Meet the Washingtonians getting wrung out by the sequester

Guest Opinion: Air traffic controllers are back at work, but others are still squirming under the effects of the sequester.
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Guest Opinion: Air traffic controllers are back at work, but others are still squirming under the effects of the sequester.

Congress passed legislation at the end of April to put air traffic controllers back on the job, providing valuable insight into what our representatives, and by extension us, care about.  

As it turns out, the most important thing in our lives is convenience.   

Out in Spokane, there is a man named Jim. Jim is 90 years old. Jim fought in World War II. He was never rich, but when money was around Jim spent it helping his neighbors buy diapers, food and pay their rent. Though he remains fiercely independent, Jim’s limited sight, hearing and Parkinson’s disease have severely reduced his mobility. Today Meals on Wheels delivers Jim a hot meal every day. Without someone to prepare that meal, he would not eat.  

The sequester subtracted a million dollars from senior nutrition programs here in Washington. The delivery portion of the program is carried out by tens of thousands of volunteer drivers. It is a great example of government cooperating with the general public to fill a service that allows people to maintain a shred of dignity during their last years.

Shae-Lynn lives in Richland. Shae-Lynn is seven years old. At age three she almost died from uncontrollable seizures and suffered brain and heart damage as a result. The normal education route would have placed her in a learning-disabled classroom for the next five years, but through Head Start she was able to catch up to her peers. Today Shae-Lynn’s brain is 100 percent normal and seizure free. Her mother says she looks like Dakota Fanning.  

The sequester removes 1,000 children from early learning programs in our state.

Investing in kids is a long game and you don’t know how it will turn out. Head Start was launched in January 1964 in order to give poor kids the same opportunity for education that middle class kids got in their preschool programs. The goal was to get those children educational development so that they could be better able to grow into productive, tax-paying participants in our country.

Forty-eight years later it has proven to be a great success. Head Start veterans are in all walks of life, working as doctors, lawyers, firemen, policemen — everywhere in our labor force.

Understanding the stakes of the budget standoff for Jim and Shae-Lynn, congress acted quickly last month — to put all air traffic controllers back on their regular schedules. The irritating delays and cancellations caused by their furloughs were immediately felt and immediately dealt with.  As Susan Collins, R-Maine, said afterward, “It’s nice to know that when we work together, we really can solve problems.”

A few problems caused by the sequestration remain unsolved, however. The full list can be found here and for Washingtonians include:

  • 2,850 fewer children will receive vaccines for diseases such as measles, mumps, rubella, tetanus, whooping cough, influenza and Hepatitis.
  • 29,000 civilian Department of Defense employees will be furloughed.
  • Head Start and Early Head Start services will be eliminated for approximately 1,000 children.
  • Washington will lose approximately $1,053,000 in funds that provide meals for seniors.

Dropping kids from Head Start, delivering fewer Meals on Wheels to seniors and making treatment for preventable diseases harder — or at worst impossible — to access sound like tough but necessary decisions in the pursuit of fiscal austerity. In a sense, they are. If you cut these items you will save money.

The restoration of air traffic controllers was accomplished speedily and many would say that’s a good thing. Transportation is the lifeblood of our economy, a necessity.  

Jim and Shae-Lynn, on the other hand, are conveniences.


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