12 million to lose federal unemployment benefits after Christmas: study

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Twelve million people would lose federal benefits the day after Christmas if Congress does not pass extensions for key unemployment programs, according to a study by The Century Foundation, a progressive think tank.

“Absent congressional action to extend CARES Act benefits, December 26 will mark the end of one of the last lifelines available to millions of Americans in desperate need,” said Andrew Stettner, who co-authored the study with Elizabeth Pancotti. “It will be a crippling end to one of our darkest years.”

Congress passed a slew of expanded benefits programs in the CARES Act, March’s emergency COVID-19 relief bill. One program, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, expanded eligibility to the self-employed and gig economy workers, a group that normally is not eligible for unemployment benefits.

The study released Wednesday estimated that 7.3 million people will be on the program when it expires the last week of December, and that 945,000 people will have run out of the benefit before that point.

Another program, Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, provided an extension of benefits after the 26 weeks most states offer ran out. If that program expires at year’s end, 4.6 million workers would lose benefits. Another 3.5 million will have already used up the benefit before that point.

Of those losing coverage, some will have recourse. The new study estimated that 2.9 million will be able to continue receiving benefits from state-level programs called Extended Benefits, though states will have to pitch in to cover half the costs in the new year.

But millions will remain without any unemployment benefits, which only cover a fraction of prior income. Another program, which added $600 a week to unemployment checks across the board, expired at the end of July.

The prospects of Congress moving to extend the programs remain murky. While both Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have called for some level of relief, the two remain hundreds of billions of dollars apart in their estimation of how large the bill should be.

They have yet to schedule or sit down for any formal negotiations on the matter, which is just one of several important legislative items they must agree on during the lame-duck session, including funding the government to avoid a shutdown and passing the annual defense authorization bill.

Millions of Americans remain unemployed since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, and many more could lose jobs amid the unbridled spike in recent weeks that has brought new caseloads to over 150,000 a day on average.

Tags Coronavirus COVID-19 relief lame-duck session of congress Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi Pandemic U.S. economy Unemployment benefits

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