Local News

Jan 7, 2014 8:52 PM by Janine Reyes

Thousands In Coastal Bend Start 2014 Without Unemployment Benefits

CORPUS CHRISTI -- It's been a rough start to 2014 for more than a million long-term unemployed Americans who saw their benefits expire.

There appeared to be major disagreement in Washington over extending those benefits.

But, a compromise to get them flowing again is now possible after a test vote by the U.S. Senate today.

Lawmakers unexpectedly voted to move forward with legislation backed by the White House to renew the benefits.

About a half-dozen republicans joined with democrats on the test vote.

But republican leaders say they'll try to make changes in the measure, so the $6.4-billion cost won't add to deficits.

It will likely be a few days before senators have a final vote on the measure.

Then it would still have to be approved by the house.

So as republicans and democrats in congress struggle to agree on what to do with those long-term unemployment benefits about 1.3 million Americans are wondering how they'll pay for the roof over their head and food on the table.

6 news looked at what that figure looks like locally. The number changes daily as people find work and others become unemployed, but, the Coastal Bend Workforce Solutions estimates that number at anywhere between 10,000 and 16,000 people in our area.

We spoke with one of them who asked not to be identified, so, we'll call her Sue. She says this uncertainty is only adding to the stress of the job hunt.

"Its not that I don't want to work," said Sue, "I'm sure there's a lot of people on unemployment that do want to work, its just hard to secure a job right now."

Since may, she has been looking for work and during her search - unemployment funds have been her lifeline. It's a much tighter budget than she's used to, but it helps pay the bills.

"They don't care if you don't have a job," she said, referring to her debtors, "if you're obligated to pay a bill, you have to pay it, you have to put gas in your car, you have to put food on the table."

Because she's received those benefits for more than 6 months, the end of the year marked the end of her checks when the government could not agree to continue the benefits.

Her last check came just before christmas.

"Right now, I'm going to have to rely on overdraft to get me by," Sue said. How she'll get by after that, there's no telling.

Monika De La Garza with Workforce Solutions sees those people who are looking for work. She says the impact of the cut in benefits locally is still unknown.

"Its hard for us to forecast what will happen to these people," De La Garza said. "On the other hand though, we know where we can help them in getting a job."

She says the good news is there are a lot of jobs in our area from skilled to unskilled. We're even seeing a huge ripple effect in jobs brought in by the Eagle Ford Shale.

Unemployment is just slightly up from this time last year, but the jobs are there.

For those, like Sue, seeing a sudden cut in benefits, there are programs to help. "We offer bus tokens, there are also gas cards that are available," De La Garza said, "of course people have to apply and find out if they're eligable, but there are resources."

Still, when it comes to rent and other bills, Sue says its a strain balancing the stress of finding work with not knowing if or when the unemployment that helps pay for those needs will come.

"I'm lucky enough to have family and friends that do help me, but I also have friends that are unemployed and they needed that money to pay their rent and put food on their table," Sue said.

Even if the government finds a solution, it looks like the lapse in benefits will not be made up.

"From what we understand they stopped," De La Garza said, "but right now, we don't know what's going to happen until we get direction from the Texas Workforce Commission.

The Texas Workforce Commission approves or disapproves the unemployment benefits, while Workforce Solutions helps those receiving benefits find work. The two entities work hand-in-hand.

Sue says she's spent 35 years in the workforce contributing to a system that she now feels is failing her.

Again, judging by the numbers the Coastal Bend Workforce Solutions program saw in November, there could be up to 16,000 people in our area in her same situation.

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