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Hundreds of thousands of Americans are about to max out their state unemployment benefits

It's been nearly nine months since the coronavirus pandemic launched America into its steepest unemployment crisis in recent history. But another emergency could be around the corner if the federal government doesn't act.

Over the past few weeks, Americans who lost their jobs at the beginning of the pandemic have started to hit the maximum number of weeks their states will allow them to receive unemployment benefits. They've since been registering for the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program, a federal unemployment program meant to make up for expired state benefits.

New and continuing unemployment claims did fall in the past week, but 183,000 Americans filed for PEUC benefits in the week ending Sept. 12, Labor Department numbers out Thursday revealed. That's a steady jump from weeks before, and economists expect those new registration numbers will only continue to grow.

But the PEUC benefits won't last forever. They provide Americans with up to 13 weeks of benefits, and the program as a whole will expire at the end of 2020. Some states, including New York, have introduced extended benefits programs to cover those still unemployed after PUEC expires, but others, as well as the federal government, have nothing coming up after Dec. 31.

The federal government's other unemployment program, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, extends 39 weeks of benefits to self-employed people and contractors who aren't eligible for state unemployment benefits. It covers about half of Americans receiving unemployment benefits right now, but it's also set to expire Dec. 31 unless Congress and President Trump agree on another pandemic stimulus package extending it.

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