Nearly 1.3 million jobless Americans will lose their unemployment benefits if Congress doesn’t renew the program by the end of December.
Another 850,000 or so workers would run out of unemployment insurance in subsequent months, USA Today reported.
According to National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered,” an emergency federal benefit program was set up during the recession to aid people who don’t have a job for more than six months, even when state benefits run out.
The program is set to expire on Dec. 28, which means the most people could get would be six months of unemployment compensation. It would be even less in some states.
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Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., recently held a press conference with different Democratic members of Congress to move the issue "from the back burner to the front burner."
"To say to people at Christmastime: When you look in your Christmas sock you're going to find a lump of coal from the Congress — that's wrong," says Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash. "And then we're going to go home and have a great celebration and have a great time, and leave an awful lot of people in the cold. This has to be done."
However, Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., says five years after it started as a brief emergency measure during the recession, no one is motivated to start up the program again.
If Congress continues the program for another year, advocates say it would cost approximately $25 billion.
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"If the desire is to change the way we deal with unemployment in this country permanently, we need to have that debate," says Rep. Rob Woodall, R-Ga. "But what we did was never intended to be permanent. It was intended to be a very temporary solution to a very temporary crisis."
But for the 4 million longtime unemployed workers, the crisis continues, says Judy Conti, a National Employment Law Project advocate.
"I would be lying if I said people in Congress weren't fatigued by having to keep doing this, but at the same time the long-term are fatigued from having to search for work in a bad economy," Conti says. "So, it's not time yet to remove the federal safety net from the unemployed."
Democrats hope to add extended benefits to the legislation that must be passed before the end of the year.
House Speaker John Boehner’s spokesman says Republicans will look over any plans Democrats come up with, but adds: "We think it would be better for them to focus on helping get our economy moving again so more of the unemployed can find jobs."