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Volunteers prepare to load boxes of food assistance into a line of waiting cars at the Share Your Christmas food distribution event sponsored by the Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida, Faith Neighborhood Center, and WESH 2 at Hope International Church on December 9, 2020 in Groveland, Florida.

Volunteers prepare to load boxes of food assistance into a line of waiting cars at the Share Your Christmas food distribution event sponsored by the Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida, Faith Neighborhood Center, and WESH 2 at Hope International Church on December 9, 2020 in Groveland, Florida. (Photo: Paul Hennessy/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Thanks to GOP Stonewalling, Experts Say Congress 'Already Too Late' to Prevent Lapse in Unemployment Benefits

"We will find ourselves early next year in the midst of a humanitarian crisis brought upon by cruel indifference."

Jake Johnson

At the end of July, the $600-per-week federal boost to unemployment benefits provided by the CARES Act expired thanks to Republican opposition to a legislative fix—intransigence that dramatically slashed the incomes of millions of jobless Americans.

Fast forward to the present, with the U.S. economy still in shambles and trending in the wrong direction, and a similarly devastating situation is playing out: Continued GOP stonewalling and demands for sweeping corporate liability protections have dragged out coronavirus relief talks to the point where, even if Congress approves a deal before year's end, millions of people will likely see a temporary lapse in their unemployment benefits.

On December 26, the day after Christmas, two CARES Act unemployment programs are set to expire, depriving an estimated 12 million jobless workers of a key lifeline. According to experts, passage of an extension before the December 26 deadline—far from a sure thing—will not be enough to avert a benefit lapse because of the time rickety and overwhelmed state systems need to adjust.

"They're already behind on rent, they're already behind on bills, they're already struggling to pay utilities, and now they're about to lose the little bit of income they still have."
—Julia Simon-Mishel,  Philadelphia Legal Assistance

"We're already too late," Michele Evermore, senior policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project (NELP), told Politico last Friday, adding that it could take some states "three weeks or four weeks" to start distributing the benefits again, depending on the details of the potential legislative package.

On Monday, a bipartisan group of lawmakers is expected to unveil text for a $908 billion relief proposal that includes a $300-per-week boost to unemployment insurance—half the benefit level that the GOP allowed to expire over the summer—and additional weeks of benefits for those who have been jobless for more than nine months.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)—who has indicated that many Senate Republicans would not accept the bipartisan plan—and the Trump White House have proposed extending the emergency unemployment benefits without adding a weekly federal supplement, offers that Democratic lawmakers rejected as woefully inadequate and unacceptable.

In a blog post aimed at helping unemployed workers navigate the weeks ahead, Evermore warned that "if your benefits stop on December 26 and Congress passes an extension of the programs, it may well be the case that there is a programming lag and you will get restored benefits, albeit in a delayed manner."

"Do not stop asking why your benefits were delayed or why they have been so small the past few months," Evermore added. "Come together with your neighbors, your union, worker centers, state and local organizing groups, groups organizing unemployed workers like Center For Popular Democracy, Unemployed Action, Unemployed Workers United, Moms Rising, ExtendPUA, and other groups bringing unemployed workers together to fight for a better system for the future.

The emergency unemployment programs are far from the only benefits set to expire at year's end if Congress fails to approve a legislative package.

As the Washington Post reported last week, "More than two dozen federal stimulus programs crafted to help cash-strapped workers and businesses weather the coronavirus pandemic are set to expire in a matter of weeks," a convergence of deadlines that has been dubbed the "Covid Cliff."

Among the programs set to expire are an eviction moratorium—the end of which could lead to millions being kicked out of their homes—and paid sick and family leave benefits that have helped prevent tens of thousands of coronavirus infections by allowing people to take time off work without losing income.

"We will find ourselves early next year in the midst of a humanitarian crisis brought upon by cruel indifference," tweeted Michael Tubbs, the Democratic mayor of Stockton, California. "There will be a hunger and eviction crisis if we don't act."

According to the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau, 26 million U.S. adults said they didn't have enough to eat in late October and early November.

"They're already behind on rent, they're already behind on bills, they're already struggling to pay utilities, and now they're about to lose the little bit of income they still have," Julia Simon-Mishel, head of the unemployment compensation practice at Philadelphia Legal Assistance, told Politico.


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