Just how many spending programs are hidden away in the federal budget, concealed even from many of the people for whom they were intended?

And how much bigger would the federal deficit be if Americans took full advantage of all of the government benefits available to them?There's room for wondering in view of the discovery reported this week by the Villiers Foundation, an advocacy organization for the elderly poor.

Seventeen years ago, Congress created a program that guarantees the elderly and disabled poor a minimum income of $85 a week if they live alone, or $128 for a couple.

But a survey by the Villiers Foundation shows that about half of those eligible for this benefit haven't even applied for it. Why? Because they don't even know the program, part of Social Security, exists.

In view of the size and complexity of the federal budget, this situation makes one wonder how many other obscure and largely unused programs may be kicking around in Washington. As for the Social Security benefit mentioned by the Villiers Foundation, Washington's course should be clear:

Either do a better job of calling this program to the public's attention, or start cutting its appropriation.