Jim Bunning killed the unemployment benefits extension. What now?

Jim Bunning's opposition to unemployment benefits extension means they'll expire Saturday. But the unemployed won't see cuts immediately.

Sen. Jim Bunning (R) of Kentucky (shown here in October) put a stop to Senate attempts Friday for an extension of unemployment benefits. As a result, the extended benfits program – the last phase of unemployment benefits – expires Saturday, Feb. 27.

When Sen. Jim Bunning (R) of Kentucky held up a bill authorizing the extension of certain unemployment benefits Friday, he put the plans of hundreds of thousands of unemployed Americans on hold.

With those benefits set to expire at midnight Saturday, here's a look at what they can expect:

1. What's the immediate impact?

There's little practical impact over the next few days. Even though the extended benefit program officially ends Saturday, unemployed Americans will still be able to file Sunday and Monday for the benefits they are entitled to this week. It's the benefits for next week that would be affected.

2. How many people are affected?

At the outset, a couple hundred thousand of the nearly 5.4 million unemployed American receiving benefits will be affected. If Congress doesn't act, the number of Americans will grow to 400,000 during the first two weeks of March and nearly 3 million by May, according to the Labor Department.

3. Are all unemployed Americans at risk?

No. The extended benefits program is the last of three tiers of unemployment insurance, offering 13 or 20 weeks of additional money after the unemployed have exhausted other benefits. The first two programs remain in effect. At the moment, 37 states have unemployment rates high enough to qualify for the extended benefits program.

4. Will Congress act to extend benefits?

It always has in the past and usually quite quickly. Even when benefits have expired, Congress has routinely made their extension retroactive.

5. Why did Senator Bunning vote against the extension?

The senator, who is not running for reelection, wants to quit running up the national debt.

"We have run up $5 trillion in debt. There has to be a time to stop that," he said on the floor of the Senate Friday.

6. Is he right?

That depends entirely on one's point of view. Unemployed Americans can receive up to 99 weeks of unemployment benefits – nearly two years – which is a record. The last time unemployment was this high, in the early '80s, the maximum was 55 weeks. That said, in terms of overall economic activity, this downturn looks like it will be the most severe since the Depression.

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