Uncle Sam Does A Lot For Us

Posted: August 11, 2014

In 2010, the federal government brought more than $650 million to Rockingham County. (Photo by Associated Press)

Few people have any idea how much the federal government does in partnership with them. Because federal agencies are not allowed to advertise as companies do, they can’t promote their services or tell the public about their accomplishments on a regular basis. In addition, some partisans harp on mistakes that the agencies make and spread misinformation to reduce public trust. To balance that, we should look at the positive side of what the government does in our community.

Data compiled by the Census Bureau show that in 2010, the government brought more than $650 million in direct payments, insurance, loans, and loan guarantees to people and organizations in Rockingham County. This averaged to $8,500 for every man, woman, and child in the county, or about a third of a medium household’s annual income.

The largest program provided guarantees for rural electrification loans of $205 million to help farmers receive dependable, low cost power. This helped the county’s largest industry.

The largest category of direct payments came from Social Security. County residents received $159 million in retirement benefits, benefits for survivors, and disability insurance payments. These funds helped many of the recipients avoid living in poverty and relieved burdens on many of their families. The county tries to attract retirees, so in addition to Social Security, $26 million came as payments to military, federal civil service, and postal service retirees.

After this, came $104 million in payments related to health care These included Medicare and Medicaid payments and medical assistance program grants.  Health care is one of the county’s fastest growing sectors and the continuing influx of federal dollars helps to drive it. 

Various forms of housing assistance totaling $49 million came next. Much of this was in direct loans for very low to moderate income housing.

Assistance for veterans and their survivors amounted to $23 million. This included educational assistance, life insurance, disability payments, retirement income for disabled veterans, rehabilitation payments, and assistance for their survivors.

Assistance provided to low-income families through nutrition programs and grants that provided a variety of services including food stamps and school lunches came to $20 million. Programs for education provided $12 million in grants, loans, and loan guarantees to schools and students.

Farmers received $16 million in assistance in addition to the rural electrification loan guarantees. This included direct payments to offset operating losses, loans and loan guarantees, rental assistance, and crop insurance. In total, farmers and the agriculture industry received about a third of the county’s federal assistance.

This summary does not include a variety of activities such as small business loans and federal procurements of products and services from county businesses. Nor does the $650 million total include federal grants that went directly to Virginia to be apportioned within the state for highway, justice, environmental, and other programs.

It would be almost impossible to find someone in Rockingham County who does not benefit somehow from the wide range of federal programs. Much of the money goes directly or indirectly to individuals and families who spend it at local businesses for their regular needs including food, fuel, rent, vehicles, clothes and insurance.

Put the other way, almost everyone in the county would be poorer without these programs. They expand freedom and opportunities for our residents to live productive, healthy, and fulfilling lives. They provide income and stability for local businesses, particularly farmers. The opposite of “burdensome restrictions,” they are so nonintrusive that few residents think of them or even know they exist.

Anyone who wants to think seriously about the future of the county and the United States should consider how these programs form a giant network of federal-state-county-city-business-resident partnerships and relationships. Few of us would be able to do what we do without them.

But that is not how Republicans want us to think. So they deleted the funding from the Census Bureau’s budget that it needs to collect and present the types of data discussed above. This prevented citizens from having access to the data after 2010.

Thornton Parker lives in Harrisonburg.


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