A safety net for tens of thousands of New Jersey residents could soon vanish, if Congress does not act before the end of the year to extend unemployment benefits for those out of work between 26 and 99 weeks.

Currently, the Garden State has 325,000 residents collecting unemployment benefits. That's in addition to many other people who are in the process of filing.

Of that number, approximately 165,000 are beyond their original 26 weeks of unemployment and have fallen into one of the federally-funded extension programs.

Without action in Washington D.C., those in the extended programs would be without help by the first week of June.

State Senator Sandra Cunningham (D), member of the Labor Committee, is very concerned over the potential loss of benefits for New Jerseyans.

"We're talking about a large number of people," says Cunningham. "What are they supposed to do?"

She says the large jobless population is already having a negative effect on New Jersey communities, and without an extension in benefits, "it's only going to get worse."

"People are going to become desperate," Cunningham says.

People in danger of losing their unemployment benefits, as in the past, would learn four weeks prior to exhaustion. They would be provided with additional information and other available state services. The state is working with other agencies to prepare them for a possible influx of residents seeking assistance.

Congress is expected to act on the issue, but New Jersey lawmakers say nothing is guaranteed.