'About to Be Catapulted Off a Cliff': Study Shows 12 Million Set to Lose Jobless Benefits After Christmas

CBS

If Republican lawmakers continue their refusal to extend Covid-19 relief programs, 12 million workers will lose federal unemployment benefits when funding expires on December 26, according to a study published Wednesday. 

"With no end to the pandemic in sight, and a cutoff of nearly all federal unemployment benefits by year's end looming on the horizon, inaction by Congress could mean that millions of American families will enter the New Year with little or no means of support," wrote Andrew Stettner and Elizabeth Pancotti, authors of the new report from the left-leaning Century Foundation (TCF).

As Pancotti, a policy adviser at Employ America, wrote on social media, "12 million jobless workers are about to be catapulted off a cliff the day after Christmas."

Stettner, a senior fellow at TCF, told The Hill: "Absent congressional action to extend CARES Act benefits, December 26 will mark the end of one of the last lifelines available to millions of Americans in desperate need."

When Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act in March at the outset of the crisis, the emergency bill included a handful of programs that benefited working-class households. 

According to TCF's analysis, "as many as 40 million Americans (one in four workers) received a payment from one of" the CARES Act's programs for jobless citizens at some point in 2020. Stettner and Pancotti explained that the upcoming "hard cutoff" date threatens to "create lasting harm to millions of families" and the broader U.S. economy. 

One program, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), expanded elegibility for unemployment benefits to gig workers and others typically excluded from benefits. TCF estimated that 7.3 million workers will be kicked off the program when it expires on December 26. 

Another program, Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), provided 100% federal funding for benefits for the long-term unemployed after states exhausted their unemployment insurance funds. TCF estimated that if the program is allowed to expire at the end of December, 4.6 million workers will lose assistance.

In addition to those 12 millions workers "suddenly cut off from aid," Stettner and Pancotti estimated that before Christmas, nearly one million people will have run out of the PUA benefit and another 3.5 million will have used up the PEUC benefit.

"Unless these programs are extended, only 18 states will provide any type of additional benefits to millions of the long-term unemployed," the report noted.

The looming expiration of unemployment benefits is just one aspect of an "epic year-end abyss" that threatens working households with evictions, student loan bills, and other mounting expenses, just as Covid-19 infections are exploding while President Donald Trump sabotages President-elect Joe Biden's transition efforts.

"Without unemployment benefits and with savings badly depleted, families will be at high risk for food insecurity and loss of their homes, and many may be unable to pay for healthcare during some of the darkest days of the pandemic," Stettner and Pancotti wrote. "The nation's entire economy will suffer."

The impending disaster is preventable, according to economists at the Economic Policy Institute, but the refusal of Republicans to act is already having spillover effects that are crippling the economy. And unless Congress takes action during the lame-duck session, the pain and suffering to come by year's end is inevitable.

In a tweet accompanying a video of a miles-long caravan of cars waiting to pick up boxes of food in Dallas, president of the NAACP's Legal Defense and Educational Fund Sherrilyn Ifill juxtaposed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) refusal to consider the Covid-19 relief bill passed by House Democrats with his decision to "bring the Senate together every day to push through more judges."

"It is an outrage beyond words," said Ifill.

Vanita Gupta, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, pointed out earlier this week that it has been six months since the Democratic-controlled U.S. House passed the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, but the Senate, led by McConnell, is instead focused this week on approving "six Trump judicial nominees (for lifetime seats)."

"That's his priority as the pandemic rages on," Gupta added. 

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said in a statement that "in the face of mass death and economic devastation, Mitch McConnell is doing nothing to provide relief to American families."

According to The Hill, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Tuesday called McConnell to urge the GOP to "return to the negotiating table" so that Congress can pass a relief bill before 2021.

"For the sake of the country, we ask that you... work with us to produce an agreement that meets America's needs in this critical time," Pelosi and Schumer wrote in a letter to McConnell. 

HuffPost noted that even if legislators are able to strike a deal, "the bill would still need to be signed by Trump to become law," which is, as Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) put it, "a total wildcard at this point."

Failing to reauthorize federal assistance for those suffering during the coronavirus crisis "will be a crippling end to one of our darkest years," said Stettner.

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