According to a CNN Money analysis of federal records, unemployed Americans have collected $319 billion in unemployment benefits since the recession began three years ago. This number is likely to be the center of a debate to extend benefits for the fifth time this year. But just as important, in 2009 alone, those payments kept 3.3 million people from poverty. Congress must act on unemployment before the end of this month or 2 million taxpayers will begin losing benefits.
The federal government has already footed $109 billion of the bill, and lawmakers are super-sensitive to adding further to the deficit. But advocates are turning up the pressure to extend the deadline to file for federal benefits.
Regardless of what Congress does, employers big and small will be paying the tab for years to come.
Businesses traditionally cover the cost of state unemployment insurance and up to 20 weeks of federal benefits, which kick in when a state experiences high levels of joblessness. At issue now are a third level of emergency benefits -- lasting up to 53 weeks -- first authorized by Congress in mid-2008.
Soaring unemployment has drained the state accounts that typically fund jobless benefits, forcing many states to borrow money from the federal government to cover their payouts. Currently, 31 states have $41 billion in loans outstanding.