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12 Million People Could Lose Jobless Benefits After Christmas


The day after Christmas, 12 million Americans will lose their jobless benefits, and that could spell financial ruin for many of them. That's according to a new study just out this morning. It looks at what will happen if Congress can't reach a compromise to extend those benefits and pass another relief bill. NPR's Chris Arnold is reporting on this and joins us this morning. Hi, Chris.


MARTIN: Why will so many be in trouble right at the end of the year?

ARNOLD: Well, you remember back after the pandemic hit, Congress passed this big relief package, the CARES Act, and that did two things. It expanded the universe of people who can qualify and extended the amount of time that they can get unemployment benefits. But there are two different, big federal pandemic programs that expire on the same day now, the day after Christmas. I spoke to Andrew Stettner with the liberal-leaning Century Foundation, which did the study.

ANDREW STETTNER: Congress is set to cut off 12 million Americans from the only thing holding them back from falling into, you know, poverty and hardships that could scar them and their children for a lifetime.

ARNOLD: And Stettner says this could be, quote, "a crippling end to one of our darkest years."

MARTIN: But, Chris, I mean, we have been hearing the unemployment rate is falling, right? Doesn't that mean, at least on that metric, things are getting better? Can some people find work if Congress doesn't send more help?

ARNOLD: Sure. I mean, maybe some can, but there are about 10 million fewer jobs out there in the economy than before the recession hit. So that's a lot of jobs that were missing. Many states right now are going further into lockdowns again, you know, because the virus is raging around the country like we haven't seen it do before. And so there just really aren't a lot of good options for a lot of people.

MARTIN: You've been talking to some of those people. What are you hearing?

ARNOLD: Well, I spoke to Todd Anderson (ph) in north Michigan. He's a single dad with four kids. He's got 5-year-old twins and a couple kids a little bit older. And in the spring, he lost his landscaping job for resorts that hold, like, big weddings and stuff, and that went out the window. And the unemployment money, he says, just hasn't been enough. It's, like, 350 bucks a week. So he's been selling off his belongings to try to get by, some cabinets. He had a pair of hiking boots.

TODD ANDERSON: And I sold tools - tools of my trade I sold hoping that, hey, I can rebuy them as I get on my feet.

ARNOLD: And to save money, he and the kids actually were living in this tiny cabin in the woods where they didn't even have proper furniture, like a table to eat on and stuff. But winter was coming, and that wasn't going to work. So he was able to borrow a little bit of money from family to get a security deposit together so he and his kids could move into just a small little house.

ANDERSON: I sat down the first night after we moved in, and they watched me cry because we could sit around a table, and we didn't do that for six months. So to be able to have dinner together, as a dad, that's kind of important to me. So we just try to muscle through. I try not to tell them that we're broke.

ARNOLD: But Anderson says, you know, the unemployment money barely covers the rent. And if Congress doesn't extend those benefits, he just doesn't know what he and his kids are going to do.

MARTIN: Are they likely to extend the benefits, Chris?

ARNOLD: I mean, look, we don't know. This thing's been dragging on for a long time. Everybody wants them to do it. But Democrats want to spend more, Republicans want to spend less. And there's really no sign right now, at least, that they're close to a compromise.

MARTIN: NPR's Chris Arnold. Thank you, Chris, for that. We appreciate it.

ARNOLD: Thanks, Rachel.


NPR correspondent Chris Arnold is based in Boston. His reports are heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazines Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition. He joined NPR in 1996 and was based in San Francisco before moving to Boston in 2001.
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