September 24, 2013
Few policymakers and citizens are aware of the scope of our welfare state.
Each month, one out of every three Americans receives aid from a welfare program.
In 2012 alone, the federal government spent $916 billion on more than 80 welfare programs. Food stamps account for just 10 percent of this spending. The rest of the money — not including Social Security or Medicare — provides cash, food, housing, medical care, and social services to poor and low-income Americans.
Spending on these programs contributes to our nation’s growing debt while at the same time promoting dependency.
Reform of these programs is long overdue, Heritage Foundation welfare expert Robert Rector urges in National Review Online. But lawmakers should focus on the entire system, not just food stamps. “Food stamps are merely the tip of a much larger iceberg.”
First, reformers should frame the debate by discussing welfare as a whole. They should consistently point to all 80-plus welfare programs together, and to the resulting $916 billion in aggregate spending. This framing would overturn the status quo in welfare. Habitually, welfare is debated one program at a time. This piecemeal approach enables the Left to depict the welfare state as pathetically small and to pretend that the particular program under review is the lone, frail reed standing between the poor and starvation. By contrast, the Left has considerable difficulty defending the $916 billion price tag or explaining why this ever-climbing sum can never be rolled back.
Second, reformers should call for the moral transformation of welfare. These programs should not be one-way handouts. Instead, they ought to be based on a reciprocal obligation between taxpayers and recipients. Those in need of aid should receive assistance; in return, they should take steps toward supporting themselves. This principle was the foundation of welfare reform in 1996. The main problem was that we reformed only one anti-poverty program out of 80.
Do you think our welfare system needs to be reformed?