Top 10 Lesser known Government Programs

Suggested by SMS

The U.S. government has thousands of programs to cover every conceivable problem. Some of them have noble causes, and others seem like a silly use of government power. Some encounter very little opposition while others face the fiercest dissent. Hidden behind the major programs that gather the most headlines are programs that affect smaller groups of people and remain mostly unknown. Here are 10 of these little-known programs.

10. Free Government Cell Phones

Through the Lifeline program, low-income individuals can receive discounted or, in some cases, free cell phones and service. The program primarily offers discounts, typically $9 to $10 per month, to help people pay for phone service. The idea of the program was to ensure that everyone has access to cell phones, which are often cost-prohibitive for the poor (or even the middle class).

The program is offered through smaller, independent phone companies. The free service includes not only the free phone, but also free minutes, no overage charges, and rollover minutes. In some cases, the phones are current enough to include cameras.

Qualifying for the program doesn’t even require a person to be destitute. Someone with a verified income as much as 35 percent above the poverty line can still qualify. People can even bundle it with other government programs, such as federal housing assistance, food stamps, or Medicaid.

9. Free Assisted Living Money for Veterans

Many veterans return from war with disabilities, whether physical or psychological. The healthcare cost of caring for an aging veteran can become significant. The Veterans Administration offers a special, little-known supplement to their Veterans Pension program that is specifically designed to help disabled veterans with assisted living. The “Aid and Attendance” and the “Housebound” benefits are paid in addition to the basic pension benefit and come every month for those who qualify.

Qualifying for the benefit doesn’t seem too hard, if the veteran lives in a nursing home and qualifies for the basic pension. However, some veterans who are ineligible for basic pension due to having too high of an income can still actually qualify for the “enhanced” benefit, as it’s known. In some cases, the benefit could be as much as $2,000 per month, which could cover most or all of the costs of a nursing home.

8. Real Estate Investing With the Government

Many real estate investors know about “flipping” houses, which involves buying a house for less than market value, renovating it to drive up its value, and then quickly selling it for a profit. The other form of investing, of course, is to buy and hold or to buy and rent. But one form of investing in real estate that many people don’t know about comes with less risk and more potential upside. Local governments issue tax liens against all properties that are satisfied when the homeowners pay their local taxes. In cases where the homeowner does not pay the tax, though, the lien remains in effect and comes with penalties and interest.

What makes tax liens so powerful is that they always take priority over other liens, such as mortgages, and that they are often sold to the public. Local governments need money, not liens, so when taxes aren’t paid, after a few months, the governments will hold auctions to sell off the lien for at least the amount of tax that is owed. The person who buys the lien then holds a top-priority position on a piece of real estate and gets to collect not only the taxes owed but also the interest and penalties. If the homeowner never pays the taxes, the lienholder can begin foreclosure proceedings, putting the investor in a good position to potentially acquire a piece of real estate for very little money. It’s real estate investing with the government’s authority.

7. Peacemakers Calming Racial Tensions

When racial tensions flare in communities, when small towns or cities seem to be on the brink of riots, the calm that prevails is often the result of a little-known federal program called Community Relations Service (CRS). As the peacemaker for the Department of Justice, the CRS is the only federal agency dedicated to helping local communities (or even entire states) navigate racial conflicts to seek out harmony and unity.

The program has existed since the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It has been credited with helping to quell riots after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., though many riots still occurred. The agency has also been linked to the protests surrounding the much-publicized shooting of Trayvon Martin in Florida that could have set off new rounds of race riots.

Under President Obama, the CRS has been encouraged to adopt a more aggressive approach to peacemaking, allowing preventative measures, rather than relying on reactionary methods.

6. Student Loan Forgiveness

By now, most people know that student loans cannot be discharged through bankruptcy. What is still surprisingly unknown are the programs offered by the federal government that forgive student loan debt, or at least a portion of it. With student loan debt ballooning with each year, loan forgiveness deserves serious consideration.

The most widely used program is for teachers. In order to encourage individuals to teach in high-need, low-income districts, the federal government offers up to $17,500 in federal loan forgiveness, which amounts to most, if not all, of the federal loans for the average student. Obviously, the program only applies to federal loans, not private loans, but with most college expenses being covered first by federal loans, the forgiveness programs make a serious dent in the total debt picture of new graduates.

5. Purchasing a “Fixer Upper” With Government Help

Using a loan from the Federal Housing Administration to buy a home is nothing new. However, what some people don’t know is that they can get a loan that includes a built-in pocket of money for renovating a house. Known as a 203(k) loan, the loan program was designed to encourage community rehabilitation and revitalization.

With traditional mortgages, the lender will not allow financing until the value of the home is able to provide adequate security. This makes it difficult to get a mortgage for the “fixer upper” house. Most often, improvements need to be made before the lender will close the loan and release the proceeds. The 203(k) loan makes it easier. The money designated for repair and rehabilitation is available immediately, so that the home repairs can be made without fronting all of the expense.

Many investors take advantage of the program, as it limits the financial risk of buying a property in need of major repair.

4. Secret Handouts to Private Companies

In the wake of the economic crisis of 2008, when Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy, the federal government quietly initiated a program to funnel taxpayer money to investment banks on a small scale. The Temporary Liquidity Guarantee Program was designed to help banks raise short-term capital to continue operating.

Although many banks choose not to participate in the program, many of the biggest players do, and it amounts to over $300 billion in handouts that taxpayers are largely unaware of. The money insures the bank’s debt and gives them the freedom to pursue their investing activities. Most of the largest Wall Street banks choose not to publicly admit they benefit from the program, instead portraying themselves as independent to avoid the public backlash of more money being funneled to the institutions that have been blamed for creating the current economic conditions.

3. Deportation Without Due Process

What is called the Stipulated Removal Program is way of deporting illegal immigrants without having to house them in detention centers. The program was presented as a way of saving costs, but it came under fire when some states, such as Arizona, began using it to push massive amounts of immigrants out of the country without informing them of their right to a hearing.

Although the program has not been heavily used, relatively speaking, it still resulted in tens of thousands of immigrants being deported without due process. Normally, an illegal immigrant will be detained for an average of 29 days, while the Stipulated Removal Program would cut that down to two days. The program has lost some of its support from immigration officials, especially after the Supreme Court affirmed the rights of illegal aliens.

2. Government-issued Marijuana

Investigational New Drug was a government program that started out of a court settlement in 1976 to provide medical marijuana to select patients. The acceptance requirements were apparently very difficult, and from 1976 until it stopped accepting new patients in 1992, only 14 individuals were participants in the program. As of today, only four of them remain.

The marijuana is grown and distributed by the Investigational New Drug program, handing out as many as 300 joints every month to selected patients. The federal government has claimed that it maintains the program only for compassionate reasons and does not think it contradicts the government’s anti-drug stance. By all accounts, the program will cease to exist once the patients are gone.

1. Mass Killings of Wildlife

Over the past few years, people have speculated about the strange phenomena of massive numbers of birds falling dead from the sky. Thousands of birds in the United States and abroad died mysteriously, or so we thought. As it turns out, the killings were due to an unknown government program run through the U.S. Department of Agriculture known as “Bye Bye Blackbird.”

This secret program began in the 1960s to control bird populations that were considered detrimental to farmers. The USDA mostly uses pesticides that are not harmful to pets or humans. In 2009, USDA officials euthanized up to 4 million blackbirds, cowbirds, grackles, and starlings. Individual farmers are even allowed to conduct “bird genocide” on blackbirds or starlings if they post health risks or are economically detrimental.