FEDERAL SPENDING Valley funding ranks low
A legislative aide said the district's funding woes are partly because of the region's declining population.
By DAVID ENRICH
STATES NEWS SERVICE
WASHINGTON -- The economically depressed Mahoning Valley receives less money from the federal government than almost anywhere else in Ohio or the nation, so it shouldn't count on Uncle Sam for much financial assistance.
The 17th Congressional District encompassing Trumbull, Mahoning and Columbiana counties received about $2.4 billion in federal funding in 2001, according to a recent analysis by the Associated Press.
The district is ranked 422nd out of the 435 congressional districts nationwide in terms of the amount of money received from the federal government. In Ohio, only the 16th District, which includes nearby Stark County, ranked lower, at 430th.
Although the 17th District's rank slipped from 410th in 1995, federal spending in the district jumped about $366 million above 1995 levels. But that 18 percent increase did not keep pace with the overall 20 percent growth in federal spending that occurred between 1995 and 2001, according to data from the White House Office of Management and Budget.
James A. Traficant Jr. represented the 17th District until last month, when the U.S. House expelled him for violating its code of conduct.
A legislative aide in the 17th District's Washington office said the district's funding woes are partly because of the region's declining population.
The 2000 U.S. Census showed Mahoning County's population declined by 2.7 percent since the 1990 Census and Trumbull's declined 1.2 percent. Columbiana County, on the other hand, showed a 3.5 percent increase.
Before being expelled and sent to jail, Traficant liked to boast that he had snagged more than $1 billion in federal funding for the 17th District during his nearly 18 years in Congress. But that amount represented a small fraction of all the federal funding the district received.
Increasing funding "is going to be a priority for any member [who represents] the district," said the congressional aide, who asked not to be named.
Many of the congressional districts the AP found to have received disproportionate amounts of money are home to large military bases or major defense manufacturers.
The Mahoning Valley's biggest military installation is the Youngstown Air Reserve Station in Vienna, which is a base for a fleet of C-130H cargo planes. The station's total budget in 2001 was about $56 million, representing a sliver of total federal expenditures in the district.
Even with a major increase in federal defense spending in the wake of last year's terrorist attacks, officials at the station do not expect their budget to increase, said Randy Shaw, the station's budget officer.
Spending on entitlement programs for the poor and elderly represents the majority of the federal budget.
About $911 million in Social Security payments poured into the district in 2001, a significant increase from $748 million in 1995. Medicare payments constituted $731 million in 2001, up slightly from $658 million six years earlier.
The $1.64 billion the district received from the two programs in 2001 represented more than two-thirds of overall federal spending.
The amount of money the district received via a variety of other programs -- ranging from community development block grants to Head Start to small-business loans -- declined sharply between 1995 and 2001, the AP study shows. Funding for food stamps plunged 44 percent, from $52.8 million in 1995 to less than $30 million in 2001.
Funding levels for most of those programs are determined by formulas designed to assess each area's needs. Some analysts, however, say the federal formulas are inherently unfair to the Midwest.
"The issue of the low level of federal spending is one that affects the Midwest overall," said Dick Munson, executive director of the Northeast-Midwest Institute in Washington.
The group advocates revamping many formulas to take into account factors such as the region's relatively high costs of living and its aging infrastructure. Several members of Ohio's congressional delegation -- including Reps. Steven C. LaTourette, a Madison Republican, and Tom Sawyer, an Akron Democrat -- have joined the campaign.
But their proposals face an uphill battle in Congress. Lawmakers from rapidly growing states in the South and West, which benefit from the current formulas, fiercely resist attempts to change them.