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Emergency Unemployment Benefits Expire For Thousands

Reported: Dec. 30, 2013 10:33 PM EST
Updated: Dec. 31, 2013 9:57 AM EST
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (Kera Mashek) -- As the holiday season winds down, many of you find yourselves with a mountain of bills to pay off from all those presents.

But for thousands of West Virginians, the struggle to pay even the most basic expenses like rent and electricity is now more difficult, as some unemployment benefits have just expired.

As of Saturday, some 7,000 people lost their emergency unemployment benefits, a federal extension that was offered to people who saw regular unemployment checks run out. For families affected, getting back on their feet hasn't been easy. But even on the heels of the holiday season, local charities say they're ready to help an increased demand.

"I never thought I would have a college degree and be facing homelessness and not be able to get a job," said Andrea Pelaez of Charleston.

But that's exactly the situation Andrea Pelaez finds herself in. Making matters worse, she and roughly 7,000 other West Virginians will get their last checks under an extension of federal emergency unemployment benefits Tuesday.

"I never thought I would be one of those people and actually I did criticize and look down on those people and be very judgmental thinking it was something they were doing or not doing and now I realize it can happen to anybody," said Pelaez.

But Pelaez is thankful for community resources available to help. Workforce West Virginia encourages those impacted by the new loss of emergency benefits or anyone looking for work, to use its job search tools, training and educational resources to get back on their feet.

"They can offer some remedial skills such as GED training and they need to work through the job service side to get the best possible services available," said Lisa Hanson with Workforce West Virginia.

Local food pantries and soup kitchens like Manna Meal in Charleston say this year has already seen record demand. But thankfully, the holiday season brought out generous donations and the shelves here are overflowing, allowing the organization to meet a need for food that will likely keep growing with loss of unemployment benefits and potential food stamp cuts.

"It looks like right now I might be able to make it to March, so that's great. I'm not too worried about what's going to come my way because I truly believe that we'll be taken care of," said Jean Simpson, Manna Meal executive director.

That's at least a little good news for folks like Andrea Pelaez needing help.

Since the recession started in 2008, about 98,000 West Virginians have taken advantage of emergency unemployment benefits. Those benefits have been extended by Congress 11 times already and another extension is already being talked about. But Congress doesn't reconvene until January 6th, leaving thousands of people without any assistance for the time being..



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