Unemployment payments for more than 70,000 Missourians will soon dry up without action from Congress before the end of the year.
The latest numbers from the U.S. Department of Labor showed that in the last week of November, 35,669 people were using a federal program giving them 13 extra weeks of payments beyond what the state offers.
Another 43,416 were receiving payments through a separate program paying self-employed workers and independent contractors who don't usually qualify for benefits.
But those programs, which Congress created in the CARES Act in March, are both set to expire Dec. 26, setting up what experts have called a "benefit cliff" for some 12 million nationwide with the worst luck in the job market since COVID-19 arrived.
Missouri's economy has recovered a substantial number of jobs since unemployment peak in the spring; however, the latest state jobs report still showed nearly 25,000 more people unemployed in November than the same month a year ago.
The overall "labor force," which includes working-age Missourians with jobs and who are looking for jobs, has dropped more than 100,000 in the same time.
And while claims on the state program have declined in recent months, the number of people drawing on the self-employed program has remained stubbornly steady and the extended benefits program has taken on more.
Andrew Stettner, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation who studies unemployment, said ending things now would be a mistake.
In a report published last month, he wrote that doing so threatened to "pull the rug out" from under an economy already in a fragile state as it waits for COVID-19 vaccines to become widespread, which isn't expected to happen until late spring or early summer.
He said it would also cut off a key stimulus for the economy because the money is going to people who are likely receiving it and then immediately spending it on necessities like housing and food.
"It's one of those things that goes right back into the economy," Stettner said in an interview. "You're getting the money right to where it's needed."
Congress has appeared in agreement with that sentiment this week.
Lawmakers have been going back and forth with proposals for weeks in an effort to get something done after months of doing nothing, and on Monday, a bipartisan group put forth a $908 billion proposal that would extend both special unemployment programs and offer a $300 a week boost for 16 weeks.
House and Senate leaders on both sides of the aisle have since floated their own proposals with similar provisions and stimulus checks, and with an initial Friday deadline looking out of reach, leaders began telling their caucus members to be ready to work the weekend, Politico reported.