Welfare ; Threat to America?

The Misconception:

Similar to a previous post related to Population Growth, this post is intended as a reference of fact, as I have likewise observed widespread misunderstanding on this matter.
In my home state of Louisiana, it is a common perception that one of the, if not the biggest problem facing our nation is an unfathomable number of welfare recipients who are, “on drugs”, “refuse to work”, “drive fancy cars”, “are black” (32%), and “bear children for the sole purpose of increasing welfare benefits”.
While I do not doubt for a moment that abuse exists, I do not see evidence in the federal budget (5%) to support this widespread belief and that it is threatening the, “very existence of our country”.
It has been my experience that it is impossible to imagine the varied circumstances of the hardships of others, and learning the details of such hardships can inspire cynicism-dulling empathy and understanding.
Regardless of your personal belief however, the information below may help to bring into focus a realistic perspective of the welfare system in America:

The Details:

First of all, let’s clarify what it means to be, “welfare dependent:

In order to be considered, “welfare dependent”, you must be an individual whose family receives more than 50% of their income from TANF, Food Stamps and/or SSRI payments.

There are several state and federal programs from which to choose, but for the sake of simplicity, and this exercise, I have chosen to focus on the two most prominent programs ; TANF (Cash Welfare Benefits) and SNAP (Food Stamps).
The federal government actually funds 126 separate programs targeted towards individuals at or below the poverty threshold (see below statistics), 72 of which offer cash benefits.

Now, in defense of the cynics, prior to 1996, welfare was indeed, “out-of-control”.
It is this fact that is most likely responsible for todays’ cynical attitude toward modern welfare benefits.
During this period, states were given unlimited funds by the federal government, and this open-ended, perpetual-funding condition encouraged neither the state nor benefit recipients to seek solutions elsewhere.
Congressional studies related to forthcoming welfare reform highlighted dependency, out-of-wedlock child birth, and intergenerational poverty as the main contributors to the failure of the previous system.
But in 1996, President Clinton signed the, “Welfare Reform Act of 1996” (aka ; the, “Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act”).
This new reform offered a direct replacement for the previous rules and regulations governing welfare, and further granted states the ability to design their own systems, as long as a basic set of federal requirements were maintained.

These new requirements included the following:

♦ Ending welfare as an entitlement program
♦ Requiring recipients to begin working after two years of receiving benefits
♦ Placing a lifetime limit of five years on benefits paid by federal funds
♦ Aiming to encourage two-parent families and discouraging out-of-wedlock births
♦ Enhancing enforcement of child support
♦ Requiring state professional and occupational licenses to be withheld from undocumented imimigrants

Welfare benefits have declined by approximately 14% since welfare reform was enacted in 1996.


Approximately 15% of the US population receives welfare of some kind in any given year, but only 4% or 1/4 (~12M) meet the criteria of, “welfare dependent”.

(Source: US Dept of Health & Human Services)

While I would certainly like to see the percentage of the US population dependent on welfare at zero, 4% seems, if not reasonable, certainly something less than catastrophic.




TANF & SNAP Statistics for reference:

Eligibility for TANF or SNAP benefits:
130% or more, less than the federal poverty level.

Poverty Level Threshold: 

Individual = $11,70-70/Yr
Family of 4 = $24,250

SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program)
% LA population collecting food stamps (SNAP) = 19 (854K people)
Cost to LA: 107M/Yr

% US population collecting food stamps (SNAP) = 14.5 (47M people)
Cost to US: 22M households @ $257.00/Ea = ~6B/Yr
Part of, “mandatory” federal spending (Unemployment & Labor)
(source: USDA)

TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families)
% LA population collecting TANF & State assistance = .26 (12,500 people)
% US population collecting TANF = 1.3 (4.2M people)
Cost US: 17M/Yr
Part of, “mandatory” federal spending (Food & Agriculture)
(source: HHS)

LA Pop = 4.7M
US Pop = 322M

% Federal Budget spent on Welfare Dependency = 5
Total US Cost/Yr for Welfare Dependency: $72B

Welfare dependents are divided by race as follows:

♦ ~32% White
♦ ~32% Black
♦ ~30% Hispanic

The sum total of all available benefits (shown below) for a single mother of 2 = ~ $38K/Yr

SNAP (Food Stamps)
Public Housing
Utility Assistance
Free Commodities (Milk & Cheese)

(Ex: New York)


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