INDIANAPOLIS: Tina Morton recently faced a choice: Pay bills or buy a birthday gift for a child? Derrisa Green is falling further behind on rent.
Sylvia Soliz has had her electricity cut off.
Unemployment has forced aching decisions on millions of Americans and their families in the face of a rampaging viral epidemic that has closed shops and restaurants, paralysed travel and left millions jobless for months.
Now, their predicaments stand to grow bleaker yet if Congress fails to extend two unemployment programs that are set to expire the day after Christmas.
If no agreement is reached in negotiations taking place on Capitol Hill, more than 9 million people will lose federal jobless aid that averages about USD 320 a week and that typically serves as their only source of income.
Green, 39, and her husband are among them.
An end to their unemployment benefits would force them to keep missing rent payments on their home in Dyer, Indiana, near Chicago.
The couple have eight children.
Green's husband is a self-employed truck driver whose business disappeared when the pandemic erupted in the spring.
Only in October did he start to pick up occasional work.
He now receives about USD 235 a week in unemployment aid.
Even so, "all of our bills are late," Green said.
They've received several shutoff notices from utilities before managing to pay just before service was to be cut off.
"That's really scary," Green said, "because what are we going to do when we lose the unemployment money?" The end of jobless aid is approaching at an especially perilous time.
Job growth slowed sharply in November, and the resurgence of viral cases appears to be out of control across the country.
Even with the prospect of an effective vaccine being widely distributed in coming months, economists say the picture will worsen before it improves.
Many foresee a net loss of jobs in December for the first time since April.
On Friday, President-elect Joe Biden called on Congress to quickly approve a bipartisan USD 908 billion package that would establish a USD 300-a-week jobless benefit as well as send aid to states and localities, help schools and universities, revive subsidies for businesses and support transit systems and airlines.
Details are still being worked out, but the outlines of a final bill could emerge soon.
More than 20 million people are now receiving unemployment benefits.
More than half are beneficiaries of two programs that were part of rescue aid legislation Congress enacted in March.