Congress showed they could get something done last week by maintaining the funding level of the FAA instead of allowing sequestration to run its course. They have shown exactly what group of people Congress is willing to prioritize: air travelers.
Why air travelers? Of course, air transportation is an important mechanism of a national economy. But I also have a feeling that in-district approval ratings tanking because people can't take their kids to Disneyland was probably a key factor in the vote.
So what's so special about air travelers that Congress actually freaking worked together to ensure they weren’t directly affected by sequestration’s widespread cuts? Well, there are a ton of them and they represent every state and district in the country. Basically, you can use the term "everyone" when talking about air travelers, as in "everyone is affected by this" – that is, if you don’t think about people too sick or poor to travel (that can't be a lot of people, right?). So we’re talking about everyone, but, more importantly, voters. (Maybe people too poor to travel don't vote?)
I get it. Air travel affects a lot of people. So I guess I’m fine with Congress treating air travelers as a special class. But just for the sake of argument, let's look at how some other people are affected by cuts that aren't sparking bipartisan altruism …
Picture Credit: The Atlantic
Although Veterans Affairs-sponsored payout programs are exempt from sequester cuts, the secondary effects of sequestration are going to hit veterans hard. There are over 350,000 veterans currently working for the Defense Department, almost all of whom are facing furloughs and employment uncertainty. The current furlough results in a 20% pay loss. And veterans face a higher-than-average unemployment rate, as many have difficulties transition back to civilian life. Sequestration is making it harder to everyone to get a job, a task already difficult for those coming home from serving their country.
Picture Credit: GW Business School
Current college students and the recently graduated will also bear the brunt of sequestration cuts. First, although Pell Grants are exempt from cuts through the first year, programs like the Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant and Federal Work-Study program are not. The cuts could eliminate almost 100,000 students from participation. Second, just as with veterans, graduating students have a higher-than-average unemployment rate. Again, it's harder for everyone to get jobs, and it's even harder for recent graduates.
3. Those who need housing:
Picture Credit: ABC 30 Fresno
As soon as sequestration took effect, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) sent letters to public housing agencies (PHAs), Continuums of Care (CoCs), property owners, community development organizations, and other stakeholders notifying them of immediate across-the-board budget cuts. The Center on Budget Policy and Priorities estimates that 113,414 families will be cut from Section 8 housing vouchers. Cuts will also be made to federal rental assistance programs, including housing and homeless assistance, which will lose an estimated $304 million and $99 million respectively.
4. Young parents:
Picture Credit: Center for American Progress
While the food stamp and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) programs are exempt from cuts, many low-income programs, most notably Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), are not. The HUD cuts will also greatly affect parents in need of a little help. So it will be harder for young parents to get food, find a place to live and pay their energy bills.
So I get that air travelers are an important group. I just wanted to point out some other important groups that don't seem to hold as much importance to members of Congress. But I guess I know where their priorities lie. And sadly I'm not at all surprised.