Policy Resource

The Sequester’s Pain: Air Travelers Get Relief, Little Kids Not So Much

Apr 18, 2013

Today Congress eased the pain of the across-the-board funding cuts known as sequester—but only for those people being inconvenienced by flight delays due to air traffic controller furloughs.

The children who will lose their places in Head Start and Early Head Start programs were offered no respite. Neither were the families who thought they were on their way to a stable roof over their heads, only to have that vision snatched back by housing authorities forced to cut rental assistance.

Stung by complaints of cancelled flights and long waits, Congress speedily approved legislation to allow the Department of Transportation to transfer funds from elsewhere in its budget so aviation employees could return to work. This selective relief undermined the idea that everyone should share the pain of deficit reduction and that any relief should be a global solution. It targeting relief, it appears that short-term inconvenience to some is more compelling than the potential for long-term harm to very small children.

Passengers who must wait a few hours on the tarmac might miss a meeting or a connection to another city. But young children shut out of early childhood programs miss out on the positive early learning experiences that help their brains make critical developmental connections, putting them on the path to success in school and in life. And while those passengers may shift uncomfortably in cramped seats, families who lose rental assistance may find themselves living for months in cramped quarters, or even becoming homeless. The detrimental effects on their young children’s development won’t be shaken off by a walk up and down the aisle.

Most (but we recognize not all) people with delayed flights can juggle their schedules to make up for whatever they missed. But young children stranded on their own tarmac waiting in vain for positive early learning experiences don’t get those years back. When development doesn’t take off as scheduled, later years can be spent falling further behind. This not only hurts individual children. It hurts all of us, and not just when our hearts ache at a news report showing a little boy who simply loves his preschool finding out he can’t return the following week because he lost out in a lottery. Or when we see a young child in a homeless shelter clinging to a treasured possession. We lose because placing the burden of reducing our deficit on the most disadvantaged among us–especially children—undermines our future economic security.

At least some in the news media are calling out this injustice. But they are also suggesting something else—that the children and families losing much needed services have no one representing them before Congress. We know that’s not true. These children and families do have a voice—and it is all of us. The President’s early learning proposal has generated great excitement and energy in the early childhood world. Clearly, we need to focus some of that energy and all of our indignation on speaking out to Congress about the unfairness created by selective relief from sequestration and the urgent need to find a broad solution. Or if we have to be selective, how about restoring supports to those people whose future could well depend on how long they’re in a holding pattern?

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