Unemployment benefits dried up for an estimated 1.3 million Americans on Saturday as politicians let the recession-era holdover federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation program expire.
The program first started in 2008 as an emergency measure to help Americans stay afloat during the recession. For the past four years, politicians have renewed the program, continuing to provide the millions of unemployed Americans with an extra 47 weeks of extra unemployment insurance payments. When Congress passed the two-year bipartisan budget deal last week, the program was left off the books. Lawmakers let unemployment benefits expire for over a million struggling Americans — the ones who need it the most — smack in the middle of the holidays.
The problem seems to be that the program costs money. Lots of money, in fact — extending the program for another year will cost an estimated $25 billion. So, naturally, The New York Times reports this will be the next hill that Republicans will die over spending cut demands on:
Democrats on Capitol Hill are pushing for an extension of the program, though the constrained fiscal environment makes its reinstatement somewhat less likely, aides said. Members of the Republican leadership have indicated that they might be willing to extend the benefits, but only if Democrats offset the new spending with other cuts.
But it also seems like a small price to pay to support the struggling and unemployed. The exact effects cutting the program will have is unclear, but experts expect job growth to suffer and stunted economic growth. Unemployment may go down, because some who have been unemployed for a long time will leave the workforce entirely. The Wall Street Journal explains:
The long-term unemployed who face expiring payments are found in every state except North Carolina, which had its extended benefits cut off earlier this year after failing to meet federal guidelines. Since extended unemployment was eliminated in the state, its jobless rate has tumbled. But much of the decline is from people dropping out of the labor force.
The biggest consequence the program's expiration will have is on Americans who relied on those payments to pay bills, buy groceries, or avoid homelessness. Buzzfeed's Jacob Fischler spoke with five people affected by the program's expiration and the story will, appropriately, break your heart.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.