If Congress fails to reauthorize extended unemployment benefits by the end of November, it will spoil the holidays for 1.2 million people, according to the National Employment Law Project.
"The program deadline falls in the midst of the holiday season, when unemployed families do their best to put food on the table and hold on to their family traditions," said NELP in a release. "It's also a time when the economy, especially the retail sector, is counting on consumer spending -- supported in part by unemployment benefits -- to maintain the recovery."
Around this same time last year, NELP raised the alarm about Congress playing Scrooge as expiration loomed for federally-funded extended benefits. Congress dutifully reauthorized the benefits, but that was before several months of jobs gains, GDP growth, and the coming campaign season brought about a surge in deficit worries among conservative Democrats in the House and Senate. Whether Congress will act on time this fall is an open question.
Over the summer, the Senate spent nearly two months fighting over the reauthorization as 2.5 million people who've been unemployed for six months or longer missed checks. States fund jobless aid for the first 26 weeks after a layoff, and during recessions Congress routinely makes additional benefits available. Right now in the hardest-hit states, the unemployed are eligible for an additional 73 weeks of benefits. According to the latest data from the Labor Department, 4.3 million people receive state benefits and 5.1 million people receive federal benefits.
There will be very little time to reauthorize the federal benefits, as Congress returns from its recess mid-November and the deadline will be two weeks away. NELP estimates there will only be three or four likely voting days. "Today's unemployed families and the nation's economic recovery urgently need for Congress to prioritize reauthorization of the federal UI programs during this brief window. Neither jobless workers nor the economy can afford another round of prolonged debate and destructive delay, yielding another lapse in benefits."
An additional complication is the fact that some Senate seats currently held by Democratic appointees may be immediately re-filled with Republicans, who have been steadfast in opposition to reauthorizing the benefits without massive spending cuts elsewhere in the budget. Given Congress' demonstrated willingness to go on vacation even though jobless aid will lapse in their absence -- it's actually happened three times this year -- NELP has launched an aggressive lobbying effort.