A Student Reflects on Government Aid

Every day is a winding road

Paved highways and clean air are just a couple of ways in which federal spending touches the lives of all Americans/ Photo by Joan Concilio Otto

By Molly Grover

All summer I’ve been on the phone with Americans discussing the federal budget. I spent over 200 hours conducting and analyzing interviews about how government programs affect peoples’ lives. Excerpts from these interviews can be found at our Faces of the Federal Budget page.  The stories I heard ranged from ordinary to unsettling, but everyone had lots to say about government spending.

After so many hours of listening to interviewees, I decided to put myself in the hot seat. A fellow intern agreed to interview me, and I started considering the ways that federal budget policy has influenced my own life. I realized that I was struggling to think of specifics. I knew I had received federal Pell grants, but it took digging through my files to know exactly how much I’d been given.

As a part-time student since 2005, I remembered the Pell grants softening the pain of my tuition bills for many years, but I had rarely paid attention to these grants other than when my bills were due. Evidently there is a correlation between not having anyone to direct thanks to, and thanklessness. Like so many government services and programs, the Pell grants have always come as an anonymous donation to my success. Precisely because there was no face attached to this money, I was able to dismiss its significance quite easily.

My feelings of gratitude for other kinds of educational grants have not been so reluctant. I feel immense appreciation for my college’s generous tuition assistance policy, and I have even written letters of thanks to specific donors. I also plan on donating to the school myself after graduation.

I wonder if similar feelings of gratitude could ever be directed toward the federal government? Every one of us benefits from government spending yet we rarely pause to consider exactly how. It is easy to take smooth highways and clean tap water for granted at the same time as we wince at the sight of our paychecks being sliced up for taxes. Every one of us has felt this aggravation at some point. It is very difficult to make the connection between money taken and useful services received.

I intend to begin pausing before my usual indignant response to taxes. Though I don’t agree with all of the decisions of budget policymakers, a lot has been made possible in my life because of government spending. As tempting as it is to be indifferent, or even adversarial with regard to the budget, I want to start viewing my relationship with the federal government as a reciprocal one.

Molly Grover is a summer intern at National Priorities Project and an Ada Comstock scholar at Smith College.