Benefits for 12 million end the day after Christmas if lawmakers can’t agree on coronavirus relief.
By Arthur Delaney and Igor Bobic | HuffPost
Nearly 12 million workers will lose federal unemployment benefits on Dec. 26 if lawmakers fail to reach a reauthorization deal.
At the outset of the coronavirus pandemic in March, Congress sprang into action with new unemployment programs and boosted benefits an unprecedented $600 per week. But lawmakers thought the pandemic would be under control in a matter of months, and the extra money lapsed in July.
Now, even as COVID-19 infections spread wildly, all the other enhanced unemployment programs are set to end. The looming expiration is part of an epic year-end abyss, with an eviction moratorium, student debt forbearance and a host of tax breaks all disappearing down the hole at the same time.
According to an estimate from The Century Foundation, a progressive think tank that has closely tracked unemployment claims this year, more than 7 million workers stand to lose the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance benefits Congress created for Uber drivers and other gig workers without traditional payrolls who normally don’t qualify for such aid.
Another 4.6 million workers will lose Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, which was created to help the long-term unemployed who had already exhausted the 26 weeks of regular benefits most states provide. While 18 states have extended benefit programs that could cover nearly 3 million of those workers, come Dec. 26 those programs will lose federal funding and put further strain on state budgets.
“Without unemployment benefits and with savings badly depleted, families will be at high risk for food insecurity and loss of their homes, and many may be unable to pay for health care during some of the darkest days of the pandemic,” The Century Foundation’s Andrew Stettner and Elizabeth Pancotti wrote in their analysis. “The nation’s entire economy will suffer.”
For months, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin tried to negotiate a coronavirus relief deal that would include an extension of unemployment benefits, another round of direct payments to households, and assistance for the financially-strapped state and local governments. Those negotiations collapsed shortly before the Nov. 3 election, and now it’s not clear if anyone in Washington is even trying to reach an agreement.
President-elect Joe Biden said Monday that Congress ought to pass a comprehensive bill like the $2 trillion measure Democrats pushed through the House in October. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has called that bill a nonstarter.
With Senate Republicans opposed to a large spending bill, McConnell has stayed out of the negotiations, instead offering up votes on a series of individual proposals, such as a $500 billion measure that would give the unemployed an extra $300 per week. Democrats say McConnell’s piecemeal approach is inadequate to the massive needs in the country.
“Cases and hospitalizations are skyrocketing, which will cause the economy to further decline over the next few months,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said in a statement. “In the face of mass death and economic devastation, Mitch McConnell is doing nothing to provide relief to American families.”
On Tuesday, Pelosi demanded McConnell negotiate. “For the sake of the country, we ask that you come to the table and work with us to produce an agreement that meets America’s needs in this critical time,” the speaker said in a letter.
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