Mother's Little Helper

Uncle Sam Has Countless Programs to Waste Americans' Wealth

Doug Bandow is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute and a contributing editor to The Freeman.

That the federal government is expansive and expensive is evident from the fact that Uncle Sam is spending some $1.6 trillion this year and will become ever more profligate as the push for a national health program accelerates.

But such numbers give little indication of how intrusive is the federal government. A far better measure is provided by J. Robert Dumouchel’s new Government Assistance Almanac, which proudly announces that it catalogues all “grants, loans, insurance, personal payments and benefits, subsidies, fellowships, scholarships, traineeships, technical information, advisory services, investigation of complaints, sales and donations of federal property.”[1] The result is 850 pages of pork, along with detailed instruction on how to grab a slab or two.

Indeed, if you are a businessman frustrated by international competition, a potential homeowner after a cheap loan, a college student desiring educational assistance, or most anyone else—especially a farmer looking for a federal handout, the Almanac is the book for you. Not only does the volume list all 1288 grant programs, but, explains the publisher, it “is bound and conveniently indexed, helping users target their benefit search.”

Where to start? If you’re hungry, try the Agriculture Department. There is, for instance, the Food Distribution program, by which surplus federal commodities are donated. There are Food Stamps, which most everyone is familiar with, as well as the school Breakfast Program, which underwrites breakfasts for school kids. Similar is the National School Lunch Program, Special Milk Program for Children, and Summer Food Service Program for Children. On top of these are the Special Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants, and Children; Child and Adult Care Food Program; Nutrition Education and Training Program; Commodity Supplemental Food Program; Temporary Emergency Food Assistance; and Food Commodities for Soup Kitchens. Special Groups, too, are eligible for Uncle Sam’s helping hand through the Nutrition Program for the Elderly, Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations, and Nutrition Assistance for Puerto Rico.

But USDA does far more than just help people eat. The Foreign Agricultural Market Development and Promotion program pays to advertise farmers’ products abroad; grants range from $158,000 to $18.4 million. The department aids forestry research; one recent project, explains Dumouchel, was an “experimental system for continuous press drying of paper.” Grants go to localities and states for roads in counties in which federal forestland or grassland is located. Minnesota has its own special grant program “to share receipts from national forest lands.”

The Rural Electrification Administration subsidizes electrical co-ops and telephone utilities. It also offers Rural Economic Development Loans and Grants to promote business, as well as Distant Learning and Medical Link Grants for educational and medical computer networks. The Soil Conservation Service doles out money and advice; the Agricultural Research Service, not surprisingly, gives grants for research. And then there is the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service, which made 250,000 new loans in 1991. If you want money for cotton, dairy, feed grains, wheat, wool (“National Wool Act Payments”), forestry, rice, or livestock, just wander down to USDA. There is even the Grain Reserve Program, which, after you have been paid to grow your crop, will provide “incentives to farmers to place harvests in storage, thus increasing prices of the grains by lowering the marketable supply.” Such a deal: paid to grow it and then paid to store it!

But you really don’t have to be a farmer to benefit from Uncle Sam’s largesse. Just living near farmers is enough. Consider the Farmers Home Administration with money for destroyed property, housing for laborers, farm operation, enlarging farms, low-income rural housing, improving the site of low-income rural housing, rural recreation facilities, rental property, repair ing homes of “very low-income” people, rural waste disposal, preventing floods, rural schools, rural businesses, rental payments by low-income senior citizens, rehabilitating low-income rural housing, rural foundations, and mediating disputes between rural borrowers and creditors. But wait—there’s more: technical assistance, aid for Indian tribes, the Intermediary Re-lending Program, and emergency assistance to comply with the Safe Drinking Water Act.

While farmers have their own department, most other businesses have to line up at the Commerce Department. The Census Bureau provides technical assistance and information, the International Trade Administration counsels exporters when it isn’t busy blocking the entry of inexpensive, quality imports—and the Export Licensing Service and Information provides “information, training, seminars, and other assistance on export licensing requirements, regulations, and policies.” In 1992 alone, reports Dumouchel, the Bureau counseled 309,000 exporters, handled 100,000 phone inquiries, and held 308 export licensing seminars.

But the real money is elsewhere.. The Economic Development Administration, provides grants—149 in 1991—“for public works and development facilities.” There are also guaranteed loans to create jobs through redevelopment projects, as well as grants for renovating public works, planning economic development, and assisting firms hurt by imports. One EDA gem: “Special Economic Development and Adjustment Assistance Program—Sudden and Severe Economic Dislocation and Long-Term Economic Deterioration.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration provides loads of cash for research, fish conservation, fisherman’s compensation, research, fishing ship construction, coastal management, research, climate centers, marine sanctuaries, and research. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration, National Institute of Standards and Technology, and National Technical Information Service all provide information, technical assistance, and money to promote telecommunications, technical standards, and technical information.

The Commerce Department also has a Minority Business Development Agency, which spares no expense to promote minor-ity-owned businesses. There are, for instance, Minority Business Development Centers, which receive grants to offer technical assistance to minority businesses, a half dozen Indian Business Development Centers, and Minority Business Resource Development grants “for activities advocating the expansion of opportunities for minority business firms,” by, among other things, “decreasing minority dependence on government programs”!

The Defense Department isn’t a particularly fruitful goose to be plucked, unless you want money for help in “controlling and eradicating obnoxious plants in rivers, harbors, and allied waters.” But the Department of Housing and Urban Development remains a fount of federal subsidies. In fact, there is no housing that is not backed by HUD. Do you want to rehabilitate run- down property? Get an insured loan under Rehabilitation Mortgage Insurance. Do you want to buy a mobile home? Get an insured loan under the Manufactured Home Loan Insurance. Want to construct a condominium? Check out the Mortgage Insurance for Construction or Substantial Rehabilitation of Condominium Projects. There’s also mortgage insurance to construct facilities for medical group practices; guaranteed mortgages to build one- to four-unit homes. Insured mortgages for homes for disaster victims and low-income families. The government will also guarantee mortgages for “homes in urban renewal areas,” “housing in older, declining areas,” and “nonfarm homes, or new farm homes on at least two and one-half acres adjacent to an all- weather road, in outlying areas.”

