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Social programs in the United States are welfare subsidies designed to aid the needs of the U.S. population. Proposals for federal programs began with Theodore Roosevelt's New Nationalism and expanded with Woodrow Wilson's New Freedom, Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal, John F. Kennedy's New Frontier, and Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society.
The programs vary in eligibility requirements and are provided by various organizations on a federal, state, local and private level. They help to provide food, shelter, education, healthcare and money to U.S. citizens through primary and secondary education, subsidies of college education, unemployment disability insurance, subsidies for eligible low-wage workers, subsidies for housing, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, pensions for eligible persons and health insurance programs that cover public employees. The Social Security system is the largest and most prominent social aid program. Medicare is another prominent program.
Not including Social Security and Medicare, Congress allocated almost $717 billion in Federal funds in 2010 plus $210 billion was allocated in state funds ($927 billion total) for means tested welfare programs in the United States—later (after 2010) expenditures are unknown but higher. As of 2011, the public social spending-to-GDP ratio in the United States was below the OECD average.
In addition to government expenditures private welfare spending in the United States is thought to be about 10% of the U.S. GDP or another $1.6 trillion.
|Characteristics of Households by Quintile 2010|
|Earners Per Household||0.42||0.90||1.29||1.70||1.97|
|Married couples (%)||17.0||35.9||48.8||64.3||78.4|
|Single Parents or Single (%)||83.0||64.1||51.2||35.7||21.6|
|Ages of Householders|
|65 years +||33.1||29.4||20.1||13.9||10.7|
|Work Status householders (%)|
|Worked Full Time (%)||17.4||44.7||61.1||71.5||77.2|
|Worked Part Time (%)||14.3||13.3||11.1||9.8||9.5|
|Did Not Work (%)||68.2||42.1||27.8||17.7||13.3|
|Education of Householders (%)|
|Less than High School||26.7||16.6||8.8||5.4||2.2|
|High School or some College||61.2||65.4||62.9||58.5||37.6|
|Bachelor’s degree or Higher||12.1||18.0||28.3||36.1||60.3|
|Source: U.S. Census Bureau|
Social programs have been implemented to promote a variety of societal goals, including alleviating the effects of poverty on those earning or receiving low income or encountering serious medical problems, and ensuring retired people have a basic standard of living.
Unlike in Europe, Christian democratic and social democratic theories have not played a major role in shaping welfare policy in the United States. Entitlement programs in the U.S. were virtually non-existent until the administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the implementation of the New Deal programs in response to the Great Depression. Between 1932 and 1981, modern American liberalism dominated U.S. economic policy and the entitlements grew along with American middle class wealth.
Eligibility for welfare benefits depends on a variety of factors, including gross and net income, family size, pregnancy, homelessness, unemployment, and serious medical conditions like blindness, kidney failure or AIDS.
Drug testing in order for potential recipients to receive welfare has become an increasingly controversial topic. Richard Hudson, a Republican from North Carolina claims he pushes for drug screening as a matter of "moral obligation" and that testing should be enforced as a way for the United States government to discourage drug usage. Others claim that ordering the needy to drug test "stereotypes, stigmatizes, and criminalizes" them without need. States that currently require drug tests to be performed in order to receive public assistance include Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Utah.
Some have argued that welfare has come to be associated with poverty. Martin Gilens, assistant professor of Political Science at Yale University, argues that blacks have overwhelmingly dominated images of poverty over the last few decades and states that "white Americans with the most exaggerated misunderstandings of the racial composition of the poor are the most likely to oppose welfare". This perception possibly perpetuates negative racial stereotypes and could increase Americans’ opposition and racialization of welfare policies.
In FY 2010, African-American families comprised 31.9% of TANF families, white families comprised 31.8%, and 30.0% were Hispanic. Since the implementation of TANF, the percentage of Hispanic families has increased, while the percentages of white and black families have decreased. In FY 1997, African-American families represented 37.3% of TANF recipient families, white families 34.5%, and Hispanic families 22.5%. The population as a whole is composed of 63.7% whites, 16.3% Hispanic, 12.5% African-American, 4.8% Asian and 2.9% other races. TANF programs at a cost of about $20.0 billion (2013) have decreased in use as Earned Income Tax Credits, Medicaid grants, food stamps (SNAP), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), child nutrition programs (CHIP), housing assistance, Feeding Programs (WIC & CSFP) along with about 70 more programs have increase to over $700.0 billion more in 2013.
