things are bad,” said Slonsky, 44, of northeast Ohio. “It’s hard to be in a jovial mood all the time when you’ve got this storm cloud hanging over your head.”
During the high-profile Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lighting Tuesday night in Manhattan, about 40 out-of-work New Yorkers marched in protest.
“Just in time for Christmas, people are going to lose their only lifeline that’s let them hold on to a semblance of the life they knew,” organizer Sam Talbot, 33, of Manhattan told the New York Daily News. “We want to remind people there’s a serious crisis going on.”
Some carried signs reading “Keep the Lights on for the Unemployed” and “We Need Jobs Not Another Korean War,” the newspaper reported, adding that many wore Santa hats and chanted, “Merry Christmas! You’re fired!”
Congress failed to extend the jobless benefits Tuesday night, and unless lawmakers decide otherwise, December will see about 2 million people cut off by Christmas, according to the AP.
Among those is Donna Rafferty, who was let go from her job at a social services agency in May 2009 and has been looking for a job ever since. Rafferty, 58, told The Boston Globe that her $376 in weekly unemployment benefits will expire Dec. 25.
“If I get depressed, it’s not going to serve anybody, so I try to block it out,” Rafferty, a Boston resident, told the paper. “I eat a lot of soup.”
She said she’s sent out hundreds of resumes and applied for hundreds of jobs over the last year and a half. She’s like many people who just want to work.
“I am not searching for a job, I am begging for one,” Felicia Robbins, 30, told the AP.
Robbins was using her last $500 to move out of a homeless shelter in Pensacola, Fla., and into a small rental home with her five children. Out of work since 2009, her last $235 check is due to arrive Dec. 13.
Out-of-work Americans have come to rely on the benefits, which had been extended up to 99 weeks for some, for basic needs.
“Without unemployment benefits, I’m not really sure I can hold on to my house,” said Dorothy Allen, a single parent outside Scranton, Pa., told the Los Angeles Times. “I’m praying it will be extended. If not, I’ve already obtained an application for welfare.”
In York, Pa., construction work Oral Mellinger said he’d lose his rented trailer if he loses his $350-a-week unemployment benefit. “We would definitely be out on the street,” he told USA Today.
The loss of benefits will take Christmas off the table for Wayne Pittman of Lawrenceville, Ga., who is married with a 9-year-old son. His last check will be used on necessities, he told the AP.
“I have a little boy, and that’s kind of hard to explain to him,” said Pittman, an out-of-work carpenter.