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Area jobless await extension of unemployment benefits
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When Sharon Grayer lost her job, it affected more than her household, which includes her two children and an aging aunt.

Ultimately, her inability to pay her rent and other bills snowballed into a stressful situation for her older brother, Tommy Watson, too.

“We didn’t have anywhere else to go, so he took us in,” said Grayer, a former Dahlonega resident.

“But his trailer was already dang near full to the rafters. He got his own family — a wife and two kids — so everybody is on top of everybody. Nerves are pretty tight.”

Although Grayer’s weekly unemployment benefit checks are only a fraction of what she was used to making as a truck driver, they are still better than nothing, she says.

Currently, about 10.2 percent of Georgians are out of work; the national jobless rate is around 9.7 percent.

With legislation extending unemployment benefits stalled in the U.S. Senate, Grayer and millions of other Americans soon may see their small stipends dry up.

In Georgia, 26 weeks is the maximum length of time that residents can claim unemployment benefits.

Previously, federal legislation provided for extended benefits that kicked in after the initial 26-week period ended.

Those benefits were split into three tiers, for a maximum of 73 weeks of additional benefits.

The deadline to apply for those federal benefits expired at the end of May, leaving many long-term unemployed workers out in the cold.

According to state labor officials, the average unemployed worker collects benefits for around 13 weeks, an increase from 11 weeks in 2008.

While the U.S. House recently approved a resolution extending the application deadline to November, the Senate took a summer recess prior to taking action.

“How can they not do anything? This isn’t just some piece of paper sitting on a desk,” said William Jones, a Buford resident.

“This affects real people and their real lives.”

In Hall County alone, 922 initial unemployment claims were filed in May.

If the new extension isn’t approved soon, those unemployed workers will stop receiving payments just before Thanksgiving.

Congress is expected to reconvene Monday, when the Senate may take action on the proposed resolution.

If the legislation is passed, it would allow workers who lost benefits in May to receive retroactive payments.

“People need help,” said Ann Rogers, a Gainesville resident.

“I hope they move quick.”

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