By Rachel Sheffield
One in six Americans now receives some form of government assistance, reported last week’s U.S.A Today.
Fifty million are on Medicaid, a record high and a whopping 17 percent increase since December 2007. Food stamp enrollment has climbed nearly 50 percent since 2008 and now stands at 40 million, or one in seven people. Ten million Americans receive unemployment benefits, and 4.4 million get direct cash assistance, an 18 percent increase from two years ago.
And these are the numbers from only four of the more than 70 welfare programs funded by the federal government.
While some of the growth in welfare can be attributed to the current recession, government-assistance programs were growing far before the economy began to decline in December 2007. In fact, welfare spending has been climbing since the 1960s, when Lyndon B. Johnson declared his “War on Poverty.”
However, President Obama’s increases have been the most dramatic of any President in the nation’s history. As he completes two years in office, he will have added roughly $260 billion to government welfare spending, a jump two-and-a-half times greater than any previous welfare increase in the nation’s history.
And don’t expect welfare spending to decrease once the recession ends. The Obama budget makes it clear that the majority of these spending hikes are permanent. As a result, beginning this year, taxpayers will contribute approximately $1 trillion every year to federal means-tested programs. (This amount will be even greater once Medicaid enrollment jumps in 2014 as a result of the health care bill.)
Needless to say, such spending will only add to the massive national debt. Yet even more detrimental perhaps, will be the growing culture of dependency it creates.
Congress needs to get welfare spending under control. Practical steps would include such things as capping welfare spending at 2008 levels, restoring the requirements embedded in the successful welfare reforms of 1996, and adding similar aspects of personal responsibility to other welfare programs, such as food stamps and housing assistance. Also, marriage education programs should be reinstated if the government is serious about tackling poverty, considering that nearly 80 percent of long-term poverty takes place in homes headed by single parents.
The growth in welfare spending during the current economic recession is not necessarily surprising, yet most of the growth has taken place independent of the economic downturn. As the national debt continues to balloon, the Obama Administration should look for ways to rein in spending instead of significantly adding to its growth.