LOS ANGELES - Paralegal Laura Walker, 63, has been looking for work since January, when she was laid off from a California law firm. Until Monday, she could count on $450 a week in federal unemployment benefits for help.
Now, those checks will disappear, just as they will for 1.3 million other Americans whose emergency aid ran out Dec. 28.
"Not all of us have savings and a lot of us have to take care of family because of what happened in the economy," said Walker, of Santa Clarita, who said she has applied for at least three jobs a week and shares an apartment with her unemployed son, his wife and two children. "It's going to put my family and me out on the streets."
The program, started during the recession, was intended to help jobless people after they exhausted state benefits, typically lasting six months. House Republicans resisted continuing the benefits without budget cuts elsewhere to cover the cost. Keeping it running another year would cost $25 billion and spur the economy enough to create about 200,000 jobs, the Congressional Budget Office estimated.
"It lacks compassion for the victims of the recession and, economically, it's shooting ourselves in the foot," said Lawrence Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, which backs policies that help low-income workers. "The timing is very premature. The evidence is that people who want work can't find it."
While the national unemployment rate fell in November to 7 percent, after reaching as high as 10 percent in 2009, finding work is still a struggle for many. More than one-third of the unemployed, or 4 million people, had been out of work for more than 27 weeks as of last month, according to the Labor Department. Most states provide 26 weeks of unemployment benefits.
The additional federal benefits were put in place in 2008, under President George W. Bush. At its most generous, in 2012, the program allowed the jobless to collect unemployment checks for as many as 99 weeks, including state benefits, according to the White House. It had since been scaled back to a maximum of 73 weeks in states with the highest unemployment.
Opponents say the extended benefits discourage the unemployed from accepting jobs and that the program should be curtailed, given the recovery in the nation's labor market.
"The economy has now been out of a recession for more than four years," said Chris Edwards, an economist with the Cato Institute in Washington, which argues for scaling back the role of government. "These unemployment benefits are emergency benefits, but the economy is no longer in an emergency situation. People can find jobs if they are willing to moderate their wage demands and make compromises."
Lisa Cicchinelli disagrees. The 46-year-old from suburban Albany, N.Y., said she's been looking for work - any work since June, when she lost her job as an administrative assistant in a doctor's office.
"I'm tired of hearing the stigma of being on unemployment that people are lazy and milking the system," Cicchinelli said in an interview. "I never lost a job in my life. I've been working since I was 15 and this is the first time I had to collect anything. I am hustling and networking and going places. You can't just sit and wait for it to come to you."