WASHINGTON -- Carlos Cabrera said he lost his job as a truck driver in May and will receive his final unemployment check next week unless Congress reauthorizes the federally-funded benefits it allowed to lapse on Wednesday.
"It's virtually impossible right now to find work," Cabrera, 33, told HuffPost. He said he'd worked for the company for nearly four years and as a truck driver for ten. "It's incredibly frustrating when I'm watching our politicians fighting about it when the misconception is this extension is for 99 weeks. It's for people like me who've been out of work for five months."
Wyoming Republican Sen. John Barrasso mistakenly said on the Senate floor Thursday evening that the reauthorization under discussion would give the unemployed additional weeks of benefits beyond the 99 available in some states under the lapsed programs.
"This is about people who have been collecting unemployment benefits for 99 weeks," said Barrasso, incorrectly, after blocking a reauthorization of the Emergency Unemployment Compensation and Extended Benefits programs. (Michigan Democrat Sen. Debbie Stabenow also spoke incorrectly, saying people laid off on Monday this week could get more help than people laid off on Thursday.)
Cabrera said he will run out of the standard 26 weeks of state-funded benefits next week. If Barrasso had not blocked the reauthorization, unemployed people like Cabrera would be eligible for up to 53 weeks of ECU, plus potentially 20 weeks of EB. Cabrera said he gets about $300 a week.
"The money I'm getting from unemployment is basically helping me survive," he said. "I'm gonna have to choose between paying auto insurance to keep my license valid and eating."
(A national food bank administrator told HuffPost Monday that food banks have been bracing for the lapse because people who've lost income often forgo eating to pay for other necessities. "They'll cut back on food every time.")
Republicans and conservative Democrats in the Senate have blocked yearlong reauthorizations of the extended benefits because of concerns about their roughly $60 billion impact on the deficit. Democrats' likeliest path forward for renewing the benefits seems to be a perverted deal attaching them to the Bush-era tax cuts for the rich.
On Thursday evening, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) introduced legislation that included reauthorizations of unemployment benefits and tax cuts for the middle class only. The Senate will vote on (and probably not pass) the legislation early Saturday morning.
Cabrera, who lives in Davie, Fla., said it's frustrating that lawmakers don't understand the decisions they're making. "It's outrageous," he said. "They're basically speaking on something they don't have any information on."
Cabrera said that his fiancee is still working and that if the benefits are not reauthorized he'll be able to fall back on his family, even though he already feels he's been a burden.
"I do feel that at some point I'll be able to find myself a job," he said. "You got to become your own employer. You got to find a niche for yourself in this country. The companies just run roughshod over their employees."