By Michael R. Fraser, PhD, CAE, Chief Executive Officer, AMCHP
Many of you know I travel frequently for work and one of my favorite parts of working at AMCHP is visiting maternal and child health (MCH) and children and youth with special health care needs (CYSHCN) programs across the country. I get a tremendous amount of energy from meeting members and partners, sharing what we are doing at AMCHP on your behalf, and learning about your programs, priorities and needs.
Of course, that travel can be draining: long lines, security checks, taking stuff out of your bag, crowded flights, etc. In the last few days air travel has been even more draining because the FAA started to furlough air traffic controllers due to the sequester. Fewer controllers means some runways have had to be shutdown, fewer planes can be in the air at the same time, and there are long lines of flights that have to wait to take off (not to mention long lines at security where TSA agents have been furloughed). On a recent trip, my flight was number 25 in a long line to depart. Needless to say, we were very late in getting to our final destination. Ironically, the front page headline on the Wall Street Journal that the person sitting next to me was reading was about the FAA furloughs and delays.
Everywhere I went this week people asked me about the delays. The taxi driver asked if I was delayed. The front desk staff asked if I was delayed. People at the meeting I went to asked about the delays. My family asked me about delays. “Yes,” I said. “I experienced delays. And I was glad.”
“What?!” they would say. “You were glad you were delayed?”
“Yep.” I answered.
“Why?” they asked in sheer amazement. Here was my response:
“Because we are finally experiencing the impact of these ridiculous across the board cuts that were never meant to be. Now people will really see what this sequester is all about.”
I find it striking that the air travel delays over the past three days have caused so much ire and outrage nationwide and delays are something everyone has heard about while the other sequester cuts, cuts that will have a much more significant negative impact over time than air traffic delays, are practically unknown. True, details have not yet been released so we are not feeling the full brunt of other cuts but we know that Head Start programs may have to limit their enrollments. WIC and other nutrition assistance will be cut. The Title V MCH Services Block Grant will be cut. No one asks me about those on my travels – not a taxi driver, a hotel clerk, and even some of the folks at the meetings I attended. Air travel delays took precedence over covering cuts to programs that support our most vulnerable Americans and lay the foundation for a healthier future for us all.
Of course I did not think that the sequester was the best approach to addressing our budget woes but a small part of me is glad that the air traffic delays are keeping this in front of people, at least this week. Maybe by feeling these cuts a larger group of folks will ask that if this is happening at the FAA, where else will we feel these cuts? What can we do about them before they take place? Maybe by “feeling it,” some will add their voice to the growing number of advocates who are pushing for a sensible, balanced approach to solving the budget problems we are experiencing. Till then, I’m bringing an extra book and a toothbrush in my carry-on.