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Pandemic unemployment assistance expires: 7 million to lose benefits, but could they be extended?

Pandemic unemployment assistance is days away from ending and hopes of an extension look faint. Approximately 7 million jobless workers across the U.S. are preparing for the American Rescue Plan benefits, which put extra money in unemployment programs in many states to end on September 4. The funds were originally created in the March 2020 CARES Act, then were extended through Labor Day in the 2021 American Rescue Plan.

While there were a number of states that opted out of the program, economists said in August that those places didn’t see any substantial growth in worker participation. The programs included Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC), Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), and State Extended Benefits (SEB).

The broad assumption is that as the Delta Variant surged in the U.S., desire to re-enter the workforce waned, which prompted continued struggles for parts of the economy looking to rebound during the summer months.

In New York it meant that unemployed workers would get an extra $300 in weekly benefits. Those will come to an end next week, despite pleas from advocates and Democrats to extend them longer. Even President Joe Biden urged certain states to move forward with extensions of the pandemic unemployment assistance programs to keep economies moving in the right direction.

“We knew Covid wouldn’t be over. And it’s not. With the delta variant rising and places going back to having mask mandates, we’re taking steps backwards and ending aid when people continue to need and rely on them,” Jenna Jerry, a senior staff attorney with the National Employment Law Project told CNBC.

While many are hoping for an extension, and some lawmakers in Congress are eager to see benefits continue, the likelihood of that happening without some lapse is slim.

Even in New York, where legislative action would be necessary, and Democrats have the votes to make it happen – the dollars-and-cents of pandemic unemployment assistance makes it a tough choice for even the most progressive politicians.