AUGUSTA – Regina Gagnon has cobbled together an income from whatever temporary work she’s been able to find since losing her job at Sappi Fine Paper in 2006.

“It’s been tough for the last three, four years,” said Gagnon, who lives in Augusta. “I’m doing what I can to survive.”

Gagnon most recently worked for the U.S. Census Bureau but has been without work since September, when she started receiving unemployment benefits.

Those payments expire in mid-January, however, and they won’t be renewed unless a lame-duck Congress in its final days approves another extension of unemployment benefits.

“If they’re considering ending this, that would be very tough,” Gagnon said Wednesday as she searched for work at the Augusta CareerCenter.

Unemployment benefits for those who have been without work for 99 weeks began expiring Wednesday, and the U.S. Department of Labor estimates that benefits for 2 million Americans will expire by Christmas.

In Maine, unemployment benefits for nearly 6,800 people are set to expire Dec. 11, said Adam Fisher, a Maine Department of Labor spokesman.

the end of the year, nearly 2,700 additional unemployed Maine residents are scheduled to join their ranks.

Unless an extension is passed, the total number of Mainers to lose jobless benefits would reach more than 21,000 by mid-April. The Maine Department of Labor reported last month that about 24,000 Mainers are receiving unemployment benefits, with an average weekly payment of $266.73.

The Maine Department of Labor has received numerous calls since recipients recently began receiving notices that their benefits may soon lapse.

“We’ve been inundated with calls from people wondering how this is going to impact them,” Fisher said.

Anne Haggar has already seen her unemployment benefits dry up; she’s been out of work for 26 months and is looking for jobs in human resources.

“Some very dedicated unemployed people are job searching very diligently,” Haggar said Wednesday.

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, called for an extension of jobless benefits Wednesday on the House floor.

“Putting American workers ahead of millionaires and billionaires should be our priority and shouldn’t be a tough choice to make,” she said.

But the extension failed to win the support needed in the House before Thanksgiving, and Senate Democrats had no luck Tuesday in their bid to extend benefits in a fast-track floor vote.

In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., all 42 Republican senators Wednesday vowed to block nearly all legislation until tax cuts are extended and a bill is passed to fund the federal government.

The Associated Press and Tribune Washington Bureau contributed to this report.