More than one-third of Americans are now receiving means-tested federal benefits, and Heritage Foundation analyst Rachel Sheffield says the Obama administration is planning to vastly increase spending on welfare and now measures the success of public assistance programs by the number of people signed up for benefits.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Census Bureau released statistics showing nearly 110 million Americans lived in households receiving benefits from one or more welfare programs at the end of 2012. That amounts to roughly 35.4 percent of the population. The data show the programs with the most beneficiaries include Medicaid (nearly 83 million people), food stamps (more than 51 million) and the Women, Infants and Children program (22.5 million).
Sheffield said while the 2012 numbers do not represent a huge leap from recent reports, they do confirm the sheer size of U.S. public assistance expenditures.
“This is about one-third of the American population that receives some type of means-tested welfare benefit, which is a huge number. We have a welfare system that continues to increase in cost. There are 80 different federally means-tested welfare programs, so it’s a very large welfare system,” said Sheffield, who believes the government has a very wrongheaded approach to determining the success of these programs.
“Unfortunately, the federal government tends to measure welfare success by the number of people receiving benefits,” she said. “I think that’s really the key issue here, that mentality that a huge welfare system is a successful welfare system.”
Sheffield added, “If we look at things like the food-stamps program and other programs, they actually try to pull as many people onto the program as possible. They have recruiting procedures. They advertise to get people onto these programs. That certainly shouldn’t be the goal. The goal should be to help individuals become sufficient rather than to be on welfare.”
Listen to the WND/Radio America interview with Rachel Sheffield:
The near future suggests things will only get worse for taxpayers.
Sheffield said Obama’s planned welfare spending makes recent expenditures pale in comparison.
“We’re headed toward a much larger welfare system. We’re projected under President Obama’s plan to spend $14 trillion on welfare in the next decade. We’ve spent $20 trillion over the last five decades on welfare,” said Sheffield, who fears the much higher spending will be a major drag on the U.S. economy.
“I don’t have any hard numbers,” she said, “but if we’re spending $14 trillion on welfare in the next decade and we consider things like Obamacare and other large government programs, that’s certainly going to contribute to the opposite of our economic well-being.”
Sheffield also accused the Obama administration of giving Americans less incentive to find work and eventually free themselves from public assistance, namely by unilaterally removing work requirements from the landmark 1996 welfare reform law. She said restoring those work requirements would be a major step toward shrinking America’s welfare expenditures and beginning a solution to a culture of dependency.
“First of all, it’s about basing the welfare system on the principle of self-sufficiency, reforming policy so that we’re encouraging able-bodied adults to work and become self-sufficient,” she said. “Right now, the vast majority of welfare programs don’t include any type of a work requirement. So inserting work requirements into programs like food stamps that encourage able-bodied adults to work or prepare to work, or to look for work as a condition for receiving assistance would be a critical reform.”
According to Sheffield, the food-stamp program is a perfect example of the government providing the wrong incentives.
“We’ve also seen, for example in the food-stamps program, they’re pushing policies that make it easier for people to get on the program and to stay on the program,” Sheffield said. “There’s a very minor work requirement in food stamps that the Obama administration has allowed states to waive. We’ve seen this even greater push from the Obama administration to get rid of what few work requirements were there.”