More than 2 million jobless Americans will lose their federal unemployment insurance during the holidays if Congress doesn't extend the deadline to file for extended benefits.
And another 1 million who exhaust their state benefits will not be able to sign up for the federal program in the first quarter of 2013, according to the National Employment Law Project, an advocacy group.
Now that the presidential election is over, policymakers and advocates are turning their attention to the economic issues plaguing the country, including the fiscal cliff.
Among the measures expiring are federal jobless benefits -- of up to 47 weeks -- that Americans can receive after exhausting their six months of state payments.
So lawmakers must now decide whether they want to extend the filing deadline for the 10th time since the Great Recession began five years ago. Congress first enacted the federal benefits package in June 2008, and President Barack Obama extended it to 99 weeks in November 2009.
Congress last lengthened the deadline to file for benefits in February, but lawmakers also restructured the program at the time. The maximum number of weeks the jobless can collect unemployment benefits was reduced to 73 weeks. And in all states save New York, the jobless are no longer eligible for a separate federal extended benefits program that would have added up to another 20 weeks.
Of the roughly 12.3 million people who are currently unemployed, 40.6 percent have been so for more than six months. And more than 6 million jobless Americans have exhausted their benefits since 2007, according to Judy Conti, NELP's federal advocacy coordinator.
Advocates for the jobless are already lobbying hard for another extension, noting that unemployment remains at a stubbornly high 7.9 percent.
"Federal unemployment insurance goes to Americans who've been out of work the longest and need it the most," said Christine Owens, NELP's executive director. "It's a key part of any realistic plan to get America's economy moving and the least we can do for those who have been hurt the most."