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Manhattan Institute

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Issues 2016: Is America's Safety Net Shrinking?

issue brief

Issues 2016: Is America's Safety Net Shrinking?

June 28, 2016
EconomicsIncome Inequality
OtherPoverty

Abstract

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.

Key Findings

  • 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.

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