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Last unemployment check is in the mail

By Tami Luhby, senior writer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Although the deadline to file for extended unemployment insurance is officially Nov. 30, many jobless have already filed their last claim for benefits.

And since lawmakers aren't likely to extend the deadline anytime soon, many more unemployed Americans will run out of their extended federal benefits in coming weeks. About 2 million people are expected to stop receiving checks in December.

Though President Obama on Tuesday called on Congress to extend unemployment benefits, lawmakers are still fighting over the expense. Sen. Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat, introduced a bill Monday night that would extend benefits through next year at a cost of $56.4 billion. But Republicans are likely to balk at the price tag.

While they debate, state unemployment agencies are very concerned about the impending end to these extended jobless payments, which they say people depend on to cover their rent and buy food.

"It's a critical safety net program," said Nancy Dunphy, New York State's deputy commissioner of labor for employment security. "This is the worst time of year to be running out of benefits."

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 four tiers of emergency unemployment compensation, which last between six and 20 weeks, followed by up to five months of extended benefits. The jobless must apply each time they move into a new tier.

Unemployed Americans who've just exhausted their state benefits are already blocked from entering the federal system in most states. They would have had to file their initial federal claim by this past weekend.

Those already in a federal emergency benefits system will not be able to move to the next tier after this coming weekend. However, they can continue to collect the benefits available in their current level. So those who just entered a tier could continue receiving benefits for awhile, but those who are near the end of their tier will see payments dry up sooner.

Many of the jobless who are in the last stage of the federal safety net -- the up to five months of extended benefits -- will stop getting checks this month no matter when they started this level. That's because the federal government will stop fully funding this stage after Nov. 30.

Not every state offers federal extended benefits, because they were required to split the costs of the program with the federal government. Prior to last year, only 12 states provided this support, depending on their state unemployment rate.

The Recovery Act put the federal government on the hook for the entire cost of extended benefits, so 26 more states signed on. But they are dropping the support once the full federal funding ends.

When the unemployed in those 26 states will see their last extended benefits checks depends on where they live. In Michigan, for instance, the jobless could get payments through the rest of the year. But the unemployed in Nevada will not receive these benefits after Dec. 11.

Regardless of when the jobless stop receiving benefits, the unemployed should check with their state agencies to see whether they should still file claims. That's because it will be easier for states to restart their payments should Congress extend the deadline to file for federal benefits.

"If Congress passes the extension, we want to pick up where we left off," said Mae Worthey, spokeswoman for the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation. To top of page

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