Study shows 33 percent spending increase in federal poverty programs

A new study by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service finds that federal spending on anti-poverty programs has increased 33 percent since 2008, when President Obama was elected.

The study, commissioned by Senate Budget Committee ranking member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), included traditional welfare, food stamps, Medicaid, Pell grants and 80 other federal programs but excluded veterans assistance programs. Together, the federal government spent $746 billion in 2011 on these programs in 2011, up from $563 billion in 2008.

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Most of the increase came from spending due to Obama’s stimulus, the CRS study states. 

Staff of Sessions calculates that when you add $283 billion spent by states on federal anti-poverty programs, the total reaches $1.03 trillion.

The CRS study shows that broadly defined, anti-poverty spending was higher than Social Security or Medicare or base defense spending in 2011, whenSocial Security's was $725 billion, Medicare's was $480 billion and non-war defense spending was $540 billion.

The report found that Medicaid costs grew by 37 percent while spending on food stamps grew by 71 percent. 

Sessions says the findings show that the 1996 welfare reforms, which increased work requirements for tradition cash welfare, need to be expanded. 

“These astounding figures demonstrate that United States spends more on federal welfare than any other program in the federal budget. It is time to restore — not retreat from — the moral principles of the 1996 welfare reform. Such reforms, combined with measures to promote growth, will help both the recipient and the Treasury,” he said. 

He said that the government has adopted programs to encourage people to use assistance rather than encouraging them to be self-sufficient. 

“Is this a hopeful vision for the future? Do these priorities make our country stronger and our economy more secure?” he said. 

Democrats argue that stimulus spending was needed because the policies of the Bush administration prompted the greatest recession since the 1930s. Some liberals argue that spending on food stamps has more "bang for the buck" in terms of economic growth than lowering taxes for the wealthy, many of whom simply pocket the extra cash without spending it.

The Republican Study Committee, reacting to the report on Thursday, pushed its legislative proposals for reducing poverty spending. These include the Welfare Reform Act, which would cap spending at pre-recession levels once unemployment falls to 6.5 percent and allow it to rise only due to inflation.