Most Americans already believe that the federal government favors the interests of wealthy elites over the rest of us. Last week, the government confirmed it.
While all the other results of sequestration — the automatic budget cuts that began March 1 — still stand, Congress decided one small slice of the public needed relief. Not poor preschoolers, the homeless, low-income college students or seniors who rely on Meals on Wheels for a nutritious lunch. Not even the military or the FBI.
No, as furloughs of air traffic controllers began to delay flights, Congress decided air travelers who were enduring waits of — gasp! — one to three hours needed urgent attention. Congress swiftly agreed to end the furloughs, and President Barack Obama signed the strategy into law, clearing the way for the flying public.
Others were not so lucky. Last week the Santa Clara County (Calif.) Housing Authority, dealing with a $21 million cut because of sequestration, voted to raise the rent for existing Section 8 tenants from 30 percent of their incomes to 35 percent.
The Section 8 program subsidizes rent for 17,000 people who otherwise couldn’t dream of living in high-cost Silicon Valley. The rent hike will be significant. A Social Security recipient whose check is $1,000 a month will see her rent go from $300 to $350, a 17 percent jump. What will she give up to keep a roof over her head? Medication? Healthy food?
And anyone who doesn’t already have one of these scarce vouchers will have no hope of getting one — including the folks living in homeless encampments that have popped up all over the area. Santa Clara County, like many others, is freezing its waiting list for vouchers because it will not have the funds to help additional people.
Section 8 housing has long had bipartisan support, in part because it helps people who are working or who worked before they grew old or sick. At a time of growing inequality, it’s unconscionable to balance the budget on the backs of those who have done their best to support themselves and their families but just can’t keep up with the cost of living.
The $85 billion in sequester cuts this year alone will significantly damage programs that help the most vulnerable. The White House estimates that 70,000 kids will be kicked out of Head Start nationwide; 1,200 fewer workplaces will be inspected to ensure they are safe — notwithstanding the deadly explosion at Texas’ West Fertilizer Co.; 4 million fewer meals will be provided to seniors and 373,000 people with serious mental illness will go without care. Absent an agreement on a better budget plan, these cuts will continue year after year.
But hey, at least business travelers — and elected representatives — will no longer face the hell of spending an extra hour in an airport frequent-flier lounge. Well done, Congress and President Obama. Well done.