01/10/2014 12:50 pm ET Updated Mar 12, 2014

House Leaders Using Their Inaction on Jobs as Excuse to Punish Unemployed

Since emergency unemployment benefits expired at the end of 2013, I've heard from many Mainers whose already challenging situations just got a lot worse.

One Navy veteran has applied for countless jobs in several states, and, even before the benefits expired, had only $10 left at the end of the week to buy groceries. A professional woman who has sent out 10 resumes a week for six months says she just needs more time. And several people in their 60s wonder if anyone will hire them at their age.

These are the people whom House Republicans are deciding to leave out in the cold for their own inaction on making jobs a priority.

Earlier this week, House Speaker John Boehner said he would only bring an extension of benefits to a vote under two conditions: spending cuts to pay for them and "provisions ... to get our economy moving again and put Americans back to work."

Sadly, the first condition is par for the course: the unnecessary position of having to choose between pre-school students/seniors/veterans and the unemployed. Already, Republicans are signaling that cuts to subsidies for large companies wouldn't be on the table. And never mind that emergency unemployment benefits like this have never before been required to be offset with spending cuts because they are so necessary.

But it's the second condition that really gets me. With all due respect, Mr. Speaker, where have you been the last three years?

Creating jobs should have been the Speaker's priority on Day 1 of his tenure -- not day 1,095. Instead, the House has occupied itself with denying women's reproductive rights, rolling back financial regulations, weakening our environment, and, more than anything else by far, repealing the Affordable Care Act. We've voted on that nearly 50 times, but have not had one vote on a meaningful jobs bill. Not one.

While House leadership pursued ideology, unemployed Americans have been trying to find jobs. Despite our recovery, many have not had luck. For every job opening, there are three applicants. On average, the unemployed are going eight months without finding work. The long-term unemployment rate is 2.6 percent -- more than twice the highest rate at which extended benefits have ever been allowed to expire.

To the talking point that extended benefits are keeping people from applying for jobs, one long-term unemployed woman who contacted me said simply, "That's the craziest thing I've ever heard." These are people who have worked all their lives, paid into the system, and have found themselves in a difficult situation through no fault of their own. They shouldn't have to go hungry or homeless because of it, but that's exactly what many of them face now since benefits expired. In my state, nearly 80 percent of the unemployed are now without benefits to meet the most basic needs.

If this isn't an emergency, then tell me what is.

Not extending these benefits is cruel punishment to families, but it doesn't make sense financially either. These benefits are some of the most effective things we can do to keep the economy going because they go directly and quickly into local businesses. Each week these benefits don't get extended, the Maine economy loses almost $1 million that could have gone to the local grocery store or gas station.

If Republicans really do want to move our economy forward and get people back to work, the first thing they need to do is extend these benefits. Our businesses can't create jobs when they're losing revenue, and the unemployed can't apply for jobs when they can't pay their phone bill. If Speaker Boehner has truly woken up to this country's jobs problem, he'll allow a vote on extending these benefits without imposing offsetting cuts that would further harm the economy.