U.S. Welfare Programs (2022)

Antipoverty Programs

Here are the thirteen welfare programs of the United States:

U.S. Welfare Programs (1)

Refundable Tax Credits– These are tax credits that pay out cash as welfare. The two programs are the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), and the Child Tax Credit. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) runs the programs. The tax credits include a “refundable” portion that benefits individuals and families that owe no income tax for the year. Therefore, this portion acts as welfare or a “negative income tax”.

SNAP– This is a food program for low-income individuals and families. SNAP stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. It used to be called the food stamp program. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) runs the program. Participants receive a debit card for the purchase of food. Most grocery stores around the nation accept the cards.

Housing Assistance– The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) runs various housing programs. The programs include rental assistance, public housing, and various community development grants.

SSI– SSI stands for Supplemental Security Income. This is a program to pay cash to low-income individuals if they are blind, disabled or over 65 years of age. The Social Security Administration runs the program.

Pell Grants– This is a grant program to help low-income students go to college. It pays up to $6,000 to students from low-income households. The Department of Education runs the program.

TANF– This is a combined federal and state program that pays cash to low-income households. The goal of the program is to move individuals from welfare to work. TANF stands for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) runs the program.

Child Nutrition– These are food programs that include school lunch, school breakfast, and after-school programs. They target children from low-income households and provide free or reduced-price meals.The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) runs the program.

Head Start– This is a pre-school program available to kids from low-income families. HHS runs the program.

Job Training Programs– This represents several programs to provide job training, displacement, and employment services. The programs generally target low-income Americans, although this is not always the case. The Department of Labor (DOL)runs the program.

(Video) America's Biggest Issues: Welfare

WIC– This is a program to provide Healthy food to pregnant women and children up to five years of age. The program targets low-income households. WIC stands for Women, Infants, and Children.

Child Care– This is a program to support low-income families with child care. HHS runs the program. States and local public and private agencies receive block grants from HHS to provide the services.

LIHEAP– This is a program to help low-income households with their home energy costs. The program is available to help pay for either the heating or cooling of a home. LIHEAP stands for Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. HHS runs the program.

Lifeline(Obama Phone)– This is a program to provide discounted phone service, including cell phones, to low-income individuals. The Federal Communications Commission runs the program.

In addition to the 13 programs shown above, U.S. Welfare Programs also include theMedicaid Programwhich provides health care to low-income citizens and certain non-citizens.​

Apply for Welfare Programs

Definition of Welfare

Aid provided by governmental entities to support low-income Americans is the definition of welfare. The Welfare Definition page includes a description of key attributes of welfare programs such as means-testing and non-contributory.

Purpose of Welfare

Is the purpose of welfare to make lives more comfortable for the poor? Or is the purpose to get the poor back on their feet so they can leave welfare? More.

Does the welfare system help people obtain their financial independence? More

Public Opinion on Welfare

Americans believe strongly in work and that the purpose of welfare should be to get people back on their feet. A strong majority also believe that a work standard or job training should be attached to the receipt of welfare. A majority of poor Americans believe that increased economic growth will do more to help solve poverty than an increase in welfare benefits. A large majority of Americans believe the war on poverty has been ineffective. However, most Americans do not want to see a drop in welfare benefits to the poor, even to pay down the federal deficit.The Welfare Opinion Page includes a full analysis of these and other opinions, including the underlying surveys.

Simplify the Complex

The welfare system is complex and difficult to track because it spans 8 different federal agencies and falls into 13 categories. In addition, rules are complex and unique to each program. This page summarizes the key aspects of the system and creates comparison tables for key aspects of the system. This page simplifies the complexity!


The welfare programs represent entitlements to all Americans, however, benefits are only paid to individuals and families with low-income.


Lacking Coordination

All U.S. welfare programs provide benefits to low-income individuals and families. However, the definition of low-income is unique per program. Therefore, there is little coordination between the programs as to qualification rules. This is due to the fact the system was created one program at a time over the past 70 years. Never has Congress tried to pass legislation to coordinate the programs into a single system with consistent goals and ease of use. As a result, low-income Americans need to navigate each program separately, which is no easy task.

Welfare Spending

Program Expenditures

The figures in the table below represent billions of dollars of spending each year. The fiscal year (FY) for the federal government ends on September 30.More

U.S. Welfare Programs (2)

Percentage of Federal Budget

Welfare made up 13% of federal expenditures in the fiscal year 2021. Medicaid was 7% of spending and the thirteen programs focused on living expenses were 6%, as shown below. More.