In 2002, total U.S. social welfare expenditure constitutes over 35% of GDP, with purely public expenditure constituting 21%, publicly supported but privately provided welfare services constituting 10% of GDP and purely private services constituting 4% of GDP. This compared to the "welfare" states of France and Sweden where welfare spending ranges from 30% to 35% of GDP.
The Great Recession made a large impact on welfare spending. In a 2011 article, Forbes reported, "The best estimate of the cost of the 185 federal means tested welfare programs for 2010 for the federal government alone is $717 billion, up a third since 2008, according to the Heritage Foundation. Counting state spending of about $210 million, total welfare spending for 2010 reached over $920 billion, up nearly one-fourth since 2008 (24.3%)"—and increasing fast. The previous decade had seen a 60% decrease in the number of people receiving welfare benefits, beginning with the passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act, but spending did not decrease proportionally during that time period.
|Average Incomes and Taxes|
CBO Study 2009*
Tax rate %3
Taxes Pd. 5
|Source: Congressional Budget Office Study|
1. Market Income = All wages, tips, incomes etc. as listed on Income tax form
2. Federal Transfers = all EITC, CTC, medicaid, food stamps (SNAP), Social Security, SSI etc. received
3. Average tax rate includes all Social Security, Medicare, income, business income, excise, etc. taxes.
4. Net Federal taxes paid in dollars
5. Percent of all federal taxes paid
6. #W = Average number of workers per household in this quintile
7. % Net Income = percentage of all national income each quintile receives after taxes and transfers.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, social programs significantly raise the standard of living for low-income Americans, particularly the elderly. The poorest 20% of American households earn a before-tax average of only $7,600 - less than half of the federal poverty line. Social programs increase those households' before-tax income to $30,500. Social Security and Medicare are responsible for two-thirds of that increase.
Colonial legislatures and later State governments adopted legislation patterned after the English "poor" laws. Aid to veterans, often free grants of land, and pensions for widows and handicapped veterans, have been offered in all U.S. wars. Following World War I, provisions were made for a full-scale system of hospital and medical care benefits for veterans. By 1929, workers’ compensation laws were in effect in all but four States. These state laws made industry and businesses responsible for the costs of compensating workers or their survivors when the worker was injured or killed in connection with his or her job. Retirement programs for mainly State and local government paid teachers, police officers, and fire fighters—date back to the 19th century. All these social programs were far from universal and varied considerably from one state to another.
Prior to the Great Depression the United States had social programs that mostly centered around individual efforts, family efforts, church charities, business workers compensation, life insurance and sick leave programs along with some state tax supported social programs. The misery and poverty of the great depression threatened to overwhelm all these programs. The severe Depression of the 1930s made Federal action almost a necessity, as neither the States and the local communities, businesses and industries, nor private charities had the financial resources to cope with the growing need among the American people. Beginning in 1932, the Federal Government first made loans, then grants, to States to pay for direct relief and work relief. After that, special Federal emergency relief like the Civilian Conservation Corps and other public works programs were started. In 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt's administration proposed to Congress federal social relief programs and a federally sponsored retirement program. Congress followed by the passage of the 37 page Social Security Act, signed into law August 14, 1935 and "effective" by 1939—just as World War II began. This program was expanded several times over the years.
Before the Welfare Reform Act of 1996, welfare assistance was "once considered an open-ended right," but welfare reform converted it "into a finite program built to provide short-term cash assistance and steer people quickly into jobs." Prior to reform, states were given "limitless" money by the federal government, increasing per family on welfare, under the 60-year-old Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program. This gave states no incentive to direct welfare funds to the neediest recipients or to encourage individuals to go off welfare benefits (the state lost federal money when someone left the system). Nationwide, one child in seven received AFDC funds, which mostly went to single mothers.
In 1996, under the Bill Clinton administration, Congress passed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, which gave more control of the welfare system to the states though there are basic requirements the states need to meet with regards to welfare services. Still, most states offer basic assistance, such as health care, food assistance, child care assistance, unemployment, cash aid, and housing assistance. After reforms, which President Clinton said would "end welfare as we know it," amounts from the federal government were given out in a flat rate per state based on population.
