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This FAA Sequester Vote Doesn't Smell Right

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AP
AP

Well, well. It appears that both the Senate and House have voted to end sequester-imposed furloughs of air traffic controllers, just in time for the weekend.

You choose: Is this bipartisan support to mitigate one of the noxious effects of sequestration, which I and others have been tracking? Or is it papering over the high-visibility stuff that affects the affluent while lots of other budget bleeding goes on beneath the radar?

I choose the latter. While the annoyance of flight delays caught the attention of elected officials, businesspeople and other frequent flyers, lots of other, less advantaged Americans will continue to feel the pain of the sequester due to cuts in a variety of programs.

My CBPP colleague Sharon Parrott outlined some of the people outside of airport security lines facing sequestration-induced hardships:

  • Jobless workers losing unemployment benefits. Sequestration requires every state to cut benefits for the long-term unemployed. So far, roughly 800,000 workers in 19 states have seen their benefits cut by... about $120 a month, on average. When all states implement these cuts, they will affect as many as 3.8 million jobless workers.
  • Children losing Head Start. ...Already, some Head Start programs are cutting their programs for the current school year -- dropping children from the program, ending the school year several weeks early, or cutting services such as bus transportation. These cuts can leave families scrambling to find alternatives for their children. The Associated Press reports, for example:

At least two Indiana Head Start programs have resorted to a random drawing to determine which three-dozen preschool students will be removed from the education program for low-income families, a move officials said was necessary to limit the impact of mandatory across-the-board federal spending cuts.

  • Seniors losing Meals on Wheels. Some seniors programs in various states are cutting the number of home-delivered meals provided or seniors served. In central Maine, for example, the agency on aging has started a waiting list for seniors and cut the number of weekly visits to seniors receiving meals from two to one.
  • Low-income families, seniors, and people with disabilities losing housing assistance. CBPP estimates that 140,000 fewer households will receive vouchers to help them afford decent housing.

House Democrat Rick Larsen summed this up well in Politico yesterday: "...no 3- or 4-year-old is going to call my office and say, 'I've been kicked out of Head Start, replace that money.'"

I get hit by air delays a lot and I hate it. But this vote doesn't smell right. If this boneheaded approach to budgeting remains in place and policymakers continue to cherry pick which sequester-related problems they'll fix -- they'll be the ones that bug the public the most -- that means everything else will have to be cut back that much more. And that will inevitably be the stuff that matters most to the poor and unemployed, who lack the political voice, access, or visibility to stop the cuts.

Bin Appelbaum of the NYT got to the essence of the thing in a tweet: "Maybe unemployed people should try standing on runways." See you there...

This post originally appeared at Jared Bernstein's On The Economy blog.