2 million could lose unemployment benefits this month if there’s no ‘fiscal cliff’ deal


WASHINGTON, D.C. (AP) — Hovering in the background of the “fiscal cliff” debate is the prospect of 2 million people losing their unemployment benefits four days after Christmas.

“This is the real cliff,” said Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I. He’s been leading the effort to include another extension of benefits for the long-term unemployed in any deal to avert looming tax increases and massive spending cuts in January.

“Many of these people are struggling to pay mortgages, to provide education for their children,” Reed said this past week as President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, rejected each other’s opening offers for a deficit deal.

Emergency jobless benefits for about 2.1 million people out of work more than six months will cease Dec. 29, and 1 million more will lose them over the next three months if Congress doesn’t extend the assistance again.

Since the collapse of the economy in 2008, the government has poured $520 billion — an amount equal to about half its annual deficit in recent years — into unemployment benefit extensions.