NEW YORK (CBS 2) — These are very tense times for more than 2 million Americans, including many in our area, who stand to lose unemployment benefits, expiring at midnight Tuesday. That’s unless Congress steps in.
Congress could be the Grinch that stole Christmas for hundreds of thousands of unemployed here. They say they’re worried and desperate for a way to make ends meet.
“Taxes, here, the way the rent is I need this unemployment to keep up, you know?” Harlem resident Danile Perez told CBS 2’s Marcia Kramer.
Kramer: “So the fact that you might lose all or part of it, how does that make you feel?”
“I want to hang myself,” Perez said with a laugh.
“Christmas is coming up, people got kids. I feel like the privileged is very lucky right now. They don’t have wake every morning worried about how they’re going to feed their kids,” added April Negron-Burney of Harlem.
Unless Congress acts, extended unemployment benefits will expire at midnight Tuesday for some 400,000 New York residents, 275,000 from New Jersey and 58,000 from Connecticut.
And with the unemployment rate at 9 percent officials say its tough to find work.
“We’re going into the holiday season. These people are just scraping by as it is and to suddenly run out of unemployment when the job market is still so bad … there’s still only one job available for every five people looking for work. It would just be devastating,” said New York State Labor Commissioner Colleen Gardner.
But on Capitol Hill the debate will be laced with politics. Democrats want to extend the benefits.
“I think it’s a moral issue, Marcia. This is something that is urgent, an urgent crisis. It’s emergency spending,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said.
But Republicans under pressure from the newly elected Tea Party members are taking a hard line.
“We have to set the tone now and make it clear that whatever we spend we have to offset it with a cut somewhere else. Otherwise we’re going to be constantly locked into this cycle of more spending and always finding an excuse for not making spending cuts,” Rep. Peter King said.
But labor officials point out that the economic recovery of the region could suffer a terrible blow if the benefits aren’t extended. In New York alone unemployment benefits add $10 billion to the economy.