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$355 A Week Is Tough, But It's Even Harder Without

Debra Rousey doesn't want to get an unemployment check every week. She'd much rather get a paycheck, as she used to back in November, before she lost her job as an assistant bank manager.

But now her unemployment benefits have ended, and Congress is deadlocked about extending them for her and more than 2 million other Americans. And she says she needs the money just to keep the lights on and a roof over her family's heads.

"Weekly, I've been getting $355," Rousey tells NPR's Lynn Neary. That's a little over $18,000 a year. Rousey used to make $41,000 annually at the bank. She says, despite what people think, unemployment benefits are not a handout.


"I'd rather get three times that amount of money in a paycheck every week," she says. But Rousey needs the benefits until she finds another job. It's been more than two weeks since the checks stopped.

Even when she was getting those checks, Rousey needed help from family to keep up with expenses. "My rent's overdue. All of my utilities are overdue," she says. "Everything is at that cutoff point whereas if I don't come up with something by the end of the month, everything will be shut off."

She says she applies for jobs daily online, but part of the problem may be her resume. "When my resume hits a company, they look at my qualifications and think I am going to want a lot whole more."

Rousey's been advised to dumb down her resume, but she fears that might make her look unqualified for the kind of job she prefers. "It's kind of a catch-22 situation," she says. "Do I dummy it down so that I'm not overqualified, or do I keep all the information in there so I can get what I should be getting?"

She's a single mom supporting her 17-year-old son, her 25-year-old daughter and two young grandchildren. She rents a house at $900 a month for the family of five, but "I got my three-day notice yesterday in the mail from my landlord saying pay up or get out." Rousey was able to pay June's rent with help from her former in-laws, but she still has to come up with money for July.


She says her situation is desperate, but she's torn about applying for public assistance. She has a bachelor's degree in business administration and is currently working on her master's in adult education and training.

"Twenty years ago, when I was a single mother I was on food stamps and Medicaid," she says. "I feel like I have come so far, making the income I was making, getting the degrees that I got, and to go back to public assistance is like taking three steps backwards."

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