Jobless benefits will expire unless Congress acts

Jobless benefits for about 1 million unemployed workers will end in January 2010 unless Congress quickly renews existing federally paid extensions, according to The New York Times.

On Nov. 6, Congress signed into law an extension of emergency benefits that provided up to 14 weeks of federally paid aid for laid-off workers who had exhausted existing state and federal limits. Additionally, a majority of states with particularly high unemployment rates received an additional six weeks of benefits, offering a potential total of 99 weeks.

However, the added federal benefits were built on a series of previous extensions and are set to end Dec. 31. It was assumed Congress would prolong those programs, but it has not yet considered a specific proposal. If Congress doesn't act before Christmas break, many workers will have no jobless benefits.

"There are six people looking for every available job, and these payments are enabling people to pay their mortgages and put food on the table," says Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), who championed the Nov. 6 law and hopes to urge Congress to move quickly regarding the issue.

Workers currently are eligible for a series of federally paid extensions, which are awarded in stages. If the programs are not renewed for 2010, recipients will continue receiving benefits in their current stage but will no longer jump to the next stage.

According to a study released by National Employment Law Project, 474,111 unemployed workers will exhaust their state benefits during January 2010 and not receive any extensions if Congress does not act. Federal benefits for an additional 581,000 workers will end in January 2010.

"Congress has less than four weeks left on the schedule to legislate this year, and then the clock will run out for a million workers," says Christine Owens, executive director of National Employment Law Project.

McDermott says because there was overwhelming support for the Nov. 6 extensions, he believes the widespread suffering of unemployed workers will lead to Congress' efficient renewal of benefits for next year.

Date : 11/20/2009