Anti-Poverty Assistance Soars

© Bryan Smith


Compiling state and federal data, USA Today reports today that one in six Americans (and counting) receives some kind of government anti-poverty assistance, a new national record. That financial support includes programs like Medicaid, which serves more than 50 million people, an increase of 17 percent from nearly three years ago.

The number of food stamp recipients is equally staggering: Upwards of 40 million people, a 50 percent increase since the economy began to crumble several years back. Unemployment insurance now goes out to nearly 10 million Americans, a 400 percent increase from 2007, and welfare’s national rolls include 4.4 million people, up 18 percent during the downturn.

All this growth in federal and state support, while crucial to support those out-of-work or suffering from reductions in hours and wage, costs ever more to operate. Here’s more from USA Today‘s Richard Wolf:

As caseloads for all the programs have soared, so have costs. The federal price tag for Medicaid has jumped 36% in two years, to $273 billion. Jobless benefits have soared from $43 billion to $160 billion. The food stamps program has risen 80%, to $70 billion. Welfare is up 24%, to $22 billion. Taken together, they cost more than Medicare.

The steady climb in safety-net program caseloads and costs has come as a result of two factors: The recession has boosted the number who qualify under existing rules. And the White House, Congress and states have expanded eligibility and benefits.

Conservatives fear expanded safety-net programs won’t contract after the economy recovers. “They’re much harder to unwind in the long term,” says Michael Tanner of the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank.

Other anti-poverty experts say the record caseloads are a necessary response to economic hardship. “We should be there to support people when the economy can’t,” says LaDonna Pavetti of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal-leaning think tank.

At the same time we’re seeing record levels of government assistance, lawmakers have sought to slash away at these same programs to save money. This month, for instance, the Senate proposed cutting the federal food stamps program by $14.1 billion over a decade. On a per family basis, that would come out to a decrease of $59 a month beginning in November 2013. As one legal expert told the Huffington Post‘s Arthur Delaney, “there’s no precedent” for such a massive cut to a program more Americans than ever need to get by.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

Share your feedback: We’re planning to launch a new version of the comments section. Help us test it.