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Troubling surge in long-term unemployed

Both parties want to extend jobless benefits, which have run out for almost 2 million people.

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Nydia Montanez is waiting impatiently for Congress to get back to work on Jan. 7.

The video producer has been hunting for a full-time job since she was laid off last April. She's had no success. And because Congress adjourned without extending unemployment benefits last November, hers have run out along with most of her savings. She's given up her apartment, and now lives with an aunt.

"This is a scary thing," she says. "I've never been laid off before in the 22 years that I've been working."

Ms. Montanez is one of almost 2 million Americans out of work - and out of unemployment benefits. They're the casualties of this recession which, while mild by some measures, has taken a toll on American employees, from Silicon Valley's high-tech wizards to service workers at the out-of-business Calvin Klein Outlet in Clinton, Conn.

President Bush says he'll unveil his proposal in an economic-stimulus package tomorrow, and House Democrats are set to disclose their own plan today, before Congress reconvenes. Since both parties contend that extending unemployment benefits is a priority, jobless workers are expecting lawmakers to act quickly.

But they could be disappointed. Deep divisions remain between the Senate, which voted unanimously for a comprehensive extension, and House Republicans, who favor a more limited plan. As a result, many observers believe those unemployment checks could get stalled yet again in political wrangling.

"Come January 7, all eyes will be on Congress to see if they can get this done," says Maurice Emsellem of the National Employment Law Project. "But so far, there's been no indication on the part of the [Republican] House leadership of any movement, and that's going to present a real problem."

A question of magnitude

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