7 budget cuts hurting ordinary Americans

From unemployment benefits to cancer treatments, seven ways the sequester may affect you.

WASHINGTON — The Federal Aviation Administration says air traffic is back to normal after lawmakers passed legislation to fix the FAA budget cuts that were forcing air traffic controllers furloughs and, in turn, long delays at airports across the country.

Democrats supported the FAA fix and President Obama signed it, but many on the left criticized it as a "Band-Aid" measure that solved a problem for wealthy travelers — and lawmakers themselves — without addressing the much broader problems posed by the big budget cuts known as the sequester. (For those keeping score, the Republican party counted the Democrats' "cave" on the FAA as a victory for themselves.)

Republicans, including House Speaker John Boehner, opposed the budget cuts before they went into effect. The cuts, after all, were designed to be so unpalatable to both parties that Congress would never allow them to take effect. But the GOP pivoted, coming to embrace the cuts as a swift implementation of the "leaner government" that the party stands for and seeing the fallout as a far bigger problem for Obama than themselves.

Still, with Congress in recess this week, voices across the political spectrum are asserting that sequestration is bad: Bad for the Democrats, bad for the Republicans, bad for the economy. The bipartisan duo that proposed a deficit savings plan two years ago that would have prevented the sequester is trying to resurrect their "grand bargain."

But if that's not going to happen, is the FAA alone in deserving a "Band-Aid" to ease the budget pain? Sen. John McCain called it "criminal and scandalous" to help the FAA while leaving deep Pentagon cuts intact. Earlier this month, the impact of cuts to Head Start and cancer treatment and research made news. Federal employees are seeking relief through a union campaign. So are affected industry and interest groups.

Here are seven places where ordinary Americans may feel the impact of the budget cuts:

SERVICES FOR VETERANS

The Department of Veterans Affairs was actually spared from the (nearly) across-the board budget cuts, but not all programs that serve veterans are operated by the VA. At a Congressional hearing last month (PDF), military and civilian leaders said that cuts to the Defense Department and other agencies would mean severely curtailed mental health services for soldiers with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, as well as cuts to recruitment efforts, tuition assistance, and programs that support military families.

MEALS ON WHEELS

Local agencies receive funding from the federal government for the program that serves home-bound seniors and the poor. "The White House has said the cuts would mean 4 million fewer meals for seniors this year, while the Meals On Wheels Association of America put the loss at 19 million meals," the Huffington Post reported Monday in a story highlighting what those cuts mean for a Virginia man who relies on the program.

HOUSING BENEFITS

The sequester includes $2 billion in cuts to housing assistance programs, and will force an estimated 140,000 low-income families (PDF) out of a program that provides vouchers to help pay rent. Those effects are being felt from California to suburban D.C.

NATIONAL PARKS

Hitting the road this summer? It's unlikely that national parks will shut down completely, but parks say they're closing off areas, limiting camping, and deferring trail maintenance. Montana's Glacier National Park outlined its cutbacks in a March press release. Yellowstone National Park delayed opening some entrances for two weeks before private donors opened their wallets to avert a disaster for local tourism revenues.

UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS

"Sequestration requires every state to cut benefits for the long-term unemployed," the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities reports. "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." A Pew Charitable Trusts report outlined the same effects, with a state-by-state breakdown, this month.

CANCER CLINICS

The Washington Post reported nearly a month ago that some cancer clinics were turning away Medicare patients, saying that they would be forced out of business by lower reimbursements for expensive chemotherapy treatments under the sequester. The FAA remedy sparked further outrage, with providers, patients, and other critics saying that the consequences for cancer patients far outweigh an extra hour or two at the airport.

FOOD SAFETY

Even before sequestration-induced flight delays made headlines, meat inspectors got an exemption from the devastating budget cuts. But the FDA still says it will conduct about 20 percent fewer food inspections overall compared to last year. Speaking to USA Today, FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg also said that the cuts will delay the implementation of the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act and delay the approval of new drugs.

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