NEW YORK (CBS 2) — A partisan dispute in Washington is threatening to unhinge the lives of the unemployed, and just in time for the holidays.

Now, many jobless residents are waiting for word on how the Capitol Hill battle will play out, reports CBS 2’s Lou Young.

The unemployed are stuck combing the Internet and talking to job counselors as they watch the debate in Washington over benefits many consider to be a lifeline.

“It’s only been a month and I’m struggling,” Hartsdale resident Alicia Thompson said. “26 weeks? Some interview processes take longer than that.”

The partisan divide in Congress threatens to slash unemployment benefits from 99 weeks back to 26 weeks in a fight over how to pay for them. If cuts happen, the local impact could be immediate – and disastrous.

“It’s a huge number – 200,000 people statewide who will lose their benefits,” Thom Kleiner, of the New York State Labor Department, said. “It’s not a charity – it’s a real necessity in these times.”

The job search for some is a marathon. Mark Lomack has been at it for nearly three years.

“It’s very, very tough,” Lomack said. “You think you find something, it doesn’t work out, and then you have to keep on looking.”

Language teacher Valarie Fossati was laid off 26 weeks ago, and she said she needs the benefits to keep her family afloat.

“I have two kids, no work,” Fossati said. “Without it, I think I would…I don’t know. it’s a situation where I don’t know what I would do.”

Thompson has some insight on what to do when the bill collectors start to call.

“I was a medical bill collector…bill collectors get laid off too,” Alicia Thompson said. “So when they start calling me, I’ll know exactly what to say.”

The cost of one more extension to unemployment benefits is estimated to be $56 billion. Congress will have to decide which will hurt more – making the benefit cut, or possibly paying for it with borrowed money.

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