Answer: About $17 trillion … but, there’s much more to the story.
There has been so much talk about welfare recently that I did some digging … not to judge good or bad, simply to to get some facts.
You can draw your own conclusions …
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According to Congressional testimony given by the Heritage Foundation, “welfare” refers means-tested federal programs providing cash, food, housing, medical care, social services, training, and targeted education aid to poor and low income Americans.
Means-tested programs are anti-poverty programs: they are intended to increase the living standards of improve the capacity for self-support among the poor and near-poor.
Means-tested welfare spending or aid to the poor consists of government programs that provide assistance deliberately and exclusively to poor and lower-income people.
For example, food stamps, public housing, Medicaid, and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families are means-tested aid programs that provide benefits only to poor and lower-income persons.
Non-welfare programs provide government benefits and services for the general population — all income levels.
For example, Social Security, Medicare, police protection, and public education are not means-tested per se.
But, Social Security benefit pay-out rates are lower for higher income people and Medicare premiums are higher for higher income people
There are 69 means-tested welfare programs operated by the federal government:
- 12 programs providing food aid;
- 10 housing assistance programs;
- 10 programs funding social services;
- 9 educational assistance programs;
- 8 programs providing cash assistance;
- 8 vocational training programs;
- 7 medical assistance programs;
- 3 energy and utility assistance programs; and,
- 2 child care and child development programs.
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Since the beginning of the War on Poverty, government has spent $15.9 trillion (in inflation-adjusted 2008 dollars) on means-tested welfare.
In FY2011, federal spending on means-tested welfare, plus state contributions to federal programs, were about $940 billion.
Combined federal and state means-tested welfare is now the second largest category of overall government spending in the nation.
Means-tested welfare is exceeded only by the combined cost of Social Security and Medicare.
Welfare spending is greater than the cost of public education and is greater than spending on national defense.
Total means-tested spending in 2008 was $708 billion … about $7,700 to $17,100 in means-tested spending for each poor American (depending on the estimating method) … on average, around $30,000 to $33,000 for a family of four … with about 1/3 of the amount going to medical care.
In FY 2011, total means-tested spending going to families with children … was around $33,000 per low income family with children.
In recent years …
- 52 percent of total means-tested spending went to medical care for poor and lower-income persons,
- 37 percent was spent on cash, food, and housing aid.
- 11 percent was spent on social services, training, child development, targeted federal education aid, and community development.
Roughly half of means-tested spending goes to disabled or elderly persons.
The other half goes to lower-income families with children, most of which are headed by single parents.
Most of these lower-income families have some earned income. Average earnings within the whole group are typically about $16,000 per year per family.
If average welfare aid and average earnings are combined, the total resources available come to between $40,000 and $46,000 for each lower-income family with children in the U.S. … about 15% below the total population’s median household income.
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