Cash value of welfare spending to households in poverty greater than median household income

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A new analysis of Congressional Research Service data by the Republican side of the Senate Budget Committee shows that the amount spent on federal means-tested welfare programs, if converted to cash payments and divided among households below the poverty line, would equal a daily income greater than the median household income in 2011.

The cash value of welfare spending, according to the analysis, is $167.65 daily per household in poverty. The median household income in 2011 was $50,054 or $137.13 per day, according to the analysis, released Friday.

When broken down into an hourly wage, welfare spending would be enough for $30.60 an hour for 40 hour weeks for each household in poverty. The median household hourly wage is $25.03, which drops to between $21.50 and $23.45 after federal taxes, depending on deductions and filing status, the minority side of the committee showed. The wage is further reduced with local and state taxes. Benefits from government assistance programs, they note, are not taxed federally.

In 2011, means-tested federal welfare spending was government’s largest budget item. Federal spending on the 83 programs reached $745.84 billion, a number greater than spending on Social Security, Medicare, non-war defense, among others. When combined with state spending on federal assistance programs, the total spend reached approximately $1.03 trillion.

“The diffuse and overlapping nature of federal welfare spending has led to some confusion regarding the scope and nature of benefits,” they write.

Welfare Spending Poverty

As an example of the lack of understanding, the Republican side of the Budget Committee notes that Newark Mayor Cory Booker with his “Food Stamp Challenge,” attempting to live on about $30 for a week is an inaccurate demonstration of what it is like to live on the one of the fastest growing welfare programs in the country, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamps.

“The situation Booker presents, however, is not accurate: a low-income individual on food stamps may qualify for $25,000 in various forms of welfare support from the federal government on top of his or her existing income and resources — including access to 15 different food assistance programs,” they write. “Further, even if one unrealistically assumes that no other welfare benefits are available, the size of the food stamp benefit increases as one’s income decreases, as the benefit is designed as a supplement to existing resources; it is explicitly not intended to be the sole source of funds for purchasing food.”

The minority side of the committee adds that President Barack Obama’s fiscal year 2013 budget proposal would see means-tested spending increase another 30 percent over the next four years.

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