Bail-outs? Can we have some too?

In the season of goodwill, Henry Paulson is proving to be an American Santa Claus, doling out sacks of money to aid ailing businesses across the United States.

The treasury secretary first bailed out Wall Street’s struggling banks. Then the insurance company AIG needed a spot of help. Detroit’s carmakers were next in line. This week, commercial property developers came in search of assistance in refinancing their mortgages.

So who else should benefit from such largesse? The Guardian contacted a variety of other industries across the US to ask if they are looking for a slice of Paulson’s $700-billion “troubled asset repurchase plan” or some other such emergency relief programme. It’s free money. As they say in the Big Apple, what’s not to like?

Home furnishing suppliers
The 40 000 US furniture retailers would truly love some government help — but it is not likely to be forthcoming.

“I’d love to think it was possible but no, it’s not,” said Jerry Epperson, managing director of Mann, Armistead & Epperson, a Virginia-based investment bank that specialises in advising the furniture industry.

“The industry is made up of lots of small companies. We don’t have any individual companies, on the retail or manufacturing side, able to pressure or demand that the government gives us money.”

As the housing market plummets, furniture sales have been falling sharply, with year-on-year declines of more than 20% in recent months. It is costing jobs: furniture manufacturing employs 300 000 people and a further 600 000 people work on the retailing side.

Car hire firms
The likes of Hertz, Avis, Dollar and Budget have been squeezed by the high price of petrol and a lack of financing for buying new vehicles. Their trade body, the American Car Rental Association, recently wrote to congressional leaders saying its members were “paralysed” by a lack of credit.

“It’s something we’re absolutely looking into,” said Sean Busking, ACRA’s director. “We are probably the largest purchasers of new vehicles in the US. To keep everyone healthy and successful, it certainly makes sense for our members to have some help.”

There is a proud history of governments building zoos during recessions, and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums would like to see this revived.

“Many of the great zoos were built during the Great Depression and received a lot of federal assistance under President Roosevelt’s work projects administration,” said Steve Feldman, a spokesperson for the association, who enthused that building zoos not only created jobs but left a lasting educational resource.

The association has written to Barack Obama’s transitional authority to ask him to spend some of his economic stimulus plan on more zoos and aquariums.

“People need to be driving bulldozers and pouring concrete,” said Feldman. “All they have to do is give the green light.”

Funeral directors
Bereaved relatives are cutting back on the size and scale of send-offs as they worry about the cost of elaborate services. Traditionally, a typical package included a viewing of the body, a funeral and a graveside service. As times get tough, many people leave out the viewing, according to Randall Earl, secretary of the National Funeral Directors Association.

“We had a slowdown in the early 1980s. There was some effect then, but nothing like it is now,” said Earl, who runs a funeral home in Decatur, Illinois. He baulked, however, at the idea of getting a handout from Paulson’s fund. “I would not like to see that happen,” he said. “The funeral profession, for the most part, are small businesspeople who are entrepreneurial in their own areas and they’ve come through tough times before.”

Wine growers
Vineyards across the US are relatively financially robust and will not be holding out a begging bowl, according to Bill Nelson, president of the trade group WineAmerica. “We’re not in a state of desperation,” he said. “Wine sales are holding up to some extent and we don’t see the government as our saviour.”

He took the opportunity to vent about something else though. Several states, including New York and California, are considering raising alcohol duty to fill the hole left in tax revenues by the recession. “That sort of action at state level would be very unfair and would do serious damage to us,” he said.

Landscape gardeners
As the housing market slumps, the gardening industry suffers. The green-fingered men and women who tend shrubs and herbaceous borders have struggled since the economy hit the wall. However, the National Gardening Association is in two minds about government aid.

“This is a multimillion-dollar industry and it’s dependent on people being employed and being able to afford help,” said the association’s president, Michael Metallo. “A lot of landscapers are small businesses or self-employed. They’re not going to be able to stay in business without some help.”

He is queasy, however, on the politics of bail-out: “Do they deserve some type of subsidy? Probably so. But can I tell you why they deserve it more than any other industry? Not really.”

Massage therapists
The soothing art of massage is holding up rather well as stressed financiers and struggling businesspeople seek healing hands. The American Massage Therapy Association says many of its members are seeing an increase in business or, at least, treading water.

“In part, we think it’s due to the stress people are feeling or the muscular pain brought on by that stress,” said MK Brennan, president. “We also feel that people don’t see massage as a luxury item but as part of the maintenance of their health and wellbeing.”

So she did not think that masseurs and masseuses deserved treasury money? “I don’t believe we’re on the same ranking as automakers or banks.”

Turkey farmers
There won’t be any request for federal money from the National Turkey Federation, which represents breeders, processors and hatchers of our feathered Christmas favourites. “Our industry is much more one that believes we should compete in an equitable way and that everyone shouldn’t rely on a handout from Uncle Sam,” Sherrie Rosenblatt, a spokesperson, said firmly.

While we’re on the subject, though, there is something the government could do, it was suggested. A pesky US mandate on renewable fuels that required a certain proportion of maize production to be used for ethanol fuel had sent the cost of turkey-feed into orbit when floods disrupted harvests in the midwest this summer, she said.

“It’s costing us billions,” said Rosenblatt, who added that rethinking the ethanol mandate would offer recessionary relief for turkey farmers.

Animal stuffers are not always brilliant at financial planning. Many splashed out on lavish refrigeration during the good years and are now regretting it.

“When the industry was booming and there was a lot of work, people thought they could buy more freezers to keep more hides in,” said Frankie Thompson, president of the National Taxidermists Association, speaking on a crackly cellphone from his studio in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina. “When job security goes bad, all that goes away.”

The taxidermists would certainly be up for a bit of federal aid. “I would tell him [Paulson] to consider the hardships of different areas,” said Thompson.

“If they’re going to help larger industries, they should give the taxidermists a chance to get through these difficult times, too.” –

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