Breaking Down the Welfare System

I’ve always been curious what programs make up the “welfare system” so I Googled it and found an interesting report by the Heritage Foundation. If you’d like to know more about where about $1 trillion a year are spent – this was the breakdown in 2011.

The 69 means-tested programs operated by the federal government provide a wide variety of benefits. They include:

  • 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.

A full list of these programs is provided at the end of this testimony. (Note: Social Security, Medicare, veterans programs, unemployment insurance, and workmen’s compensation are not considered means-tested aid and are not included in this list.)

History of Total Welfare Spending Welfare Spending 1 Welfare Spending 2 Welfare Spending 3The full report can be read here –

These are the topics in the report

Welfare Spending: The Fastest Growing Component of Government Spending

“Slashing” Spending on the Poor: The Perpetual Myth

Growth of the Welfare State

Welfare Spending Increases under the Obama Administration

Table 1 shows the growth in means-tested spending over recent years. In FY 2007, total government spending on means-tested welfare or aid to the poor was a record high $657 billion. By fiscal year 2011, total government spending on means-tested aid will rise to $944 billion, nearly a 50 percent increase.

Table 1. Growth in Means-Tested Spending

Federal Spending

(in billions)

State Spending

(in billions)

Total Spending

(in billions)

FY 2007 $468.7 $189.2 $657.9
FY 2008 $522.3 $191.6 $714.1
FY 2009 $612.7 $167.2 $779.9
FY 2010 $695.3 $192.7 $888.0
FY 2011 $694.9 $249.4 $944.4


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

Obama’s Welfare Spendathon Versus the Cost of the Iraq War

Obama Plans Permanent Increases in Welfare

Means-Tested Welfare Spending on Lower-Income Persons

Means-tested Spending on Families with Children


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