WASHINGTON - More than 1 million Americans are bracing for a harrowing, post-Christmas jolt as extended federal unemployment benefits come to a sudden halt this weekend, with potentially significant implications for the recovering U.S. economy. A tense political battle likely looms when Congress reconvenes in the new, midterm-election year.
Nudging Congress along, a vacationing President Obama called two senators proposing an extension to offer his support. From Hawaii, Obama pledged yesterday to push Congress to move quickly next year to address the "urgent economic priority," the White House said.
For families dependent on cash assistance, the end of the federal government's "emergency unemployment compensation" will mean some difficult belt-tightening as enrollees lose their average monthly stipend of $1,166.
Jobless rates could drop, but analysts say the economy may suffer with less money for consumers to spend on everything from clothes to cars. Having let the "emergency" program expire as part of a budget deal, it's unclear if Congress has the appetite to start it anew.
An estimated 1.3 million people will be cut off when the federally funded unemployment payments end today.
In New Jersey, 11th among states in population, 79,000 people will immediately lose out.
Restoring up to 47 extra weeks of benefits through 2014 would cost $19 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office.