Congressional lawmakers have failed to reach an agreement on extending jobless benefits, meaning millions of unemployed Americans have lost or will lose government funds meant to help them get back on their feet.
About 2 million Americans were receiving unemployment benefits that started expiring Nov. 30. Unless Congress votes to extend the benefits for another year, no one will receive those funds after this month.
"Extending these benefits is crucial for our economy and for those who've lost their jobs through no fault of their own," Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus said.
Democrats attempted and failed to pass the Unemployment Insurance Stabilization Act last week. A two-thirds majority vote is needed.
The expiring unemployment benefits will likely have a painful impact on Americans already struggling before the holidays.
Unemployed workers recently rallied in Ohio, demanding that Congress extend their benefits.
"I don't want to be on unemployment. None of us do," said Melody Hart, who's been out of work for 14 months. "What we want is to get a job, and that unemployment at least gives us food."
Democrats have hinted they may try other ways to get the bill passed.
"Two million Americans this December will stop receiving benefits and several hundred thousand unemployed workers will lose their benefits every month, culminating in up to 6 million losing benefits in 2011," explained Sen. Jack Reed, D- R.I.
Republicans in the House and Senate, along with a handful of conservative Democrats, say they're open to extending benefits, but not if it means adding billions of dollars to the $13.8 trillion national debt. They want Congress to cut spending first.
"To just keep throwing money that's not paid for at a problem with six-and-a-half hours left to put people on the spot instead of doing it the right way," said Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass. "Coming out with a common solution makes no sense to me."
Meanwhile, social service agencies are bracing for a spike in the number of people applying for government assistance like food stamps.
"There are certain times of the year that you see an influx of people, but all of a sudden we're seeing it everyday now," explained Lavern Thomas of the Norfolk, Va., Department of Human Services. "We interview anywhere between 80 and 90 people a day. That's a lot."
Food banks and shelters across the country are also gearing up, with one food bank network estimating about 2 million people will immediately need help getting food when their benefits expire.