Skip to main content
off the charts

Congress Addresses Flight Delays But Leaves Other Sequestration Problems Unsolved

Responding to highly publicized flight delays from the “sequestration” budget cuts, the House and Senate have voted overwhelmingly to allow the Transportation Department to shift some airport infrastructure funding to pay air traffic controllers.  To be sure, delays in air travel inconvenience travelers and harm the economy.  But many other sequestration-related cuts that receive much less attention are far more damaging.

That’s why policymakers need to address sequestration as a whole, replacing it with a balanced mix of responsible spending cuts and new revenues, rather than adopt a piecemeal approach that only gets the issue off the front pages.

The many other people facing hardships because of sequestration include:

  • 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 a little more than 10 percent — or 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. Head Start serves about 1 million disadvantaged children across the country.  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.

    Other programs will reduce enrollment or make other cuts in their programs in the coming school year that starts in September.  For example, a Head Start program in Missouri just announced that nearly 200 fewer children would be enrolled next fall.

  • 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. 

What’s fundamentally wrong with sequestration is that the resulting funding levels are too low to meet government’s everyday operating expenses and invest in key areas — like infrastructure and education — that are important for economic growth.  In addition to the above cuts, local law enforcement, medical research, K-12 education, environmental protection, and many other areas also face cuts that will affect communities across the country.

The impacts of these cuts may be less obvious than cancelled or delayed flights, and many of the cuts will affect people with relatively little political clout, like low-income families.  But they, too, deserve policymakers’ attention.