Your Unemployment Benefits Are Up. Now What?

With Congress still debating, here’s what the unemployed can do in anticipation of the worst.

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Losing a job can be a devastating feeling that does more damage than just the lack of regular income. Everything from day-to-day budgeting to your personal health and social circles can be adversely affected by the loss of employment.

However, for the approximately 3.9 million U.S. workers facing long-term unemployment – or those who have been unemployed for more than 27 weeks – the temporary financial relief provided by the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program is in peril.

On Dec. 28, the extension that allowed long-term unemployed Americans to receive unemployment insurance benefits beyond the maximum 26-week benefit period expired, cutting off benefits for 1.3 million Americans. The benefits have been extended several times since the program was started in 2008, but on Tuesday, the Senate failed to pass a bill that would grant another extension. 

While the legislation is still facing discussion, unemployed individuals must use the momentum of the new year to make a few changes in anticipation of the worst.

1. Review your papers.

The expiration of emergency unemployment insurance benefits immediately affects those who have been on unemployment insurance for more than 26 weeks; however, this maximum benefit period can be lower depending on the state.

Check with your Emergency Unemployment Compensation program documents to find if and when you'd be affected by a permanent decision by Congress to revert benefits to their original time frame. Knowing where you currently stand with this emergency relief program is essential during this financial crunch.

2. Create a new budget.

Those who are classified as long-term unemployed likely have already made financial adjustments as a result of a job loss. However, the sudden loss of program benefits can put another kink in an already constrained budget.

Identify other income generators and resources in the household, and consider which expenditures can be cut even further. For example, monthly Internet costs can strain budgets. While many jobs are posted online and companies now generally encourage applicants to send resumes through websites or email, individuals can save money by visiting local public libraries that offer Internet access at no cost.

3. Take care of your health.

The stress involved with having to pinch pennies with basic household needs can be overwhelming and manifest into physical and mental health issues during long-term unemployment.

Dealing with financial uncertainties is a valid concern, but getting adequate sleep and maintaining healthy eating habits should also be prioritized, particularly when anxiety levels over unemployment loom.

4. Seek out other assistance programs.

Despite the ambiguity surrounding whether Congress will elect to extend the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program, other resources across the nation provide assistance to long-term unemployed individuals.

These programs range in how they help workers in need, from offering career development training to general support communities for coping with harrowing times.

For instance, the LA Fellows Program is a Los Angeles-based fellowship that offers unemployed people with a path to employment by providing training and pairing them with nonprofit. Other programs across the nation help sharpen on-the-job skills and experience, such as Neighbors-helping-Neighbors USA in the New Jersey, Boston and Washington, D.C., areas; Community Ventures in Michigan; and Platform to Employment, which operates in several states.

The bottom line: As painful as it is, amid the uncertainty over the direction of unemployment insurance benefits, it's best to remain extra cautious when it comes to how you spend your money. Stay proactive and positive about job placement and training opportunities that arise, and keep a close eye on existing resources.

Jennifer Calonia writes for GoBankingRates.com, a source for CD rates, savings account rates, personal finance news and more.