Nearly 2 million jobless Americans, including 131,000 in Florida, face a cutoff in unemployment payments at year's end unless Congress approves another round of extended benefits, according to a report released Tuesday.
The National Employment Law Project, an advocacy group for low-wage workers, issued the analysis to spur support for continuing the federal program of extended unemployment insurance, which is due to expire Dec. 31.
"For millions of out-of-work Americans hanging on by a thread, unemployment insurance is the only thing preventing a free fall into destitution and despair," NELP executive director Christine Owens said in a statement.
In January, Congress approved a one-year extension of the benefits program in a compromise package that involved extending the Bush tax cuts. President Obama is lobbying for another one-year extension as part of his proposed jobs bill.
Currently, about 7 million Americans are receiving weekly unemployment benefits. As of last week, 410,000 Floridians were receiving benefits, down from a peak of 736,000 in February 2010, according to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.
Through much of the recession, eligible unemployed workers could receive up to 99 weeks of unemployment aid, stringing together 26 weeks of state unemployment coverage with several tiers of federal aid.
However, a divided Congress has shown little drive toward passing another round of extended benefits amid a strong, cost-cutting climate. Florida legislators last spring approved a measure to cap the maximum length of eligibility for state benefits at 23 weeks starting Jan. 1. They also imposed a sliding scale for benefits, which could drop to as low as 12 weeks if the official jobless rate declines to 5 percent or lower. Florida's unemployment rate is now 10.7 percent, compared with a U.S. jobless rate of 9.1 percent.
NELP singled out California, Florida, New York, Texas and New Jersey as the states most affected by the end of the federal benefits lifeline.