The Weekly Standard had an article that made the following claims:

The federal government has spent a total $3.7 trillion on approximately 80 different means-tested poverty and welfare programs. The common feature of means-tested assistance programs is that they are graduated based on a person’s income and, in contrast to programs like Social Security or Medicare, they are a free benefit and not paid into by the recipient," says the minority side of the Senate Budget Committee.

What is the breakdown in $US spent on each means-tested program over the last five years?

  • <<Comments removed - please take this all to chat.>> Commented Oct 29, 2013 at 18:09
  • @AffableGeek As long as the stack was read before purged; for it covers some of the same ground as the upcoming meta.politics.se discussions. Commented Oct 29, 2013 at 22:03

1 Answer 1


You can find a report here which has a table called

Table 2. Spending for Federal Benefits and Services for People with Low Income, by Program (excluding programs for veterans): FY2008-FY2011, including ARRA

I'm not going to reproduce the whole table here, but I'll summarize it. Each number is total of 2008-2011, including the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act spending, which is tracked separately.

  • Health - $1,230B (=$1.23 trillion)
  • Cash Aid - $541B
  • Food Assistance - $332B
  • Education - $224B
  • Housing & Development - $198B
  • Social Services - $157B
  • Employment & Training - $29B
  • Energy Assistance - $24B

Total: $2,734B (=$2.734 trillion)

Note that these numbers are only for four years. But if you assume the same average spending over five years, you end up with $3,417B (=$3.417 trillion), which is pretty close to the number you're looking for.

  • You couldn't find the 5 year report either. Doh! +1 close enough. The nonpartisan CBO has a report covering the 10 largest programs. Are those numbers consistent?
    – user1873
    Commented Oct 29, 2013 at 14:01
  • No, they're not. For example, my link has SSI in 2011 being $59B, while your link has it at $49B. Some of that difference may be inflation, but it's definitely odd.
    – Bobson
    Commented Oct 29, 2013 at 14:12
  • the Office of Manangement and Budget, has SSI at $52.7b, so I don't know why the numbers differ so much. Perhaps Fiscal Year to year comparisons?
    – user1873
    Commented Oct 29, 2013 at 14:45
  • @user1873 - Could be. Economic figures get revised all the time, it's possible these numbers do. Or it could be inflation. Or slightly differing timeframes (fiscal year vs calendar year). Or how sub-programs are classified. ::throws hands in the air:: Who knows?
    – Bobson
    Commented Oct 29, 2013 at 15:41

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