Each state must meet certain criteria to ensure recipients are being encouraged to work themselves out of welfare. The new program is called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). It encourages states to require some sort of employment search in exchange for providing funds to individuals, and imposes a five-year lifetime limit on cash assistance. The bill restricts welfare from most legal immigrants and increased financial assistance for child care. The federal government also maintains an emergency $2 billion TANF fund to assist states that may have rising unemployment.
Following these changes, millions of people left the welfare rolls (a 60% drop overall), employment rose, and the child poverty rate was reduced. A 2007 Congressional Budget Office study found that incomes in affected families rose by 35%. The reforms were "widely applauded" after "bitter protest." The Times called the reform "one of the few undisputed triumphs of American government in the past 20 years."
Critics of the reforms sometimes point out that the massive decrease of people on the welfare rolls during the 1990s wasn't due to a rise in actual gainful employment in this population, but rather, was due almost exclusively to their offloading into workfare, giving them a different classification than classic welfare recipient. The late 1990s were also considered an unusually strong economic time, and critics voiced their concern about what would happen in an economic downturn.
National Review editorialized that the Economic Stimulus Act of 2009 will reverse the welfare-to-work provisions that Bill Clinton signed in the 1990s, and will again base federal grants to states on the number of people signed up for welfare rather than at a flat rate. One of the experts who worked on the 1996 bill said that the provisions would lead to the largest one-year increase in welfare spending in American history. The House bill provides $4 billion to pay 80% of states' welfare caseloads. Although each state received $16.5 billion annually from the federal government as welfare rolls dropped, they spent the rest of the block grant on other types of assistance rather than saving it for worse economic times.
|Spending on largest Welfare Programs|
Federal Spending 2003-2013*
|Medicaid Grants to States||$201,389||$266,565|
|Food Stamps (SNAP)||61,717||82,603|
|Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)||40,027||55,123|
|Supplemental Security Income (SSI)||38,315||50,544|
|Child Nutrition Program (CHIP)||13,558||20,842|
|Support Payments to States, TANF||28,980||20,842|
|Feeding Programs (WIC & CSFP)||5,695||6,671|
|Low Income Home Energy Assistance||2,542||3,704|
* Spending in millions of dollars
The following is a short timeline of welfare in the United States:
1880s–1890s: Attempts were made to move poor people from work yards to poor houses if they were in search of relief funds.
1893–1894: Attempts were made at the first unemployment payments, but were unsuccessful due to the 1893–1894 recession.
1932: The Great Depression had gotten worse and the first attempts to fund relief failed. The "Emergency Relief Act", which gave local governments $300 million, was passed into law.
1935: The Social Security Act was passed on June 17, 1935. The bill included direct relief (cash, food stamps, etc.) and changes for unemployment insurance.
1940: Aid to Families With Dependent Children (AFDC) was established.
1996: Passed under Clinton, the "Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996" becomes law.
2013: Affordable Care Act goes into effect with large increases in Medicaid and subsidized medical insurance premiums go into effect.
|79 Means Tested Programs in U.S. (2011)|
|TOTAL cost in (billions) (2011)||$717||$210||$927|
|Social Security OASDI (2013)||$785|
|TOTAL all programs (billions)||$2,287|
|CASH ASSISTANCE (millions)|
|SSI/Old Age Assistance||56,462.00||4,673.00||61,135.00|
|Earned Income Tax Credit|
|Refundable Child Credit||22,691.00||22,691.00|
|Make Work Pay Tax Credit|
|Temporary Assistance for Needy Families|
(TANF, old AFDC)
|Foster Care Title IVE||4,456.00||3,921.28||8,377.28|
|Adoption Assistance Title IVE||2,362.00||1,316||3,678.00|
|General Assistance Cash||2,625.00||2,625.00|
|General Assistance to Indians||115.00||115.00|
|Assets for Independence||24.00||24.00|
|SCHIP State Supplemental|
Health Insurance Program
|Medical General Assistance||6,965.90||6,965.90|
|Consolidated Health Center|
/Community Health Centers
|Maternal & Child Health||656.00||492.00||1,148.00|
