Federal Government Paying for Tattoo Removal in Congresswoman's District

Next time mother warns that a tattoo is forever, tell her the federal government will pay to have it removed. That is, if you live in Santa Barbara, Calif.

That's the home of Rep. Lois Capps, D-Calif., who scored $50,000 in federal funding last month for a tattoo removal program in her district.

The funding was secured in the Justice Department appropriations bill, which passed Congress in early December.

Thursday, a government watchdog group said they don't consider the government tattoo removal program a civic service to be paid for with taxpayer funds.

"Why should someone in Arizona or Wisconsin have to pay for this program?" asked David Williams, vice president of Citizens Against Government Waste. "That's our biggest beef with this pork. Let the local government or county pay for it."

Capps defended the procurement Thursday.

"Responding to the needs of my constituents is my top priority and I'm proud to work with law enforcement and health care officials when they request my help," she said.

In her announcement, Capps said the money will help secure a program that is already popular with constituents and county officials in her district, which encompasses much of the Republican-dominated counties of San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara, but also houses the culturally liberal town of Santa Barbara, one of the nation's richest retirement communities.

Capps spun the pork project as a job search assistance program for former gang members.

"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," she said.

Most of the people living with such stigma are former gang members whose tattoos are louder than their resumes, said Capps.

To be eligible for removal in the program, which is run by San Luis Obispo County, participants must show that their tattoo is gang-related, "anti-social" and interfering with employment or "daily life."

They must also agree not to get any more tattoos and complete 16 hours of community service.