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Unemployment Benefits Set To Expire For 1.3 Million At End Of Year

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WASHINGTON -- More than a million Americans will lose unemployment insurance at the end of the year unless Congress takes action, according to a worker advocacy group.

The National Employment Law Project said Wednesday that the 1.3 million Americans currently receiving long-term unemployment insurance will abruptly lose federal benefits, which kick in once state aid runs out, between Christmas and the new year. In the ensuing months, another 850,000 jobless workers will run out of state benefits and not receive an extension.

"Congress cannot conscionably ignore or dismiss the economic realities facing far too many unemployed workers and their families," NELP director Christine Owens said in a press release.

Flirting with a holiday deadline for unemployment benefits has been a familiar congressional ritual during the Obama administration. Last year, Democrats successfully won a continuation of benefits through a deal to resolve the so-called fiscal cliff. In 2011, Congress attached a reauthorization of the benefits to an expiring payroll tax cut. The year before that, lawmakers attached the benefits to an extension of Bush-era tax cuts for the rich.

But policymakers haven't said anything about the benefits lately. What will they do this year?

Congress struck a deal last month to end a two-week government shutdown and fund the government until the beginning of 2014. Long-term unemployment insurance could perhaps hitch a ride on the next bill to fund government operations after the mid-January deadline.

Members of Congress showed little interest in preventing a $5 billion reduction to food stamp benefits last week, however. That cut affected all 47 million food stamp recipients, far more than the number of people who receive unemployment benefits.

Congress first gave the long-term jobless extra weeks of benefits as the economy tanked in 2008. The federal compensation takes over when workers run out of state benefits, which typically last for six months. Though combined state and federal jobless aid once lasted for 99 weeks, Congress has scaled back the federal programs in some states and a declining proportion of the unemployed now receive benefits.

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