|Medical Assistance to Refugees||167.86||167.86|
|Food Stamps, SNAP||77,637.00||6,987.33||84,624.33|
|School Lunch Program||10,321.00||10,321.00|
|WIC Women, Infant and|
Children Food Program
|Child Care Food Program||2,732.00||2,732.00|
|Nutrition Program for the|
Elderly, Nutrition Service Incentives
|Commodity Supplemental Food Program||196.00||196.00|
Emergency Food Program
|Farmers' Market Nutrition Program||23.00||23.00|
|Special Milk Program||13.00||13.00|
|Section 8 Housing (HUD)||28,435.00||28,435.00|
|Public Housing (HUD)||8,973.00||8,973.00|
|Low Income Housing|
Tax Credit for Developers
Partnership Program (HUD)
|State Housing Expenditures (from SWE)||2,085.00||2,085.00|
|Rural Housing Insurance|
|Housing for the Elderly (HUD)||934.00||934.00|
Housing Block Grants (HUD)
|Other Assisted Housing|
|Housing for Persons|
with Disabilities (HUD)
|ENERGY AND UTILITIES|
|LIHEAP Low Income Home|
|Universal Service Fund|
Subsidized Low Income Phone Service
|ENERGY AND UTILITIES TOTAL||6,403.00||6,403.00|
|Title One Grants to|
Local Education Authorities
|21st Century Learning Centers||1,157.00||1,157.00|
|Special Programs for|
|Adult Basic Education Grants||607.00||607.00|
|LEAP Formerly State Student|
Incentive Grant Program (SSIG)
|Education for Homeless|
Children and Youth
|Aid for Graduate and Professional|
Study for Disadvantaged and Minorities
|TANF Work Activities and Training||2,504.90||831.93||3,336.83|
|WIA Youth Opportunity Grants|
Formerly Summer Youth Employment
|Senior Community Service Employment||705.00||77.55||782.55|
|WIA Adult Employment and Training|
formerly JTPA IIA Training for
Disadvantaged Adults & Youth
|Food Stamp Employment|
and Training Program
|Native American Training||52.00||52.00|
|TANF Block Grant Services||5,385.12||4,838.13||10,223.25|
|Title XX Social Services Block Grant||1,787.00||1,787.00|
|Community Service Block Grant||678.00||678.00|
|Social Services for|
Refugees Asylees and Humanitarian Cases
|Safe and Stable Families||553.00||553.00|
|Title III Aging Americans Act||369.00||369.00|
|Legal Services Block Grant||406.00||406.00|
|Emergency Food and Shelter Program||48.00||48.00|
|Healthy Marriage and|
Responsible Fatherhood Grants
|Independent Living (Chafee|
Foster Care Independence Program)
|Independent Living Training Vouchers||45.00||45.00|
|Maternal, Infants and|
Children Home Visitation
|CHILD CARE AND CHILD DEVELOPMENT|
Child Development Block Grant
|Childcare Entitlement to the States||3,100.00||3,100.00|
|TANF Block Grant Child Care||2,318.56||2,643.78||4,962.35|
|CHILD CARE & CHILD DEVELOPMENT TOTAL||15,961.56||6,709.53||22,671.10|
|Community Development Block Grant|
and Related Development Funds
Administration (Dept. of Commerce)
|Appalachian Regional Development||68.00||68.00|
Enterprise Communities Renewal
|COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT TOTAL||7,937.00||7,937.00|
|TOTAL in millions (2011)||$717,093.48||$210,140.07||$927,233.55|
|Social Security OASDI (2013)||$785,700|
|TOTAL in millions||$2,287,133|
* Spending in millions of dollars
2.3 Trillion Dollar Total of Social Security, Medicare and Means Tested Welfare
is low since latest 2013 means tested data not available but 2013
"real" TOTAL will be higher
The Social Security program mainly refers to the Old Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) program, and possibly the unemployment insurance program. Retirement Insurance Benefits (RIB), also known as Old-age Insurance Benefits, are a form of social insurance payments made by the U.S. Social Security Administration paid based upon the attainment old age (62 or older).
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSD or SSDI) is a federal insurance program that provides income supplements to people who are restricted in their ability to be employed because of a notable disability.
Unemployment insurance, also known as unemployment compensation, provides for money, from the United States and the state collected from employers, to workers who have become unemployed through no fault of their own. The unemployment benefits are run by each state with different state defined criteria for duration, percent of income paid, etc.. Nearly all require the recipient to document their search for employment to continue receiving benefits. Extensions of time for receiving benefits are sometimes offered for extensive work unemployment. These extra benefits are usually in the form of loans from the federal government that have to be repaid by each state.
