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Why Are 1.3 Million Americans Losing Their Unemployment Benefits?

Alicia Nesbitt, a 56-year-old former financial aid administrator from Connecticut, has just two more unemployment checks ($348 total) coming to her before the end of the year. "If anyone had told me I would be unemployed and uncertain as to my future at my age, I would not have believed it," she recently told NBC News.  Mary Helen Gillespie of New Hampshire told the New York Times that, since being laid off in April, she has been living on unemployment insurance payments of $384 a week—which she will soon lose. Casey O'Connell, who lives outside of Philadelphia, Pa., has used her unemployment benefits to keep her family from falling too far behind in their bills, and isn't sure what she'd do without the weekly $270 payment she receives.

Alicia, Mary, and Casey have all managed to stay afloat after being laid off because of emergency federal unemployment benefits, which can offer as many as 73 additional weeks of payments to individuals who have maxed out their state unemployment benefits. But yesterday evening, the House of Representatives passed a long-awaited budget deal that failed to extend the those emergency benefits, called the Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program. Now, the program is scheduled to expire at the end of the year, and, without an extension, 1.3 million people will lose their benefits the week after Christmas—and millions more will be denied those benefits altogether next year.

This is a major failing, but the budget deal is a move in the right direction. It replaces some of the harmful cuts of the sequester, ends the threat of additional government shutdowns and fiscal cliffs, and perhaps even signals that the political gridlock that has defined this Congress is easing. And, Congress can still "fix" EUC after they return to Washington in January. Still, that may be of little comfort to those who will see their benefits abruptly cut off at the end of the year.

In a statement given before the House voted on the deal, Bread for the World President David Beckmann called it "a good first step," but one that is "not perfect," in large part because it doesn't include a provision to extend EUC.  "It leaves more than 1 million unemployed workers without benefits just after Christmas," he said. "Congress should address this immediately."

Read Bread for the World President David Beckmann's full statement on the budget compromise, and see this analysis from the Center on Budget Priorities and Policy for more on how failing to extend federal emergency unemployment will affect each state.

 

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