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Business | Economy

Families Struggle As Unemployment Benefits Run Out, But Still No Job

Congress is considering granting yet another extension of unemployment benefits to out of work Americans. But unless lawmakers act quickly, thousands across the Northwest will soon cash their final unemployment insurance checks.

They're part of a wave of people who've exhausted their jobless benefits, but still haven't found work. Correspondent Austin Jenkins introduces us to two Northwest families in this predicament.

For Casi LaLonde a trip back to the busted mill town of Cosmopolis, Washington is a trip down memory lane.

 Casi LaLonde
Casi LaLonde stands outside the Cosmopolis Pulp Mill where she used to work.

Casi LaLonde: "We are looking at the place I used to work. The Cosmopolis Pulp Mill. Kind of a ghost town now."

LaLonde spent 12 years here operating heavy equipment and running the scale shack. A union worker, she could pull down $80,000 a year with overtime.

Casi LaLonde: "I miss the money I made there, but I don't really miss the work."

It's been three years now since Weyerhaeuser shut down the mill and laid everyone off. LaLonde remembers that day well.

Casi LaLonde: "I'd like to say I was clicking my heels out the door, but I was scared, I was bitter, very bitter at Weyerhaeuser."

That bitterness didn't last long. LaLonde immediately switched gears. Within weeks she enrolled in community college and later she transferred to The Evergreen State College.

In June she graduated with a Bachelor's in Social Services. LaLonde's classmates chose her to speak at graduation.

Back in her apartment in Aberdeen, Washington she reads from that speech.

Casi LaLonde: "Remember this day and revel in the fact that we're all on a level playing field, only separated by time and circumstances and not ability, hope or promise."

Casi LaLonde: "It's a totally different feeling reading now. It kind of just feels like words. I really I meant when I was saying it though. I was so full of hope. I felt successful. Today I don't feel successful."

That's because LaLonde can't find a job. And now to make matters worse her unemployment benefits have run out. She cashed her last check. She's a single mom. And her bank account is almost empty.

Casi LaLonde: "Ya, I'm probably about a month away from homeless. I've been looking for jobs that I never thought I would do in my life after obtaining my degree. I'm scared to death."

LaLonde is far from alone. Across the Northwest, some 35,000 people will exhaust their unemployment benefits by year's end.

That means they will have used up the standard 26 weeks of benefits. Plus several extensions authorized by Congress.

In most cases, a jobless worker these days can draw unemployment for a year-and-a-half. And yet for many — in this economy — it's still not enough to bridge the gap between jobs.

 Michael Danielson
Michael Danielson, wife Hadley and son Giovanni at their Olympia apartment

At the Thurston County Food Bank in Olympia, Michael Danielson picks up supplies for the week — mostly fresh produce.

Michael Danielson: "Let's get a handful of jalapenos. That'll spice up our life a little while."

Danielson, who has a wife and one-year-old child, is another Northwest worker who's recently exhausted his unemployment benefits. Danielson lost his job as a manager at Blockbuster video nearly two years ago.

Back in their cramped apartment, Danielson's wife Hadley says the unemployment benefits were a blessing for as many weeks as they lasted.

Hadley Danielson: "We certainly were very lucky to have it past the normal 26 and you can't expect it go on forever, but it would be really nice if it went on a little bit longer. We'd feel a lot safer."

Laughter quickly turns to tears as Michael contemplates having to ask their church again for help paying the rent.

Michael Danielson: "The first time you do it it's hard and every time you do it after that it gets worse, not easier."

Michael still manages a sense of humor when he imagines the conversation with his church elders.

Michael Danielson: "Everybody says God will provide. Well evidently God is providing through you guys right now and I'd really like to get to the point where he's providing through me as the head of the household. That's really where my personal humility comes in — humility versus humiliation — you got to ride that fine line."

The line Danielson isn't willing to cross — at least not yet — is working in a fast food restaurant.

Michael Danielson: "They say you can be the night manager at Wendy's. You can be the night manager at Taco Bell. No I'm sorry. I've done that before in high school and I'd really prefer to keep looking. I'm sure that the right thing is out there. "

Danielson's found a website where he can get paid writing assignments. He's also a ten hour a week personal assistant — another gig he found on-line. But it's not enough. So he and his family have signed up for TANF — that's government speak for welfare.

Back in Aberdeen, Washington, Casi LaLonde is hoping Congress authorizes another extension on jobless benefits. She says the worst part about her situation is feeling like she's let down her eleven-year-old daughter. Casi admits to being depressed.

Casi LaLonde: "There's days when I don't get out of bed and that doesn't mean I'm lazy. You know sometimes it just becomes too much."

So far LaLonde has managed to avoid sending her daughter to live with her dad in order to take a job far away, but now she says she might not have a choice.