Congress lets unemployment benefits expire: 'What now' and six other questions

More than 2 million unemployed people awoke Wednesday to the prospect that they may no longer have unemployment checks to help them pay rent or buy food and gas.

Congress on Tuesday failed to renew an extension of unemployment benefits that it passed at the end of July. Democrats have argued that with unemployment at 9.6 percent, many people still need help. Republicans say they would like to help the jobless, but want the $5 billion per month cost to be funded by a spending cut somewhere in the federal budget.

1. Who is losing their benefits?

Matt Rourke/AP
Frank Wallace, who is unemployed, displays a sign during a 'Vigil for the Unemployed' at the Arch Street Methodist Church in Philadelphia Nov. 22.

One group is unemployed people currently receiving state unemployment checks. When their state benefits expire at the end of 26 weeks, they will not get any more money. According to the National Employment Law Project (NELP), this will affect about 387,000 laid-off workers.

A second group is those who are already collecting under the Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program, which has four tiers that provide an additional 53 weeks of benefits. The first tier is an additional 20 weeks; the second tier is an additional 14 weeks; tier 3 is an extra 13 weeks for states where unemployment is 6 percent or higher; and tier 4 is for 6 more weeks in states with unemployment at 8.5 percent or higher.

Unless Congress acts, once an individual completes any one of those tiers, they will no longer get any benefits.

NELP estimates this group is about 815,477 jobless people.

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