Issues 2016: Is America’s Safety Net Shrinking?
America’s safety net is thicker and wider than ever: antipoverty spending in real terms more than doubled between 1995 and 2015. True, Congress froze federal spending for the specific welfare cash-assistance program targeted by the 1996 welfare reform, causing its budget to decline in real terms; but that decline represented less than 1 percent of the safety net with total spending of more than $1 trillion in 2015. Between 1995 and 2015, state and federal social safety-net spending expanded by 102 percent, to more than $1 trillion (in constant 2015 dollars). Medicaid alone increased by $349 billion and 39 million recipients. Total cash benefits were higher in 2015 than in 1995, as increases in other programs offset Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) declines by a factor of three.