The expanded federal unemployment insurance program that provides benefits to millions of long-term unemployed Americans is set to expire at the end of December. If Congress fails to extend it, roughly two million Americans could lose their monthly unemployment checks.
States provide unemployment insurance for the first 27 weeks after a worker loses his or her job; after that, the federal government has provided benefits under the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program passed in 2008. There are currently five million Americans who have been out of work for longer than six months, and of those, virtually everyone who has been out of work since the end of July stands to lose their benefits at the end of the year. Even more could lose benefits by April without a renewal of the EUC program, the Washington Post reports:
These workers have exhausted their state unemployment insurance, leaving them reliant on the federal program.
In addition to those at risk of abruptly losing their benefits in December, 1 million people would have their checks curtailed by April if the program is not renewed, according to lawmakers and advocates pushing for an extension.
Congress last extended the federal unemployment program earlier this year, but it cut the number of weeks of assistance when it did so. More than 500,000 Americans lost unemployment insurance between the beginning of 2012 and the end of July, largely because the formula used to calculate eligibility for those benefits is based on comparisons of state unemployment rates. So even though some states still have persistently high unemployment rates, they have lost access to EUC because those rates have improved slightly since they peaked during the Great Recession.
Republicans have previously created fights over unemployment extensions, arguing that the program creates a culture of dependency and causes beneficiaries to stop looking for jobs. Despite those claims, the EUC program requires recipients to search for jobs while they receive benefits, and studies have shown that recipients of unemployment insurance look harder for jobs than those who don’t benefit from the program.