Politics
President Bill Clinton signing welfare reform in 1996. Photo: AP. President Bill Clinton signing welfare reform in 1996. Photo: AP.  

Report: Welfare government’s single largest budget item in FY 2011 at approx. $1.03 trillion

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Caroline May
Political Reporter

The government spent approximately $1.03 trillion on 83 means-tested federal welfare programs in fiscal year 2011 alone — a price tag that makes welfare that year the government’s largest expenditure, according to new data released by the Republican side of the Senate Budget Committee.

The total sum taxpayers spent on federal welfare programs was derived from a new Congressional Research Service (CRS) report on federal welfare spending — which topped out at $745.84 billion for fiscal year 2011 — combined with an analysis from the Republican Senate Budget Committee staff of state spending on federal welfare programs (based on “The Oxford Handbook of State and Local Government Finance”), which reached $282.7 billion in fiscal year 2011.

The data excludes spending on Social Security, Medicare, means-tested health care for veterans without service-connected disabilities, and the means-tested veterans pension program.

According to the CRS report, which focused solely on federal spending for federal welfare programs, spending on federal welfare programs increased $563.413 billion in fiscal year 2008 to $745.84 billion in fiscal year 2011 — a 32 percent increase.

Further, spending on the 10 largest federal welfare programs has doubled as a share of the federal budget in the last 30 years: In inflation-adjusted dollars, according to Republican staff on the Senate Budget Committee, the amount spent on these programs has increased 378 percent in that 30 year time frame.

CRS reports that food assistance programs — the third largest welfare category behind health and cash assistance — experienced the greatest increase in spending, with 71 percent more spending in 2011 than in 2008. The agency explained that this spending increase was largely due to the growth in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps.

CRS further noted that the largest expenditure category, health, was 37 percent higher in fiscal year 2011 than fiscal year 2008. In that same period, cash aid increased 12 percent, education assistance increased 57 percent, housing and development assistance increased 2 percent, social services increased 3 percent, employment and training remained the same (though fluctuated in intervening years), and energy assistance was 67 percent higher in fiscal year 2011 than fiscal year 2008.

The total federal spending on federal welfare programs vastly outpaced fiscal year 2011 spending on such federal expenditures as non-war defense ($540 billion), Social Security ($725 billion), Medicare ($480 billion), and departments such as Justice ($30.5 billion), Transportation ($77.3 billion) and Education ($65.486 billion) — a fact that alarmed the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, who requested the report from CRS.

“These astounding figures demonstrate that the United States spends more on federal welfare than any other program in the federal budget,” Sessions wrote The Daily Caller in an email. “It is time to restore — not retreat from — the moral principles of the 1996 welfare reform. Such reforms, combined with measures to promote growth, will help both the recipient and the Treasury.”

When state spending on federal welfare programs — specifically Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program — was thrown into the mix, the amount spent on federal welfare increased 28 percent, from $798.813 billion in fiscal year 2008 to $1.028.54 trillion in fiscal year 2011.

“No longer should we measure compassion by how much money the government spends, but by how many people we help to rise out of poverty,” Sessions continued. “Welfare assistance should be seen as temporary whenever possible, and the goal must be to help more of our fellow citizens attain gainful employment and financial independence. This is about more than rescuing our finances. It’s about creating a more optimistic future for millions of struggling Americans.”

With food assistance spending increasing the most out of every category, Sessions, who has been sounding the alarm on the expanding food stamp rolls, noted that the Obama administration has allowed for the food stamp increase through misleading promotion and a disregard for self-reliance.

“The administration ludicrously argues that every five dollars in food stamp spending results in nearly 10 dollars in economic benefit. They insist that communities ‘lose out’ when more people don’t sign up for benefits,” Sessions noted. “[The United States Department of Agriculture] even awarded a recruitment worker for overcoming people’s ‘mountain pride.’ Is this a hopeful vision for the future? Do these priorities make our country stronger and our economy more secure?”

Update: In early October the Alabama senator sent a letter to the United States Department of Agriculture, which oversees nutrition assistance programs like SNAP, requesting that it “eliminate all materials, training and recruitment efforts that” could be construed as pressuring eligible people to accept benefits. The deadline for USDA to respond to Sessions is Thursday. Senate Budget Committee Republican aides tell TheDC that given their past missed deadlines and current unresponsiveness, it is highly unlikely USDA will respond today. USDA has not responded to TheDC’s request for comment on the letter.

Read the report (click the “fullscreen” icon in the bottom right to view):

Spending for Federal Benefits and Services for People With Low Income, FY08-FY11

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