With several federal stimulus measures set to expire the day after Christmas, state lawmakers are pushing an eight-week extension of unemployment benefits.

Both houses of the legislature unanimously passed an eight-week extension of jobless benefits on Thursday. The bill now goes to Gov. Phil Murphy. If he signs it, the eight-week extension of benefits for those who lost their jobs due to the pandemic would ensure no lapse in benefits as Congress continues to negotiate a new stimulus deal.

The bill's sponsor, State Sen. Dawn Addiego (D-Burlington), told NJ.com many New Jersey families were being forced to choose between holiday gifts and putting food on the table.

"The list of hard choices ... is right out of Dickens," she said.

Businesses would not be charged more to fund the extension.

Considered a stopgap measure, the extension would likely be modified if Congress can agree on a new stimulus measure. Before the pandemic, New Jersey's unemployment fund had a surplus of more than $2 billion. With record unemployment, state labor officials reported more than $20 billion in jobless benefits had been paid out in the 39 weeks since Murphy shut the economy down in March.

“When we began the year at almost full employment, it was unfathomable we would be nearing year's end having given out more than $20 billion in unemployment benefits to workers in need,” Labor Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo said.. “We are now getting ready to distribute additional aid, and are hopeful Congress will act.”

New Jersey has borrowed around $600 million from the federal government to support those claims, and there remains hope for additional funding in a new relief bill from Washington.

Members of Congress will likely meet all weekend to try and get final approval of a nearly $1 trillion stimulus measure approved. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell vowed his members "will stay right here" until a deal is done. The central elements of the hard-fought aid compromise appear in place: more than $300 billion in aid to businesses; a $300-per-week bonus federal jobless benefit and renewal of soon-to-expire state benefits; $600 direct payments to individuals; vaccine distribution funds; and money for renters, schools, the Postal Service and people needing food aid. Democrats have surrendered demands for money to bailout state and local budgets. Republicans have given up provisions that would shield businesses from coronavirus-related lawsuits. Pressure has intensified to get the measure approved, with Congress also needing to pass a spending bill to prevent a partial government shutdown and several provisions of the CARES Act due to expire on Dec. 26.

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