U.S. Welfare Programs (3)

Picture of the Welfare System

The graph below is a picture of the welfare system from 1960 through 2020. It shows expenditures per year adjusted for inflation. The programs are shown from the bottom of the chart to the top based on when the programs began operations. Expenditures have generally increased over the timeframe as programs were formed and expanded. The drop in costs in 2017 – 2019 is generally from the reduction of users based on the strong economy experienced in those years.

U.S. Welfare Programs (4)

Want the data behind the picture?


(Video) Why it's so hard to get off welfare

Want to peruse the federal budget?

Yep – only for nerds! A great place to review federal government activity is USGovernmentSpending.com.

Welfare Problems, Issues, and Reform

The welfare system is one of the most controversial functions of the federal government. This has been true since its inception. Proponents of the system believe the programs are indispensable in the war on poverty. They would like to see the system strengthened and expanded. Opponents argue that the system is ineffective. They point out that the cost of the system has grown dramatically over the last 70 years, but the poverty level has remained constant. Everyone agrees that the system could be improved. But, there is little consensus as to how.

The welfare issues page shows the challenges and problems with the welfare system. These include the marriage penalty, why the system misses those in extreme poverty, and why the system doesn’t encourage work. Fraud within the system is shown on the Welfare Fraud Page.

Qualification Comparison of Welfare Programs

Low-income Americans are the target of all welfare programs. Therefore, each program has a limit on the income that an individual or family can earn and still qualify for the program. Income includes wages from jobs or self-employment and usually also includes income from investments. If the income of the individual or family is below the qualification standard, they can participate in the program. If the income is higher, they cannot participate. Shown below are the maximum income levels for each program. More can be found on each program page linked above.

EITC– Approximately $48,000 – $57,000 depending on the number of children in a family.
SNAP– 130% ofthe poverty threshold.
Housing Assistance– 50% of median income in a local area (50% of median income totaled about $34,000 for the U.S. as a whole).
SSI– Approximately $20,000 for an individual and $30,000 for a couple.
Pell Grants– Complex formula taking into account ability to pay and tuition and other costs. Most awards are to households under $30,000 in income.
TANF– Unique by state but generally 50% – 100% of the poverty threshold.
Child Nutrition– 130% of the poverty threshold, partial benefit below 185% of the threshold
Head Start, Child Care, Job Training– Unique by state and program.
WIC– 185% of the poverty threshold.
LIHEAP– 150% of the poverty threshold or 60% of state median income.
Lifeline (Obama Phone) – 135% of the poverty threshold or participation in certain other programs.

Benefit Comparison

The benefits paid to welfare recipients are either cash or “in-kind.” In-kind is anything other than cash, such as food or rent vouchers. Cash can be spent by the recipient as they choose, but in-kind benefits are structured to channel the benefit toward a prescribed purpose. The following table presents a comparison of the benefits of each of the welfare programs.

U.S. Welfare Programs (5)

Administration of the Welfare Programs

There is no department of welfare in the federal government. Instead, eight federal agencies run the programs. This makes welfare hard to track, understand, and use. It’s further complicated because the eight agencies have other responsibilities in addition to their welfare responsibilities. In some cases, welfare is a small part of what the agencies do. As an example, the FCC runs the Lifeline Program which is under 1% of its budgeted outlays. This split of responsibilities is unusual for the federal government. Most activities are run by a single agency. For example, defense is run by the Department of Defense and Social Security by the Social Security Administration. Listed below are the agencies that run the welfare programs.

  • Internal Revenue Service– Refundable tax credits
  • United States Department of Agriculture–SNAP, ChildNutrition, WIC
  • Department of Housing and Urban Development– Housing Assistance
  • Social Security Administration– SSI
  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services– Medicaid, TANF, Head Start,ChildCare, and LIHEAP
  • The Department of Education– Pell Grants
  • The Department of Labor– Job Training
  • Federal Communications Commission– Lifeline (Obama Phone)

Our Welfare System

Americans are big-hearted people. The welfare system proves that. The system was created solely to help the less fortunate among us. It is a central pillar of the function of the federal government. However, the programs are complex and are run by eight different federal agencies. Therefore, the system is uncoordinated and frustrating to use.Each year billions of dollars in benefits are paid to millions of Americans. Unfortunately, the poverty rate has remained unchanged. Therefore, the effectiveness of the programs is questioned by a majority of Americans. But, one thing that cannot be doubted is the desire to help our fellow man. Someone once said to solve poverty we must be “big-hearted and hard-headed”. We have the big-hearted part down, but maybe not so much the hard-headed part.

