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US families losing unemployment benefits resort to desperate measures

WESTMINSTER, California -- The end of unemployment benefit checks for more than a million people on Saturday is driving out-of-work Americans to consider selling cars, moving and taking minimum wage work after already slashing household budgets and pawning personal possessions to make ends meet.

Greg and Barbara Chastain of Huntington Beach, California, put their two teenagers on the government-subsidized school lunch program and cut back on dining out after losing their T-shirt company in June following a dispute with an investor. They've exhausted their state unemployment benefits and now that the federal extensions are gone, unless they find jobs the couple plans to take their children out of their high school in January and relocate 80 kilometers east where a relative owns property so they can save on rent

“We could let one of our cars go, but then you can't get to work — it's a never-ending cycle,” 43-year-old Greg Chastain said while accompanying his wife to an Orange County employment center. He said they eventually may try their luck in a less expensive state like Arizona or Texas if he can land a manufacturing job there.

The end to the five-year program that extended benefits for the long-term jobless affected 1.3 million people immediately and will impact hundreds of thousands more who remain jobless in the months ahead. Under the program, the federal government provided an average monthly stipend of US$1,166.

Since 2008, the federal program paid out benefits to the unemployed after their 26 weeks of state benefits ran out. At its peak, the program offered up to 73 weeks of federal benefits — which are typically offered during periods of high unemployment — to the long-term jobless.

While the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress want to continue the program, the extensions were dropped from a compromise budget deal struck earlier this month and Republican lawmakers have balked at its US$26 billion annual cost.

The end of the program may prompt a drop in the nation's unemployment rate, but not necessarily for a good reason. People out of work are required to look for work to receive unemployment benefits. As benefits disappear, some jobless will stop looking for work out of frustration and will no longer be counted as unemployed.

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