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Jobless dad to Sen. Bunning: 'Get a reality check'

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'My jobless benefits ended'
  • Atlanta father Joe Orr found out via e-mail that his unemployment benefits were ending
  • Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Kentucky, blocked measure that would have extended benefits
  • Orr has been living on his savings but worries that he will have to sell his house
  • Head Start caseworker Linda Calvin fears she'll soon be homeless

(CNN) -- Times were tough for Joe Orr, but he was keeping family afloat.

Fourteen months ago, the Atlanta father of three lost his job in the adhesive industry because of the hit the construction industry has taken. Orr has been receiving unemployment benefits while continuing to send out résumés. He was following up every lead, networking, working hard to find work again.

But Orr is now one of more than a million people who could stop getting checks soon, with nearly 5 million running out of benefits by June, according to the National Unemployment Law Project.

On Sunday, he was stunned when he got an e-mail telling him that his unemployment benefits were ending.

"Of course, hearing the news, I understand why now," he said.

The Senate adjourned last week without approving extensions of cash and health insurance benefits for the unemployed after Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Kentucky, blocked the measure by insisting that Congress first pay for the $10 billion package. The extension needed unanimous consent to pass because Democrats have labeled it an emergency spending measure.

The Senate voted Tuesday night to pass the measure to extend benefits for unemployed workers and fund road projects after Sen. Jim Bunning agreed to end his filibuster.

The 78-19 vote on the 30-day extension came minutes after the Kentucky Republican made a final plea on the floor of the Senate for his colleagues not to borrow the money.

"We can't do everything we'd like to do," Bunning said. "We don't have the money."

Video: A view of Bunning from Kentucky
Video: Unemployment all dried up
Video: Faces of unemployment
Video: Senators debate Bunning block
Video: Protesting Bunning's block
Video: Bunning remains defiant

Bunning, who is retiring at the end of this year, said he doesn't oppose extending the programs; he just doesn't want to add to the deficit. Democrats argue that because it is an emergency measure, the bill is not subject to new rules requiring that legislation avoid expanding the deficit.

Because the Senate did not act earlier, many jobless people were no longer able to apply for federal unemployment benefits or the COBRA health insurance subsidy as of Monday.

"I was a little taken aback," Orr said Tuesday. "You rely on that money every day to pay the bills."

Orr had been receiving $330 a week in benefits, he said.

"It's not easy. Fortunately, my wife and I have saved money, and we budgeted. But the budget money is getting thinner and thinner as we go."

Federal unemployment benefits kick in after the basic state-funded 26 weeks of coverage expire. During the downturn, Congress has approved up to an additional 73 weeks, which it funds.

These federal benefit weeks are divided into tiers, and the jobless must apply each time they move into a new tier.

Had the Senate not acted, the jobless would have stopped getting checks once they ran out of their state benefits or current tier of federal benefits.

That could have been devastating to many of the more than 1 million people like the Orrs who would have been affected this month and nearly 5 million by June, according to the National Unemployment Law Project.

The Orrs have talked to their children about their financial situation. It helped that they had discussed spending with them long ago, Joe Orr said. Like Mom and Dad, who preferred to rely on cash rather than credit, the kids were taught that when the cash runs out, it runs out.

But Orr is worried. He may have to sell the family home, he said.

"I hope I don't get that far," he said, stressing that he wants to avoid foreclosure.

Orr has some advice for Bunning. "I'd tell him and some of the other politicians to get a reality check, understand what's going on in the real world."

"Some of them get carried away and don't understand what the people are really looking for."

Linda Calvin, a Head Start caseworker from Kentucky, has been unemployed since May. She fears she may soon be homeless.

"Washington doesn't get it because they are not unemployed," she said. "They're not affected by the unemployment rate. They're not affected by the people who can't pay their rent. They're not affected by people who can't buy groceries for their children. They're not affected by any of these things."

The bill also provided a short-term extension of the Highway Trust Fund intended to pay for transportation projects nationwide.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Monday that up to 2,000 employees at the Transportation Department were sent home without pay as a result of Bunning's decision to hold up the bill.

A Department of Transportation official told CNN that the president will sign the package Wednesday morning and that 2,000 furloughed transportation workers were being told to return to work in the morning.

CNN's Ashley Fantz and Alan Silverleib contributed to this report.