(Video) How America's Welfare System Hurts the People It's Supposed to Help


What is the most successful welfare program in the United States? ›

The Social Security Administration, created in 1935, was the first major federal welfare agency and continues to be the most prominent.

What are the criticisms of the welfare state? ›

Certain American libertarians criticize the welfare state because they believe welfare programs do not work to reduce poverty, improve education, or improve health or retirement. According to them, welfare programs also increase out-of-wedlock births and decrease the incentive to work.

How many people in the US get welfare? ›

#1 The number of people on welfare in the US is 59 million.

That's roughly 19% of the US population and this includes individuals who use safety net programs, according to an analysis conducted by the Urban Institute in 2019.

Which states consume the most welfare? ›

Public Welfare State Expenditures Per Capita in 2018
RankStatePer Capita Expenditures
3New York3,248
4Rhode Island2,995
46 more rows

Why is welfare a problem? ›

Personal Development is missing from the system

Welfare doesn't address life skills. Recipients of welfare are left on their own to improve their lives and leave poverty behind. However, this has not proved successful enough to lower the overall poverty rate of the nation.

Who receives the most welfare in the United States? ›

Just over 40 percent of SNAP recipients are white. Another 25.7 percent are black, 10.3 percent are Hispanic, 2.1 percent are Asian and 1.2 percent are Native American, according to a 2015 Department of Agriculture report. Despite Trump's newly gleaned information, welfare reform remains one of his top goals for 2018.

Do we need a welfare state? ›

The main advantages of a welfare state are that it ensures a greater level of equality among its citizens and prevents unnecessary hardship. The provision of a social support network protects people from disease, starvation and overall misery. It allows everyone to live on a more equal level.

What do feminists think of the welfare state? ›

The welfare state has an important role providing economic opportunities and protecting women from market inequalities. At the same time, it is constituted upon a gender ideology that restricts women by confining them to patriarchal relationships and keeps them at an inferior position to men.

Is a welfare state a good thing? ›

A strong welfare state has big benefits for its recipients, and it helps stabilize the macroeconomy and prevent deep recessions.

What race uses the most food stamps? ›

SNAP recipients represent different races and/or ethnicities. White: about 37 percent; African American: 26 percent; Hispanic: 16 percent; Asian: 3 percent; and Native American: about 2 percent.

What percent of America is on welfare? ›

What percentage of the US population is on welfare? Every fifth American or 19% of the US population uses welfare. That accounts for 59 million welfare recipients that are part of at least one of the programs like SNAP.

What states don't have welfare? ›

Since 2011, eight states have raised benefits in nominal terms (Colorado, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, and Utah), while four states have cut them (Delaware, Michigan, South Dakota, and Washington).

Which states take more federal money than they give? ›

State Federal Dependency Ranking
RankStateFed Fund % of State Revenues
1New Mexico25.94%
2West Virginia27.18%
47 more rows
Feb 10, 2022

Which states pay more to federal government than they receive? ›

States Most Dependent on the Federal Government
RankStateFederal Share of State Revenue
1West Virginia45.16%
2New Mexico41.80%
6 more rows
Apr 20, 2022

What would happen if welfare was eliminated? ›

Poverty would be eliminated overnight. Work disincentives would be removed. American bureaucracy would be significantly reduced. Families would be free to make financial decisions without government intrusion.

Why is social welfare controversial? ›

Providing welfare benefits has been controversial throughout U.S. history. Since the colonial period, government welfare policy has reflected the belief that the indigent are responsible for their poverty, leading to the principle that governmental benefits are a privilege and not a right.

Is welfare good for the economy? ›

In times of normalcy, social welfare is vital to society

Unemployment benefits also provide people leeway to find jobs that match their skill sets, rather than snapping up the first available position. In other words, overall economic productivity increases as a result of government assistance.

Which race is the poorest in the United States? ›

Poverty and race/ethnicity

As of 2010 about half of those living in poverty are non-Hispanic white (19.6 million). Non-Hispanic white children comprised 57% of all poor rural children.

What race has the highest poverty in the US? ›

By race, the highest national poverty rates were for American Indians and Alaska Natives (27.0 percent) and Blacks or African Americans (25.8 percent). Native Hawaiians and Other Pacific Islanders had a national poverty rate of 17.6 percent.

