Budget Background

This chart displays projected federal spending on federal welfare programs over the next ten years, based on data from the Congressional Research Service and Congressional Budget Office. These figures do not count state contributions to federal welfare programs (primarily on low-income health assistance) which brought total welfare spending in FY2011 to more than $1 trillion—dwarfing any other budget item including Medicare and Social Security, and totaling enough to mail every household in poverty a check for $60,000 each year.

Currently, almost 95 percent of spending on means-tested poverty assistance falls into four categories: cash assistance, health assistance, housing assistance, and social and family services. Welfare spending has increased on a year-over-year basis regardless of whether the economy has improved or unemployment has declined, and is projected to continue this dramatic rise indefinitely. Spending on these poverty programs will rise approximately 80 percent from FY2013-FY2022, representing a total cost of $11 trillion—roughly one quarter of cumulative federal spending. Slowing the growth rate from 80 percent to a still massive 60 percent would thus result, according to standard congressional budget accounting, in a $1 trillion savings over ten years.

Part of the large increase in welfare spending is driven by a series of controversial recruitment methods that include aggressive outreach to those who say they do not need financial assistance. Recruitment workers are even instructed on how to “overcome the word ‘no’” when individuals resist enrollment. The USDA and Department of Homeland Security also have promotions to increase the number of immigrants on welfare despite legal prohibitions on welfare use among those seeking admittance into the United States.