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Unemployed Texans Await Benefits Vote In Congress

By Shelley Kofler, KERA News

Dallas, TX – Hundreds of thousands of Texans could have unemployment benefits restored as early as Wednesday. The U.S. House is expected to extend federal benefits until November and President Obama has said he'll sign the bill. The U.S. Senate voted to restore benefits Tuesday after delaying the measure. KERA's Shelley Kofler has more on how the debate in Washington is affecting unemployed Texans.

Bill Kimball had a good paying bank job in Dallas until January of 2009. He's been looking for work in his field ever since. Kimball was receiving $417 a week in unemployment benefits but in June the checks stopped coming. That's because congressional republicans balked at continuing the federal supplement saying it would add to federal debt.

That supplement allowed Texans to receive up to 93 weeks of unemployment benefits. Without it Texans qualify for much less- a maximum 26 weeks of help.

Kimball is a rock-solid republican who understands concerns about piling up debt. But he says unemployed workers need the help.

Kimball: I have been a lifetime saver so it's not a shelter issue. It's not an eat-or-no-eat issue. But it's nice to have that income. I like the idea of cutting somewhere else to pay for this.

For Juan Encina the unexpected loss of an unemployment check has been tougher.

Encina: The money I have in my savings is going down. Now I don't know what is going to happen.

Encina was an apprentice electrician in March of 2009 when his company laid him off. He's had some temporary jobs since then but he counted on his weekly jobless benefits of $388 to pay for necessities. Encina chokes back tears as he talks about his 88-year old mother's invitation to move home.

Reporter: She just wants you to come home?

Encina: Yeah. I pay rent, bills. What can I do?

The Texas Workforce Commission says that since June 5 some 30,000 Texans a week have stopped receiving unemployment money they would have received if the federal program had continued.

If Congress and the President now reinstate that program as expected, Kimball, Encina and many thousands of Texans will receive the unemployment payments due them since June.

The Workforce Commission says the retroactive benefits would be paid within several weeks. Encina says it would be a lifeline as he continues looking for a job.

Encina: It's very important to keep living, you know.

Email Shelley Kofler