Is China a welfare state? ›

When compared to economically developed countries, China has a relatively weak social welfare system. This isn't to say it is nonexistent; since 2007, China has run one of the world's largest means-tested forms of basic income, known as dibao (short for “minimum livelihood guarantee”).

Is USA a welfare state? ›

For the United States has a social welfare system that is not small by comparison with the size of the economy. And when looked at in total, per capita it's the second largest such social welfare state in the world.

Who coined the term welfare state? ›

The term 'welfare state' first entered the English language in 1941 when Archibishop Temple coined the phrase to differentiate wartime Britain from the 'warfare' state of Nazi Germany.

What was the concept of new feminism? ›

New feminism is a form of Christian feminism that emphasizes the integral complementarity of women and men, rather than the superiority of men over women or women over men, and advocates for respecting persons from conception to natural death.

What is feminism in social policy? ›

Feminist approaches to social policy are concerned with issues relevant to the social, economic, and political well-being of women and their families and to the structural apparatuses and collective processes that either empower or subordinate women.

What are the disadvantages of welfare? ›

Here Are the Cons of Welfare
  • Welfare doesn't support the modern household. ...
  • It can create a system of abuse. ...
  • Welfare can create a pattern of dependence. ...
  • Many welfare programs don't address the root cause of poverty. ...
  • Some countries have highly variable programs. ...
  • It creates societal cliques.
May 5, 2017

Does welfare cause inflation? ›

The reason for this is simple. Once businesses are aware that households have more money to spend as a result of more welfare given by the government, they assume consumers will accept higher prices. Hence, inflation will follow a rise in welfare expenses.

What are the pros and cons of welfare? ›

Top 10 Welfare Pros & Cons – Summary List
Welfare ProsWelfare Cons
May help to prevent old-age povertySymptoms are cured, not the causes of poverty
Welfare can increase overall life expectancyRequires some level of administrative work
Humans should feel obliged to help peopleLower motivation to work
7 more rows

What state gives the most food stamps? ›

The ten states that have the highest number of SNAP recipients are: California (3,789,000), Texas (3,406,000), Florida (2,847,000), New York (2,661,000), Illinois (1,770,000), Pennsylvania (1,757,000), Georgia (1,424,000), Ohio (1,383,000), North Carolina (1,298,000), and Michigan (1,180,000).

What percentage of the US population is on food stamps? ›

SNAP is the largest federal assistance program in the United States. About 38 million people in the United States benefited from the SNAP program in 2019 alone. This is about 12% of the total population.

Which states have the most welfare recipients per capita? ›

Here are the 10 states with the highest rate of food stamp (SNAP) recipients:
  • New Mexico.
  • Louisiana.
  • Mississippi.
  • Oklahoma.
  • Alabama.
  • Oregon.
  • Rhode Island.
  • Illinois.
Dec 9, 2019

What race is the biggest consumer? ›

Black Buying Power

Black people are major consumers in the American economy and spend more than $1 trillion a year on goods and services.

Where does most welfare money go? ›

Nearly all (97 percent) public welfare spending went toward operational costs in 2019, including payments to Medicaid providers, payments to nonprofits or other private providers of public services for low-income beneficiaries, and program administration.

Who uses government assistance the most? ›

Participation in means-tested assistance programs

Medicaid was the program with the highest participation rate (84.1 percent) among families receiving government means-tested assistance. Among one-parent families, 81.7 percent received government means-tested assistance, and 86.1 percent of two-parent families did so.

What are the two biggest social welfare programs? ›

What are the two largest and most expensive social welfare programs in America? Social Security and Medicare. Provide benefits to people with specific needs.

Who has the best welfare system in the world? ›

France remains the country most committed to social benefits, with almost a third of French GDP spent on social services by the government in 2019. Scandinavian countries appear high up on the ranking, with Denmark, Sweden and Norway all spending more than 25%.

What are the six major welfare programs in the US? ›

The six programs most commonly associated with the “social safety net” include: (1) Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), (2) the Food Stamp Program (FSP), (3) Supplemental Security Income (SSI), (4) Medicaid, (5) housing assistance, and (6) the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).

What country has the best government benefits? ›

Public social spending
32 more rows


2. Work & Happiness - History of U.S. Welfare
(Free To Choose Network)
3. Social Welfare in the United States
(Alex Drake Mamie Hall)
4. Social Policy: Crash Course Government and Politics #49
5. What few people know about the program that "saved" America - Meg Jacobs
6. Why is it so hard to escape poverty? - Ann-Helén Bay

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