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Alicia Nesbitt and Erin Londen are two of about 22,000 unemployed Connecticut residents whose unemployment benefits were terminated this month and they wanted Congress to know Monday that they resent being treated like freeloaders.

“Congress, I hope you’re listening. I know you’re probably having a great time on vacation, but we’re all here. This is it. This is the face — middle class, middle age, own a home, never thought I’d be in this position. Put out some dollars,” Nesbitt said at a Monday press conference.

Nesbitt, a 56-year-old East Windsor resident who previously worked in financial aid administration, will be collecting her last unemployment check this week as Congress allowed the federal long-term unemployment program to expire on Saturday.

The program had been providing federal assistance to residents who had already exhausted the 26-week state program. In Connecticut, that means about 25,000 residents are abruptly losing their assistance income.

The state Labor Department plans this week to notify about 3,500 of those 25,000 residents to let them know that they are eligible to receive additional state benefits at a lower rate, but thousands more will be out of luck. Nesbitt said she planned to apply for food stamp benefits because she did not have enough food to eat in her home.

At a press conference held at CTWorks, an employment assistance center in Hartford, she described part of a conversation with a lawmaker whose name she said she did not remember. Nesbitt expressed frustration with the implication that recipients of the long-term benefits would rather collect government checks than find jobs to support themselves.

“If he thinks that this lifeline that we have is making us dependent on the federal government — are you kidding me?” she said. “. . .There’s no jobs. I don’t just apply in my field, I apply across the board anything that I think is relevant, anything that I think I’m qualified for.”

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Erin Londen, an unemployed Bristol resident, said she has been out of work since March and it’s been the most difficult period of her professional life. Londen said she is a single mother with a son in college.

“I am not lazy, believe you me, my friends that are working say ‘you work harder than we do.’ They’re right. Every single day I am pounding it — almost seven days a week — trying to find a job, talking to the right people,” she said.

Without benefits, Londen said she was worried about losing her house and may have to move out of state.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said he hoped a bipartisan bill to extend the program for three months would be among the first actions the Senate takes when it returns next month.
“We’re talking here about people who have worked hard their whole lives and they find themselves now in this predicament that they never could have predicted,” he said. “They’re seeking work, they’re trying to upgrade their skills.”

Although he voted for it, Blumenthal criticized a negotiated budget deal passed earlier this month because it did not continue the program. In January, he said Congress will have the opportunity to “make amends” for not including an extension in the bill.

Blumenthal urged residents to contact their elected officials and said he hoped it would pass both the Senate and the House. He said it is an issue that impacts people all around the country.

“My hope is that Congress is listening right now. We’re on break. They ought to be listening and heeding what they hear from America’s people,” he said.

At an earlier Capitol press conference Monday, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said he also hoped Congress was listening to constituents on the issue.

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“I hope that Congressmen and women that are home in their constituencies right now are getting an earful. We have high unemployment in this country and we have traditionally dealt with high unemployment by extending the benefits,” he said.

Malloy called the timing of ending the program “absolutely horrendous.” He said he would support extending the program even if it were only for a few months.

The governor said that unemployment rates are currently higher than they have been at points when Congress has historically chosen to discontinue the federal benefit program. He said it “makes no sense at all” to terminate the program while more than 7 percent of the country are considered unemployed.

Malloy said the loss of benefits for the unemployed could cost the economy billions of dollars. He blamed Republicans for the program’s expiration and likened it to to the federal government shutdown in October.

“As far as I can see, Republicans nationally as well as, when given the option locally, find a way to hurt the economy,” Malloy said.