Sequestration’s cuts hit hardest behind headlines, agencies say

Democrats in Congress have had a hard time convincing the public that sequestration is a problem.

Their assertions that the automatic federal spending cuts are imperiling services for poor children, vulnerable seniors and the disabled are falling on disinterested ears.

They know children are not getting booted in droves from Head Start programs, seniors are not getting dropped by the thousands from Meals on Wheels services and homeless teenagers are not getting sent back to the streets as shelters are shuttered.

Not yet, at least. To most Americans, the sky hasn’t fallen on their lives.

And when the skies did get a touch unfriendly recently, Congress moved swiftly to end furloughs of air traffic controllers in order to end long waits for travelers.

“Before we start patting each other on the back for this bill, I think it’s important that we recognize that we’re not fixing the bigger problems that sequester has created,” Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., cautioned in a rare floor speech last week. “This lands somewhere short of a profile in courage.”

Solving the air traffic controller dilemma quickly and with such uncustomary bipartisanship probably didn’t make getting rid of the sequester any easier for Democrats. A skeptical public will now expect if any cut is causing big trouble, Congress will step in to deal with it.

Maybe so. To that end, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, the state’s senior senator, is out this week cataloguing the troubles to share with her peers.

“It does deeply concern me that the squeaky wheel gets the grease when the fact is there are a lot of people who are really struggling and whose stories aren’t in airports, they are in their homes,” she said Tuesday outside Cocoon House in Everett, which provides emergency shelter for homeless and at-risk teenagers.

She had just finished an hour-long sit down with representatives of Cocoon House, Everett public schools, the Housing Authority of Snohomish County, Senior Services of Snohomish County and Domestic Violence Services of Snohomish County.

One by one, the speakers outlined the dollars and programs they’ve lost or will lose as a result of the federal government paring $85 billion in spending through Sept. 30.

Two hundred youths won’t get into the shelter. Two thousand hot meals won’t be delivered to home-bound seniors. The number of housing vouchers for low-income families will decline.

“The effects are real. The dollars and cents are real,” said Bob Davis, executive director of the Housing Authority.

No one challenged the senator on the air traffic controllers during the conversation. That didn’t mean they weren’t frustrated by what occurred.

“You can survive waiting in line,” Cassie Franklin, chief executive officer of Cocoon House said afterwards. “You can’t survive sleeping on the street.”

Murray took notes and asked questions. She zeroed in on what is happening now. She compiled a long list.

“If you’re one of those senior citizens who rely on that one hot meal a day for your nutrition, and you are not getting it any more, it impacts you,” she said. “But you are not able to get the New York Times and Washington Post and major media outlets to come and see that. And so that is what I am trying to do and why I am here today.”

Political reporter Jerry Cornfield’s blog, The Petri Dish, is at www.heraldnet.com. Contact him at 360-352-8623 or jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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