Unemployment benefits run out as Congress dallies

As Congress holds up appropriations to pay unemployment benefits, some US families find themselves with no money and no prospects.

 Suburban survival, like a game of monopoly, sometimes all comes down to chance. Landing and keeping a property, for example.

“We saved and saved and saved and we got in it wasn’t two months after we bought the house I lost my job,” said unemployed realtor Kathy Zell of Germantown, Maryland.

And then, “my Christmas present was a pink slip in ’08, so I haven’t worked since 08,” said her husband, Bernard Zell, an unemployed union electrician.

What does a family do when faced with losing it all?

“I’m in negotiations with the bank to keep the house,” said Bernard. “We are literally talking to the banks as we speak.”

“You learn to pinch this and pinch that, and do what you can,” explained Kathy.

When your reserves have dried up – for Bernard his retirement and savings – you only have community chest to turn to, that is, unemployment benefits. And as U.S. Congress has shown in the last few weeks with a delay in a vote to extend unemployment insurance affecting 400,000 Americans, the benefits can be quickly suspended. Stepping back and reflecting, that reality hits this father.

“Oh man, I don’t want to think about it,” Bernard says, moved to tears at the thought of losing his benefits.

The Zell Family live in a very typical suburban neighborhood. It feels very far removed from Washington DC. But the decisions being made in the U.S. capital are affecting their lives and literally making in the difference in whether a family like this can get by or not.

“I use that money to of course put food on the table,” Bernard said. "Losing your benefits it feels like you’re losing your whole world…it’s a heavy heavy subject.”

In this recession, even when people try their hardest to move forward, sometimes they can’t pass go.

Bernard gets a busy signal when he tries to call in to the electricians job line to hear about any jobs available. “You got a thousand guys on the bench,” he explained.

With some things, you simply can’t afford to roll the dice.

“The biggest thing that goes through my head is my son,” Bernard said. “You know we shield or children from devastating situations like the one we’re going through.”

It’s a shield that allows some dreams to stay alive and remain unscathed in this home.

“I want to be the first officer in my family,” said 14-year-old Chad Zell, Bernard and Kathy’s son, who is active in ROTC and dreams of joining the military. “That’s where my dream started.”

Meanwhile, the grown-ups are no longer counting on their America dream. Facing the financial nightmare it has become, they now turn to the heavens.

“I’m living on a wing and a prayer,” says Bernard.