One million people will stop receiving unemployment benefits in January unless Congress makes a move before the Christmas recess, according to an analysis by the National Employment Law Project.
Two weeks ago, after an epic delay by Republican senators, Congress passed a 14-week extension for all states, with an additional 6 weeks for states with unemployment above 8.5 percent.
But it turns out that extension was built on the extended benefits authorized under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which does not allow for additional extensions after Dec. 31. So for people currently collecting unemployment, there will be no new extensions of benefits after New Year's Day unless Congress acts.
The extension that passed Congress on Nov. 4 was designed to help the thousands of unemployed people already exhausting their extensions every week. Those thousands would be a trickle compared to the tidal wave of people whose benefits would dry up in January.
Congress also needs to decide whether to extend a 65 percent subsidy of COBRA health benefits and an extra $25 per week in unemployment checks.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (Md.) said Democrats would at least deal with unemployment and COBRA benefits. And Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) said, "I think clearly we need to move on the unemployment insurance and the COBRA."
It might seem like a no-brainer, but the similarly obvious 14-week extension languished in the Senate for six weeks after it passed the House.
"Any delay reauthorizing the ARRA will have devastating consequences not just for workers and the struggling communities hardest hit by the recession," said National Employment Law Project executive director Christine Owens in a statement. "By early December, state agencies that administer unemployment benefits will be forced to notify workers that the program will be shut down by the end of year, as required by federal law. If Congress doesn't reauthorize the programs as soon as possible, this ARRA deadline will create total chaos for the state agencies and workers facing an uncertain future."