HUD also pours forth guaranteed mortgages for cooperative projects, mobile home parks, hospitals, and nursing homes. People seeking to buy units in condominiums, “sales-type cooperative housing units,” and leased land can receive federally-backed mortgages. Builders seeking to construct “middle-income rental housing,” rental and cooperative housing for the elderly, and rental housing “in urban renewal areas” are all welcomed by HUD. So, too, are “special credit risks,” who, so long as they receive counseling from “a HUD-approved agency,” have a special program for receiving federally guaranteed mortgages.

Still, the HUD programs go on, page after page: Property Improvement Loan Insurance for Improving All Existing Structures and Building of New Nonresidential Structures, Rent Supplements—Rental Housing for Lower Income Families, Supplemental Loan Insurance—Multifamily Rental Housing, Supportive Housing for the Elderly, Mortgage Insurance—Combination and Manufactured Home Lot Loans, Operating Assistance for Troubled Multifamily Housing Projects (also known as the “Flexible Subsidy Fund”), Congregate Housing Services Program, Mortgage Insurance—Growing Equity Mortgages, Multifamily Coinsurance, Housing Development Grants, and on, and on, and on.

There’s money for the homeless, the handicapped homeless, and “persons with AIDS.” There’s money to stop housing discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or handicap. There’s research money. There’s money for public and Indian housing. For the latter, Dumouchel helpfully informs us, one should apply to the Assistant Secretary for Public and Indian Housing. The phone number, if you are interested, is (202) 708-0950.

Still the money flows. If you are an Indian, or have enough Indian blood to be considered as Indian, the Department of Interior is waiting to hear from you. Consider the Indian Employment Assistance Program. Writes Dumouchel: Its purpose is “to enable American Indians to obtain vocational training and employment assistance. Funds may be used for subsistence, tuition and related costs, transportation. Payments may extend for up to two years—three years for nurses training. Amount paid is based on a financial needs analysis.” To get your hands on the loot, all you need be is a member “of recognized tribes, bands, or groups of Indians whose residence is on or near an Indian reservation under BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs] jurisdiction—in need of financial assistance.”

The Department hands out research grants, provides technical assistance, and offers counsel on a variety of subjects. It also gives money to preserve national landmarks and rehabilitate recreation areas.

But wait: There’s more, much more! Civil rights programs. Law enforcement grants. Money to prevent juvenile delinquency. Grants to compensate crime victims. Cash to help handle child abuse cases involving American Indians. And oodles and oodles of advice, assistance, and money from the Department of Labor for most anything—employment, training, pensions, trade adjustment, migrant farmworkers, safety, disabled veterans, and homeless veterans.

But don’t stop reading yet. There are pages of Transportation Department programs, and scores of environmental grants. Even the Internal Revenue Service has money to give to volunteers who help counsel elderly taxpayers, for instance. There’s the Appalachian Regional Commission, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and, of course, the ever-helpful National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities. In 1993 the NEA provided 363 grants under Promotion of the Arts—Expansion Art, which, explains Dumouchel, are intended “for arts projects reflecting the culture of minority, inner-city, rural, or tribal communities. Support is available for activities such as professional training of talented persons, financial assistance to small and emerging art groups, instructional activities for pre-school and school age youth.”

All in all, Dumouchel has done his job well—too well, for those without a strong stomach. He continues to count the ways by which Uncle Sam wastes our wealth. There’s the National Science Foundation and Small Business Administration. The Department of Veterans Affairs. ACTION. The Department of Energy. The Federal Emergency Management Agency. National Council on Disability. And the wonderful Department of Education. One of the winners: Adult Education for the Homeless, with grants ranging up to $500,000. But the real winner is the Department of Health and Human Services. Even with his succinct descriptions, Dumouchel requires 125 pages to cover the largesse flowing from HHS. One of my favorites: Adolescent Family Life Research Grants. Their purpose: “For research and information dissemination activities concerning societal causes and consequences of adolescent premarital and sexual relations, contraceptive use, pregnancy and child rearing, adoption decision-making.”

Dumouchel follows his program descriptions with a wealth of useful information. There are summary tables as to how much hard-earned taxpayer money is being frittered away on each program, a very extensive list of field offices to contact to benefit from the frittering process, and a comprehensive index so that you won’t miss even one program for which you might, just might, be eligible.

There may be no better exhibit on why the federal deficit is so hard to cut than the Government Assistance Almanac. Everyone may complain about Uncle Sam’s unending tide of red ink, but no one wants to cut spending. Indeed, literally everyone has a hand in the till independent business men, individualist farmers, iconoclastic artists, and ordinary middle-class, bourgeois homeowners. Until we change this culture of entitlement, this notion of Uncle Sam as but “Mother’s Little Helper,” it’s hard to imagine how we’re going to cut out many of the specific programs detailed by Dumouchel.

So I think it’s time that we consider the old adage, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. I’ve decided to put the Almanac to good use. I’m now looking for grant programs for slightly eccentric, chess- playing policy nerds who believe that it would serve the national interest if the taxpayers took over their mortgages, underwrote their writing, and generally provided them with a good life. With 850 pages of federal loot to choose from, it’s got to be there. []

        J. Robert Dumouchel,

Government Assistance Almanac: 1993-94

    (Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1993), 850 pp., $95.

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