Democratic lawmakers in the House have introduced legislation to extend unemployment benefits for three months until the end of February.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Sander M. Levin, D-Mich., and Income Security and Family Support Subcommittee Chairman Jim McDermott, D-Wash., introduced the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Continuation Act on Wednesday. The legislation would extend federal unemployment insurance programs, which are currently set to expire at the end of this month, through Feb. 28, 2011, preventing approximately 2 million unemployed workers from losing their benefits by the end of the year and over another 2 million by the end of February.

“Without quick action, the last economic lifeline for 2 million Americans will be cut off during the holidays,” said Levinin a statement. “Terminating this emergency unemployment assistance will not only devastate families, but it also will hurt the entire economy by depressing consumer confidence and demand. We simply cannot afford to conclude this Congress without responding to those Americans who have been most hurt by the recession.”

The temporary federal unemployment benefits programs will start phasing out at the end of November should Congress fail to extend them. This means that even individuals exhausting the six months of regular, state-provided unemployment benefits after Thanksgiving would become ineligible for Emergency Unemployment Compensation. “The unemployed in this country face a grim holiday season if we don’t act quickly,” said McDermott. “In 75 years we have never cut federal unemployment benefits when the unemployment rate has been this high. We cannot allow benefits to expire at a time when millions of Americans are just trying to put food on the table.”

In a report released today, the nonpartisan, independent Congressional Budget Office found that because unemployment benefits increase consumer demand and spending, while preventing people from falling out of the labor market, “the extensions of unemployment insurance benefits in the past few years increased both employment and participation in the labor force over what they would otherwise have been in 2009.” In addition, a September Census Bureau report found that UI benefits prevented 3.3 million Americans from falling into poverty.

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