Welfare State Grows by Nearly 19% Under Obama – to Almost $1 Trillion a Year

Elizabeth Harrington | August 9, 2012 | 5:50pm EDT
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U.S. Department of Agriculture SNAP program (food stamp) card. (AP photo)

(CNSNews.com) – Federal and state welfare assistance has grown almost 19 percent under President Barack Obama, according to the conservative Heritage Foundation.

All in all, there are 79 means-tested federal welfare programs, at a cost approaching $1 trillion annually, said Heritage Senior Research Fellow Robert Rector.

Rector conducted a comprehensive analysis of spending for government assistance programs, ranging from food, education and childcare programs to housing and medical care.

Since Fiscal Year 2009, federal and state welfare spending has risen from $779.9 billion to $927.2 billion, an increase of 18.8 percent. That fiscal year includes spending from Oct. 1, 2008 to Sept. 30, 2009.

In his report, Rector said the increase in federal means-tested welfare spending during Obama’s first two years in office was two-and-a-half times greater than any previous increase in federal welfare spending in U.S. history, after adjusting for inflation.

Rachel Sheffield, a research associate at The Heritage Foundation’s DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society, told CNSNews.com that this kind of pay out can not be maintained.

“It’s a huge amount of money we’re spending on these programs and our debt is growing,” she said. “It’s not sustainable.”

According to the report, titled “Examining the Means-tested Welfare State,” in FY 2011 the federal government dolled out $717.1 billion on welfare programs, while states spent $210.1 billion.

The 79 federal programs include:

-- 12 programs providing food aid;

-- 12 programs funding social services;

-- 12 educational assistance programs;

-- 11 housing assistance programs;

-- 10 programs providing cash assistance;

-- 9 vocational training programs;

-- 7 medical assistance programs;

-- 3 energy and utility assistance programs; and,

-- 3 child care and child development programs.

Robert Rector of The Heritage Foundation. (AP photo)

Since FY 2007, state welfare spending has stayed relatively flat, averaging $190.2 billion per year. Federal spending, however, has increased 53 percent, going from $468.7 billion in 2007 ($717.1 billion) to $717.1 billion in 2011.

In FY 2011 the largest share of total welfare spending went towards medical related programs (49.5 percent), followed by cash assistance (19.6 percent) and food assistance (11.8 percent).

That year nearly half of spending went to families with children at 49.9 percent, followed by disabled adults at 28.1 percent and elderly adults at 14.4 percent.

Since the 1950s when means-tested welfare spending (as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product) was less than 1 percent (0.93), welfare disbursements have ballooned to 6.1 percent of GDP in the 2010s.

Heritage’s Sheffield said the fastest growing welfare program is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as the food stamp program. As of May 2012, 46.5 million Americans are participating in SNAP, accordingto the Department of Agriculture, a 2.4 percentage increase from a year ago.

According to Rector, the government has spent $19.8 trillion (in inflation-adjusted 2011 dollars) on means-tested welfare since President Lyndon B. Johnson launched the War on Poverty began in the 1960s.

“In comparison,” he wrote, “the cost of all military wars in U.S. history from the Revolutionary War through the current war in Afghanistan has been $6.98 trillion.”

“The War on Poverty has cost three times as much as all other wars combined,” he said.

The increase in the welfare state shows no signs of slowing down, according to the Heritage report.

President Obama’s budget for FY 2013 estimates that total welfare spending will increase to $1.57 trillion by 2022, largely due to new entitlements under the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.

Star Parker, a leading champion for welfare reform in the 1990s, said the size and scope of benefits programs to the poor is “unfathomable” at nearly 80 programs and a cost of $1 trillion annually.

“How in the world will we survive as a country?” asked Parker in a speech at the Heritage Foundation on Friday.

“I mean the demand on the states and the local communities then is it a wonder that they are now going broke themselves, they’re having to file bankruptcies trying to keep up with the pensions and the promises that they’ve made to their underclass?” she said.

“What we’ve got to do is come up with some new plans,” Parker added.

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