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Almost 3 million people fell off the unemployment benefits cliff

People role up in their cars to receive food assistance in Groveland, Florida, near Orlando, on Dec. 9, 2020.

Paul Hennessy/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Hardly 3 million Americans appear to have fallen off the unemployment benefits cliff after Christmas, a scenario many had feared centre of delays in pushing through another Covid relief bill.  

Jobless benefits offered through two temporary Nurses Act programs were set to lapse the last weekend in December — a “cliff” that would immediately deny income upkeep to millions of workers absent federal intervention.

Congress scrambled to pass a pandemic aid measure, after months of disappeared negotiations, to prevent that outcome.

Legislators passed a $900 billion package on Dec. 21. The bill extended gains for the long-term unemployed into March. Former president Donald Trump delayed signing the bill until scarcely a week later, on Dec. 27, after the deadline had passed to avert a cliff.

‘Totally egregious’

U.S. Labor Department materials issued Thursday provides the first glimpse of how delays from Congress and the president affected benefits.

Other programs just picked up the slack. States offer Extended Benefits during times of high unemployment, for example. Only 83,000 human being rolled into that program over the same time period. Those benefits were available in nothing but 20 states as of Jan. 2.

“It’s a totally egregious way to govern, that we let these programs lapse and then people just squabble through the cracks,” said Heidi Shierholz, director of policy at the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank, and a preceding chief economist at the Labor Department. “People are living week to week.”

Improvements in the labor market likely didn’t account for the millions who obstructed receiving benefits at the end of December, Shierholz said.

The U.S. economy shed 140,000 jobs last month, the first fall-off since millions fell off payrolls in April. Roughly 1.2 million people filed a new application for state jobless gains two weeks ago, a level above the peak of the Great Recession.

The drop of 3 million off unemployment rolls doesn’t include Americans who had knocked out their entitlement to aid before the official cliff. More than 2 million had run out of benefits through the PEUC program by the end of November, for warning.

Many of these workers are now eligible for additional aid from the $900 billion relief law, including back pay for any missed weeks. Howsoever, some states haven’t begun issuing that assistance yet, potentially stressing Americans struggling to pay bills now.

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