The Trillion-Dollar Cost of Welfare

You may have seen the headlines on the Internet, that Republicans hate the poor. A few examples from a quick search reveal these:

Why do Republicans hate poor, hungry people?

Inside The Sickness That Makes Republicans Hate Poor Children

Why do Republicans and born-again Christians hate the poor?

Political Ruminations: Republicans Hate Poor People

But are these attacks accurate, or are they missing a broader story?

Have you seen the latest data out today about how much federal and state governments spend on welfare? The dollar amounts are truly stunning and show how off-base this criticism really is.

Of course Americans want to help the poor. But missing in this reporting is exactly how U.S. taxpayers do just that.

The Senate Budget Committee is out with a new report today that shows there are 83 overlapping government welfare programs that together represent $1.03 trillion in fiscal 2011 spending by federal and state governments, based on data from the Congressional Research Service (CRS). The report says “total means-tested welfare spending is currently the single-largest category of spending in the federal budget.”

That means that welfare costs in this country have reached a point where they account for more than the sums the nation spends on Social Security, Medicare, or national defense — the amounts spent on welfare equal the budget for defense and Medicare combined.

Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, the ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, requested the report from the CRS, and GOP budget committee staffers crunched the numbers. Specifically, the CRS found that the federal government spends $745.84 billion on 83 programs that it identified as welfare programs.

And "based on data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Oxford Handbook of State and Local Government Finance, budget committee staff calculated at least an additional $283 billion in state contributions to those same federal programs, for a total annual expenditure of $1.03 trillion," a report from the GOP members of the Senate Budget Committee says.

The $1.03 trillion figure doesn't include entitlement programs to which people contribute like Social Security and Medicare, nor does it include government veteran programs.

“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,” says Sen. Sessions in a statement. “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.”

The staff report notes that “the federal share of spending on these federal programs is up 32% since 2008, and now comprises 21% of federal outlays.” That compares to 4% under the Administration of John F. Kennedy.

The reports adds that “spending on the 10 largest of the 83 programs..has doubled as a share of the federal budget over just the last 30 years. In inflation-adjusted dollars, the amount expended on these 10 programs has increased by 378% over that time."

The new data come as debate in Washington, D.C. intensifies over health reform, which is expected to increase the number of people on Medicaid by an estimated 15 million, half of the estimated uninsured in the country.

Moreover, the Senate staffers found this growth is by design. “Existing federal policy has explicitly encouraged growth in welfare enrollment — combined with a weakening of welfare standards and rules,” says the report.

Take food stamps. This program has quadrupled in the last decade. But, rather than trying to curb spending here, the government advertises to get more people on the books, the Senator and his staffers note. The report says: “Government spending on food stamps — the second-largest federal welfare program — has quadrupled since 2001, yet the USDA [U.S. Dept. of Agriculture] has a variety of programs and advertisements whose explicit and unmistakable goal is to expand enrollment to new record highs.”

The report notes that USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, in a letter, has been trading correspondence with Sen. Sessions about this spending.

For a link to background analysis from Sen. Sessions’ budget committee office on the CRS review of the 83 programs, as well as a look at how spending has increased over time, click here. And you can find CRS’s report here.

The Senator’s office has also compiled examples of government efforts to expand welfare enrollment, and noted in its press release:

“A Spanish-language ad in which an individual is pressured into accepting food stamps even though she says her family is financially self-sufficient.”

“An assertion that communities are 'losing out' when individuals choose not to participate in the food stamp program.”

“Everyone wins when eligible people take advantage of benefits to which they are entitled.”

“2011 Hunger Champions award for 'counteracting mountain pride.'”