The government provides upwards of $600 billion dollars annually in assistance to citizens of the United States! Understanding Federal Assistance can help you get what you need. First, it takes many forms and has other names like aid, benefits, and funds. The government focuses on areas such as education, health, safety, welfare, and works which include schools,hospitals, roads, and parks.
Funding is administered by agencies like the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The Department of Education is a huge provider of education grants.
Hundreds of individual programs are made available through government agencies that are responsible for local administration. Like assistance, “programs” is a broad term for many activities and services of the federal government. In addition to those below see our article Free Tax Help for assistance with tax returns and payments.
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Federal aid is not always defined as benefits provided to individuals. Sometimes Federal Aid comes in the form of massive help at times of major disasters and emergencies. Hurricane Harvey is a good example — and Irma is not far behind. HHS (the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) sent over 400 medical staff including doctors and nurses to provide aid to Texas and Louisiana. The medical workers came from all over the nation and more are on alert. The department also provided aid ahead of the storm, helping affected localities to assist homes where medical equipment was in use that required electricity.
Some people complain that the U.S. provides little assistance to people and that our poverty level is higher. In fact quite the opposite is true. Recent studies - even by liberal scholars! - show that to be true. Sometimes comparisons can be hard because programs have so many names — but read on to see what programs there are and how you can find out about them.
Examples of Federal Assistance programs
- Federal Grants and awards
- Temporary Assistance for Needy Families
- Nutrition Assistance for Puerto Rico
- Local Law Enforcement Block Grant
- Head Start
- Food Stamp Program
- Federal Pell Grants
- Conservation Reserve Program
- Community Development Block Grants
- Child and Adult Care Food Program
- Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Services Block Grant
- Aid to Families with Dependent Children
You can find information about these and other assistance programs in Low Income Help.
Remember that grants made by the federal government typically go to states and other agencies rather than directly to individuals. On a more local level these funds then go to communities, families and individuals. Total grant funds over the past several years have mostly edged up each year. In 2012 the total was $544.2 billion; that figure went to $521.1 billion in 2013, 602.6 billion in 2014, and $614.5 billion in 2015. Those figures do not include “Other Financial Assistance” money that does go directly to individuals. Those funds include things like unemployment benefits, Medicare, food stamps and Payments to Veterans to reimburse them for prescriptions.
In 2016 the government has provided close to $628 billion in various forms of assistance. Details about specific amounts and where the money has been spent are provided on usaspending.gov. Though the site claims to tell you how the money is spent, it really does a better job telling you where the money is spent — i.e. how much in what states — rather than how it is spent. You can see totals by agency, and you can see agency profiles, but you will not see details about how money is actually spent. To learn more you can see more fairly general categories provided by each agency on their individual websites.
Don't be surprised if your funding is only partially what you had hoped for when applying for a grant or award. After applying directly to the administering federal agency, an amount of assistance is determined. Because many may apply for the same assistance, this division is a necessity.
Some awards have a “Period of Availability of Federal Funds” which is a duration during which the recipient may use the assistance. Generally, grants have a term of one year and you must use the assistance within that time period. As federal assistance is tied to the federal government's budget process, money may be re-apportioned to other uses after the promised period.
There are particular segments of the population that have major grant allotments dedicated to them. Two examples are Veterans and people with disabilities. The U.S. Veterans Administration is responsible for a wide variety of benefits, grants and programs for those who have served in the military – and their families. The VA website is soon to be updated but does currently provide information on all of those benefits and services. The most well known are veterans mortgage help programs and also aid for veterans education expenses.Until recently there was also a site dedicated to helping the disabled and their caregivers. Unfortunately that seems to have gone away but you can still find some resources if you try to access it. With any luck it will come back!
Ever wonder which states receive the most in federal aid, and which states turn out to be what are sometimes called “donor states”? Wallethub was curious and did an analysis for some answers. While the results are confusing and hard to translate into meaningful impact on citizens, a portion of the study related to state taxation was interesting. It ranked states in terms of its taxpayers’ “return on investment” (ROI) for the taxes they paid. New Hampshire — with very low state tax rates, ranked first, with an overall services from government coming in at number 5, an excellent score. On the other hand California — one of the highest taxing states, ranked #47 for taxpayers’ ROI and ranked only #32 in terms of the government’s overall services to its citizens. Not impressive.
Remember when receiving assistance from the government that the U.S. is committed to transparency and honesty. Recipients agree to comply with laws, regulations, and stipulations of the money they are given. As this money is essentially derived from taxes, know that the money you are given is a shared burden. Failure to comply may lead to suspension, exclusion, penalties, fines, and sanctions. Details are composed in the Code fo Federal Regulations, made available by the Office of Management and Budget Circular letters.