Tattoo Removal Program Gets $50,000 in Federal Funds

By Jason Pierce | July 7, 2008 | 8:28 PM EDT

( - Buried in recently approved Justice Department appropriations bill is legislation granting $50,000 in federal taxpayer money to San Luis Obispo County, Calif. for a tattoo removal program.

The sponsor of the bill, Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.), said the program would help former gang members "erase" the social stigma associated with a tattoo. But, a spokesman for a Washington watchdog group says it's another example of "how the federal government is so quick to spend money pretty much on anything."

The Tattoo Removal Program of San Luis Obispo County involves hiring a full-time program coordinator and distributing educational materials to children discouraging them from getting tattoos.

To be eligible, a person's tattoo must be gang-related or anti-social and prevent someone from getting a job or "interfere with the person's daily life." Persons who take advantage of the service agree not to get any additional tattoos, and must complete 16 hours of community service.

"People with tattoos often find themselves being unfairly stereotyped in a way that makes it difficult to find employment or be promoted to higher, better paying positions," Capps said. "The Liberty Tattoo Program works with people in our community to help erase this social stigma.

"I'm proud to work with this excellent local program to expand the services it can provide with the help of federal funds," she said.

Elizabeth Steinberg, Executive Director of the Economic Opportunity Commission of San Luis Obispo County, said tattoos set up social barriers for people trying to become productive in society.

"People with visible, inappropriate tattoos often encounter negative attitudes, stereotyping and discrimination, resulting in unemployment, underemployment or the inability to move forward in their careers," Steinberg said. "This program supports people who are trying to make a change in their lives by removing these negative marks of distinction, as well as the physical and psychological barriers they create."

Despite the benefits of the program, conservatives insist it ought to be funded at the local level, not by the federal government. The $50,000 appropriation was the subject of the Rush Limbaugh show Wednesday.

"We can all come up with worthy things we think other people should buy for us, but if it's such a great cause, ask people to donate to it," Limbaugh said. "Don't pass a law that says you can pick our pockets, and if we refuse, we'll get thrown in jail for failure to pay our taxes."

David Williams, Vice President of Policy at Citizens Against Government Waste, said federal funds should go only to federal projects.

"The problem is, this only affects one area of the country. Not even one state, one area," Williams said. "These are local problems, and yet people in Florida, Wisconsin and elsewhere have to pay for the problem in this one small area."