When it reconvenes in mid-November, Congress will have just two weeks to reauthorize extended unemployment benefits, a fight that took nearly two months earlier this summer. The National Employment Law Project, the foremost advocate for keeping the benefits, has already begun its lobbying effort and on Friday launched a new website.
"Congress took seven weeks to reauthorize the extensions when benefits expired last June, and in that time more than two million unemployed Americans and their families lost their jobless benefits," said NELP director Christine Owens in a statement. "With UnemployedWorkers.org, we intend to prevent any cut offs or lapses this November by partnering with mobilized workers, supporters and other advocates to put unemployment insurance at the top of Congress's to-do list when it reconvenes."
Federally-funded extended benefits for the long-term jobless will expire at the end of November. To fight the recession, Congress gave the unemployed an additional 73 weeks of federally-funded benefits on top of the 26 weeks provided by states. Nearly half of the 15 million unemployed have been out of work for longer than six months.
The extra weeks have needed reauthorization three times this year, and each time Congress has been unable to reauthorize them on time. The longest lapse occurred this summer -- 2.5 million people missed checks as the Senate deadlocked for 50 days.
According to NELP, 5.1 million people were receiving the federally-funded benefits at the end of September, on top of 4.3 million receiving state-funded benefits. Unemployment insurance kept 3.3 million people out of poverty in 2009, according to the Census.
Preserving those federally-funded benefits may be more difficult in November than it was earlier this year because there may be fewer Democrats in the Senate. Several Democratic Senate seats are currently held by appointed senators whose elected replacements should be seated as soon as election results are certified.
The previous reauthorization hinged on a single vote. Judy Conti, NELP's top lobbyist, said NELP is prepared for a change in the balance.
"These programs have always enjoyed bi-partisan support and we expect that to be no different in November, or next year," said Conti in an email. We have full confidence that especially with Thanksgiving and the December holidays approaching, enough Senators will realize that they cannot cut these benefits for millions of workers and their families, nor can then devastate the retail sector during a time in which it counts on consumer spending to make a significant portion of its yearly profits."
Here's NELP's video about the looming cutoff:
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