Editor’s note: In an effort to pressure House Speaker John Boehner to allow a vote to renew unemployment insurance for more than 2.5 million Americans that have been cut off from this lifeline, U.S. Congressman David N. Cicilline (D-RI) on Tuesday unveiled his “Faces of the Unemployed” project on the House Floor. The following are Cicilline’s remarks as delivered:
“I rise today to show you and my colleagues the faces of the Americans they are hurting by refusing to renew unemployment benefits.
“Just three days after Christmas this House leadership left these people out in the cold and made it more difficult for them to provide for their family, to buy food and to pay their mortgages or pay their rent.
“It’s been four months since House Republican leaders turned their back on millions of unemployed Americans and the situation grows more dire for these individuals and their families with each passing day.
“For far too long, this Congress has described the long-term unemployed in numbers, figures and statistics only.
“Well, today I hope that will begin to change and that the Speaker and other Republican leaders will understand what’s happening to real people because of their refusal to extend unemployment benefits.
“I’m launching something called the ‘Faces of the Unemployed’ to show my colleagues on the other side of the aisle just who they are hurting.
“This poster board will be outside my office and we will be adding people to it as they share their stories and it will force my Republican colleagues to look into their eyes as the pass them in the hallway and to understand that these individuals should not be invisible.
“Mr. Speaker, I want you and all of my colleagues to look at these faces and explain to your colleagues and America why you won’t allow a vote that will help them put food on their table, pay their rent and provide for their families.
“These are real people, Mr. Speaker, who have been left behind and forgotten about by this body.
“It’s disgraceful that while the Republican budget would spend billions of dollars abroad and protects special interest tax loopholes that encourage companies to ship American jobs overseas, this body can’t provide immediate relief to the long-term unemployed who are still recovering from the Great Recession.
“In the end, this debate is about more than dollars and cents. It is about the families who continue to lose unemployment benefits with each passing day that the House fails to act. It is about the more than 200,000 veterans and more than 1 million children who have been affected by the loss of these benefits.
“It is about Michael from Riverside, Rhode Island, who is about to lose his electricity and gas because he can’t pay his bills and in his own words has ‘nowhere to turn to.’
“It’s about Paula from Bristol, who has always worked since she was 15 years old and says, and I quote, is ‘being made to feel like a thief.’
“It’s about Lillian from North Providence who says she’d ‘rather be working,’ but can’t find a job.
“These stories are not unique to Rhode Island, this is happening to people in every part of our country — Nevada, Illinois, California, Kentucky and Mississippi just to name a few.
“These people aren’t Republicans or Democrats, they are hardworking Americans who can’t find work and need our help.
“It’s time to put aside our differences and come together to provide immediate relief to these struggling families.
“In tough times, Congress has a long-standing history of extending these benefits, as we saw during the Bush Administration, and I urge Speaker Boehner to look at the faces of these unemployed Americans and hear their stories so we can work together to solve this problem, as we have in the past.
“These photos and stories will be posted outside my office, and I hope many of my colleagues will do the same, to serve as a reminder that this is about the individuals and families who are hurting every day because we have not extended this critical lifeline.
“I hope this will put a face on the real stories of the people who are hurting and cause the Speaker to bring a bill to the floor that will extend unemployment insurance so that we can answer the call and do everything we can help those most in need.”