Jobless Americans have collected more than half a trillion dollars in benefits over the past five years.
State and federal unemployment insurance programs have cost roughly $520 billion, according to a Congressional Budget Office report released Wednesday.
The price of continuing this safety net will be the subject of intense debate in Congress as lawmakers decide whether to extend the deadline to file for federal benefits beyond year’s end as part of the fiscal cliff negotiations. Extending federal jobless insurance next year could cost as much as $30 billion, according to the CBO analysis.
The federal government has spent far more on unemployment insurance in recent years than it had in previous economic downturns because of the unprecedented response to the Great Recession. Federal benefits were extended to a record 99 weeks in November 2009.