The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program provides stipends to low-income people who are either aged (65 or older), blind, or disabled.
The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) provides cash assistance to indigent American families with dependent children.
Health care in the United States is provided by many separate legal entities. Health care facilities are largely owned and operated by the private sector. Health insurance in the United States is now primarily provided by the government in the public sector, with 60–65% of healthcare provision and spending coming from programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, TRICARE, the Children's Health Insurance Program, and the Veterans Health Administration.
Medicare is a social insurance program administered by the United States government, providing health insurance coverage to people who are aged 65 and over; to those who are under 65 and are permanently physically disabled or who have a congenital physical disability; or to those who meet other special criteria like the End Stage Renal Disease program (ESRD). Medicare in the United States somewhat resembles a single-payer health care system but is not. Before Medicare, only 51% of people aged 65 and older had health care coverage, and nearly 30% lived below the federal poverty level.
Medicaid is a health program for certain people and families with low incomes and resources. It is a means-tested program that is jointly funded by the state and federal governments, and is managed by the states. People served by Medicaid are U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents, including low-income adults, their children, and people with certain disabilities. Poverty alone does not necessarily qualify someone for Medicaid. Medicaid is the largest source of funding for medical and health-related services for people with limited income in the United States.
The Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) is a program administered by the United States Department of Health and Human Services that provides matching funds to states for health insurance to families with children. The program was designed to cover uninsured children in families with incomes that are modest but too high to qualify for Medicaid.
The Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Services Block Grant (or ADMS Block Grant) is a federal assistance block grant given by the United States Department of Health and Human Services.
Per capita spending on tertiary education is among the highest in the world. Public education is managed by individual states, municipalities and regional school districts. As in all developed countries, primary and secondary education is free, universal and mandatory. Parents do have the option of home-schooling their children, though some states, such as California (until a 2008 legal ruling overturned this requirement), require parents to obtain teaching credentials before doing so. Experimental programs give lower-income parents the option of using government issued vouchers to send their kids to private rather than public schools in some states/regions.
As of 2007, more than 80% of all primary and secondary students were enrolled in public schools, including 75% of those from households with incomes in the top 5%. Public schools commonly offer after-school programs and the government subsidizes private after school programs, such as the Boys & Girls Club. While pre-school education is subsidized as well, through programs such as Head Start, many Americans still find themselves unable to take advantage of them. Some education critics have therefore proposed creating a comprehensive transfer system to make pre-school education universal, pointing out that the financial returns alone would compensate for the cost.
Tertiary education is not free, but is subsidized by individual states and the federal government. Some of the costs at public institutions is carried by the state.
The government also provides grants, scholarships and subsidized loans to most students. Those who do not qualify for any type of aid, can obtain a government guaranteed loan and tuition can often be deducted from the federal income tax. Despite subsidized attendance cost at public institutions and tax deductions, however, tuition costs have risen at three times the rate of median household income since 1982. In fear that many future Americans might be excluded from tertiary education, progressive Democrats have proposed increasing financial aid and subsidizing an increased share of attendance costs. Some Democratic politicians and political groups have also proposed to make public tertiary education free of charge, i.e. subsidizing 100% of attendance cost.
In the U.S., financial assistance for food purchasing for low- and no-income people is provided through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as the Food Stamp Program. This federal aid program is administered by the Food and Nutrition Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but benefits are distributed by the individual U.S. states. It is historically and commonly known as the Food Stamp Program, though all legal references to "stamp" and "coupon" have been replaced by "EBT" and "card," referring to the refillable, plastic Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards that replaced the paper "food stamp" coupons. To be eligible for SNAP benefits, the recipients must have incomes below 130 percent of the poverty line, and also own few assets. Since the economic downturn began in 2008, the use of food stamps has increased.
The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) is a child nutrition program for healthcare and nutrition of low-income pregnant women, breastfeeding women, and infants and children under the age of five. The eligibility requirement is a family income below 185% of the U.S. Poverty Income Guidelines, but if a person participates in other benefit programs, or has family members who participate in SNAP, Medicaid, or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, they automatically meet the eligibility requirements.
The Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) is a type of United States Federal assistance provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to states in order to provide a daily subsidized food service for an estimated 3.2 million children and 112,000 elderly or mentally or physically impaired adults in non-residential, day-care settings.