While the country has experienced an almost unprecedented economic downturn this year, one of the most effective forms of stimulus has been unemployment benefits. As reported in a new study (PDF) published by the National Employment Law Project and the Center for American Progress Action Fund, "[t]he part of the stimulus providing the biggest bang for the buck--the most economic activity per federal dollar spent--is the extension of unemployment insurance benefits."
Those stimulus benefits (also called Emergency Unemployment Compensation) have been the source of intense political wrangling during the past 18 months: House Democrats initially sought to include them in legislation in 2008, but President Bush threatened to veto any bill that contained a benefits provision. In November, Bush relented, and signed H.R. 6867. The program was then expanded in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (a.k.a. the stimulus bill) that was passed in February. More recently, Congress approved an expansion of EUC of between 14-20 weeks (depending on the level of unemployment in a particular state), but only after weeks of bickering in the Senate.
The time spent legislating that expansion is now catching up on millions of unemployed Americans, because the EUC program wasn't extended when it was expanded. Therefore, the EUC plan enacted as part of the stimulus bill will expire on December 31. According to NELP, more than 1 million Americans will see their benefits dropped in January, and more than 3 million by March, if Congress doesn't pass a bill extending EUC.
In addition to the EUC program, the NELP/CAP study recommended renewing additional ARRA provisions: federal funding for Extended Benefits, an $25-per-week benefit for the unemployed, a subsidy for COBRA, and tax exemptions on unemployment benefits.
Two bills have been introduced to extend the ARRA provisions: H.R. 4183 in the House, and S.2831 in the Senate. OpenCongress.org should have the text online for those bills this evening, so be sure to start tracking them.