Nightly News   |  December 28, 2013

Families, economy facing uncertainty as benefits expire

As unemployment insurance benefits for more than a million Americans expire, some economists warn that the loss of these funds could jeopardize our country’s modest economic recovery. NBC’s Kristen Welker reports.

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>> good evening. hard times just became a lot harder for many of this country's chronically unemployed. the clock ran out on an extension of government unploit benefits 1.3 million americans depend on to get by. people still searching for work and still waiting to be lifted by the rising tide of an improving economy. congress passed the extension in 2008 at the height of the recession. but this time it doesn't look like a lifeline will be coming from washington in time to prevent some people from going under. nbc's kristen welker has been listening to some of their stories. she's here now with us in new york with more.

>> this has been a very stressful holiday season for those losing their unemployment insurance benefits and economists say that could have a big impact on individual families, but also the economy as a whole.

>> terrified. devastated.

>> reporter: overwhelming emotions as dolores and fred wake up without unemployment insurance benefits today. the new york couple says their $375 weekly check was a lifeline and now there is only uncertainty.

>> how do i feed my four children? how do i feed the dogs, my husband, everything? it's so overwhelming that you don't know where to start.

>> reporter: a year ago dolores was laid off from her sales consultant job while battling breast cancer . soon afterward, fred was forced to give up his construction company when a freak accident left him with serious brain damage. now he receives disability checks.

>> we both worked too hard. loved what we did, loved our families, took care of them, did everything for our family. it just pulled the rug out from underneath us. there's nothing left.

>> reporter: 1.3 million americans are losing their long-term unemployment insurance benefits today because congress left for vacation without renewing them. tens of thousands impacted in new jersey, pennsylvania, massachusetts, and nevada alone. some economists warn the loss of benefits could drain billions in consumer spending and more than 300,000 jobs could be lost.

>> it is a ripple effect. we have a very modest recovery that's been struggling for the last five years. and this is the sort of thing that could tip us back.

>> reporter: but republicans say extending the benefits will cost $25 billion and they won't approve an extension unless that price tag is offset. house speaker john boehner 's spokesperson writes, why didn't democrats offer a plan that met the speaker's requirements? fiscally responsible with something to create jobs. but democrats in favor of the benefits are turning up the heat. one liberal group released this cable tv ad.

>> you know who had a merry christmas in the richest 1%. that's who.

>> and president obama vacationing in hawaii placed calls to two senators who are working on the three-month bipartisan deal.

>> prospects are better for a short-term extension than a longer term. but in either case, it's very difficult to see how congress is going to identify the money to pay for this.

>> reporter: meanwhile, folks like dolores and fred wonder how they will survive in 2014 .

>> how stressful is this sort of mountain of unpaid bills?

>> mt. everest. some people have climbed to the top, so here's my mt. everest. that's my mission, i guess.

>> dolores says she's been consistently looking for jobs but just hasn't found anything permanent. 4 million americans have been out of work for 27 weeks or more. that's the highest long-term unemployment since world war ii . lester?

>> all right, kristen, thank you.