Take a good look before you start the applause

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By Angye Morrison

At first glance, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act appears to be a good idea. The bill states that it will modernize the nation’s infrastructure, enhance America’s energy independence, expand educational opportunities, preserve and improve affordable health care, provide tax relief and protect those in greatest need. OK, it sounds great. Bottom line: it’s supposed to stimulate the economy and create jobs.

The intent of the stimulus package was to get America back on track and help struggling Americans. Many feel that all it has done thus far is provide big bucks for special interest groups and corporations. Others feel the ARRA comes off as just another spending bill, and it will load our children’s children with massive debt. How is either helpful?

But to be fair, the ARRA is also doing some good. Also to be fair, there is some ridiculous mixed in with the sublime. According to CNN.com, here’s where the money is going:

Department of Agriculture

The agency is receiving $28 billion – $6.9 billion in discretionary funds and $21 billion in mandatory funds to go for specific programs – including money to aid rural development programs and assistance for farmers.

Department of Commerce

The U.S. Department of Commerce is receiving $7.9 billion, including $150 million for grants to economically distressed areas across the Nation to generate private sector jobs.

Department of the Interior

The department was allocated $3 billion, which it is set to use for hydropower projects, preserving national parks, helping the Bureau of Indian Affairs, renewable energy development and beefing up research facilities used by the U.S. Geological Survey.

Department of State

The department will receive $602 million, which includes up to $38 million for USAID. The money will also be used for diplomatic and consular programs, addition to a capital investment fund, and money geared toward the International Boundary and Water Commission Construction.

Social Security Administration

According to the SSA, the stimulus act provides for the one-time payment of $250 to individuals who get Supplemental Security Income or Social Security benefits. The payment is expected to reach individuals by late May 2009.

National Endowment for the Arts

The stimulus act provides $50 million to be distributed in direct grants to fund arts projects and activities for state and regional art agencies – as well as certain nonprofit organizations.

Environmental Protection Agency

The EPA is receiving $7.22 billion for programs that will "protect and promote both 'green' jobs and a healthier environment," according to the agency's Web site. Some of the projects include improving water quality, shoring up infrastructure, cleaning up former industrial sites, reducing diesel emission and hazardous waste cleanup.

Department of Transportation

Some $27 billion in stimulus funds are headed to states to provide critical repairs to crumbling roads and bridges throughout the country.

Department of Homeland Security

While the full details haven't been released, the Department says about half of the stimulus funds will be "allotted to information technology-related programs."

Small Business Administration

The SBA is receiving $730 million to make changes, it says, to the agency's lending and investment programs so that they can reach more small businesses that need help, including: temporary fee reductions on SBA loans, setting up a new loan program to help small businesses meet existing debt payments, technical assistance grants to small lenders and upgrading technology systems.

Department of Health and Human Services

Around $59 billion is being invested in improving health and human services, including: construction of new research and educational facilities, improving childcare and community services, supporting renovations to community health centers and modernizing health information technology.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration

NASA is receiving $1 billion, which it says will be used to restore NASA-owned facilities damaged from hurricanes and other natural disasters, advancements in science and aeronautics programs.

Department of Housing and Urban Development

The stimulus provides HUD with $13.61 billion for projects and programs, nearly 75 percent of which was allocated to state and local recipients on Feb. 25. HUD says the money will help generate jobs, modernize homes to make them energy efficient and help families hit hard by the economic recession.

Department of Energy

The DOE has set out to use the funds to create or protect nearly 3.5 million jobs over the next two years, reduce dependence on foreign oil, invest in green technology, renewable energy projects and scientific research.

Department of Education

Around $141 billion will go for saving or creating early childhood, K-12 and higher education jobs; create construction jobs related to school modernization projects; raising Pell grants and tuition tax credits for college, among other programs.

Corporation for National and Community Service

The $201 million in funding will, according to the CNCS, support an expansion of AmeriCorps’ state and national and programs that a aimed at "engaging citizens in addressing unmet needs and strengthening communities."

Department of Defense

The DOD is receiving around $7.4 billion in stimulus funds – and says it will spend the funds to upgrade facilities, make energy-related improvements, pay for military construction of hospitals, child development centers and facilities used to house soldiers and their families.

Department of Justice

The DOJ will use the $4 billion its received to "enhance state, local, and tribal law enforcement efforts, including the hiring of new police officers, to combat violence against women, and to fight Internet crimes against children."

Department of Treasury

The Treasury Department has allocated its share of the stimulus funds to go to the administrative budget: IRS Health Insurance Tax Credit Administration; Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration; Community Development Financial Institutions; Financial Management Service; Internal Revenue Service.

That’s all good stuff, but I still have to ask, what does this actually do for those of us who struggle from paycheck to paycheck?

I mean, it’s nice that stimulus money will help reduce diesel emission and rebuild NASA’s hurricane-damaged facilities, but what does that do for my financial well-being and my future...or for that matter, yours?

Here’s what I think. You want to rebuild America? You want to truly make a difference? Give the money directly to the American people. Instead of spending money to help people who are offended by the smell of neighboring pig farms, put that money into the hands of the American people – with conditions, of course. Designate at least half of what each household gets to paying off debt, including mortgages, cars, credit cards...whatever. Require that a substantial percentage of it be placed into an interest-bearing savings account. Require that a percentage of it go toward continuing education or job training for the adults in the household, and toward post-secondary education for the children.

And last, but certainly not least, require that a decent portion of the funds be given to the charity of choice for that household. They could give it to a needy neighbor or family member, a nonprofit organization or their church. But whatever route it takes, that portion of the funding would be utilized to serve someone other than those who live in that household. The lesson? You’ve now taught that household to think of people other than themselves.

Think my plan has loopholes? Issues? Well, so does the one Congress passed and our president signed. At least my plan teaches people to take care of their own needs and those of others responsibly. It’s that kind of thinking that will help America the most.

Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Mr. President.