Federal jobless payments, which last up to 73 weeks, kick in after the state-funded 26 weeks of coverage expire. These federal benefits are divided into tiers, and the jobless must apply each time they move into a new tier.
Nearly 9.5 million unemployed Americans have collected federally funded benefits, which average $290 a week, in 2010. Almost 15 million people are without work.
Jobless benefits are credited with keeping 3.3 million people out of poverty last year, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Unemployment benefits have become a political football, though the national unemployment rate has hovered just below 10% all year. Both parties have previously said they want to lengthen the federal safety net, but Republicans have temporarily blocked extensions several times this year because they do not want to add to the deficit.
When the deadline expired at the end of May, it took lawmakers 51 days to pass an extension until Nov. 30. The pricetag of that six-month extension was $34 billion.
It could be even more difficult to push back the deadline this time around now that the Republicans have won control of the House and gained seats in the Senate. Though the transfer of power doesn't happen until next year, Democrats will have to work with the GOP to craft a bill.
Congress has a narrow window to act. Lawmakers return on Nov. 15 for a week before taking off for the Thanksgiving holiday. Then they are back for only two days before the Nov. 30 deadline hits.
Expect the GOP to stall on this measure until next year. Clearly blocking unemployment benefits multiple times for millions of Americans resulted in the GOP being rewarded with control of the House. Why would they spend a dime now?
And when the new Congress convenes in January, expect "if we cut unemployment benefits, that will get Americans out there to look for jobs" to become our new "job creation strategy".
Meanwhile, Democrats should note that of the 16 Blue Dogs who voted against that Nov. 30 extension of unemployment benefits to convince voters that they are serious about deficits being more important than unemployment benefits, 12 of them lost and number 13 is fighting for their political life.