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New report says 12 million jobless workers are about to lose unemployment benefits

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An empty restaurant serving only takeout is seen in Washington, D.C., at the beginning of the pandemic.

The restaurant and hospitality industries have experienced plenty of turnover. Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

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In just 38 days, most of the federal unemployment benefit programs approved by Congress last spring as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act expire.

Talks on another relief bill have stalled, and so 12 million jobless workers are on the brink of losing their benefits, according to a report out Wednesday from The Century Foundation.

Without a deal, Dec. 26 will be a grim day for unemployed workers — and the U.S. economy. Andrew Stettner, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation, said it’s like 12 million workers, and their spending power, will fall off a cliff.

“Even if you thought you had 10, 11, 9 weeks left, you won’t get those weeks — you get cut off that exact week,” he said.

Benefits for gig workers and the self-employed are ending, as is federal help for most people who’ve exhausted their state benefits. Stettner said Black workers in the service sector will be hit especially hard since so many of those businesses have closed.

Kimberly Austin, a Black artist who lost her job as a face painter at Legoland near San Diego, California, wants federal action now.

“This should not be a political joke to anybody,” she said. “This makes no sense.”

Austin has been getting by on $285 a week in unemployment. She’s uninsured, and the inhalers she needs for her asthma cost $200. Jason Yee doesn’t have health insurance, either. He’s an accountant in Los Angeles who was laid off last June. He’s been living on $450 a week, plus his savings.

“The cliff will be bad because, eventually, with no benefits, then it’ll be 100% savings,” Yee said.

His savings will run out in February, he said. He could tap into a retirement account, but he’s only 55. That would mean an early withdrawal penalty. A penalty waiver in the CARES Act also expires at the end of the year.

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