The US Department of Health and Human Services recently disbursed a second round of grants for prevention and wellness programs, $372 million to 44 local governments to "prevent chronic disease and promote wellness." This outlay comes on the heels of $120 million in grants awarded last month. The initiative, Community Putting Prevention to Work, is part of President Obama’s stimulus package.
Why focus on less than $500 million of an $800 billion pork-laden spending package? Many of these individual HHS grants may be directly used to promote state and local tax increases. Using euphemistic phrases like "evidence-based pricing strategies," some individual grants include promoting higher taxes on tobacco and salty foods to curb smoking and obesity.
Other grants will encourage the adoption of stringent regulations on food offerings at private restaurants and bars. Many will empower the government to tell you what to eat, where to walk, and even how to nourish your newborn child. This is the stimulus package advancing and emboldening the nanny state, starting down a very slippery slope.
Not only is the stimulus package imposing crippling amounts of debt – and probable future tax increases to pay it down – on future generations, it may also cause your state and local tax bill to increase as well. Some examples of stimulus dollars to be used to lobby for higher taxes and hard paternalism follow.
- $15.9 million for Cook County, Illinois. Part of this grant will go toward "informing state and local decision makers about evidence- and practice-based pricing and access strategies to improve nutrition and physical activity outcomes." By "informing," they mean "lobbying," and by "evidence- and practice-based pricing" they mean increasing the price of foods they deem to be unhealthy via tax increases.
- $14.7 million for Miami-Dade County, Florida. This grant is aimed at reducing sodium consumption through "labeling initiatives and restaurant standards." As with most of these grants, the vagueness of its stated purpose opens the door for a number of bold government prohibitions; in this case, local government could ban salty foods in restaurants altogether.
- $6.6 million for Orange County, Florida. Tobacco is the target here, as millions of dollars will be used to "support evidence-based pricing strategies that discourage tobacco use." Again, this is a clear use of the stimulus package as a vehicle for higher taxes.
- $7.5 million for Nashville/Davidson County, Tennessee. This would be my favorite of the bunch. A portion of this allotment is headed to encourage "social support for breastfeeding." Seriously.
The stimulus package is essentially a giveaway to every Democratic constituency that wants to raise your taxes and tell you what to do. We all know about the major tax-taking constituencies who stand to benefit from the Pelosi brand of big government – the union bosses, the environmentalists, and the trial lawyers. But who knew about the lobbying clout of Big Breastfeeding?
The further we delve into the types of grants being awarded by the HHS and other government agencies, the more it becomes clear that the stimulus package was just a massive slush fund for any and every tax-taking and paternalist constituency. And what’s more – this may not even be legal. According to CDC lobbying guidelines, "no part of CDC appropriated funds shall be used…to support or defeat legislation pending before the Congress or any State or local legislature." So in New York, for example, where a $1 per pack cigarette tax increase is pending, the $31.1 million stimulus grant for New York City to "expand and enhance its comprehensive tobacco control program" is quickly approaching a fine line.
Reasons to despise the stimulus package are innumerable. But using unprecedented levels of federal spending to push for higher taxes at the state and local level is perhaps the most objectionable.