NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Record Number In Government Anti-Poverty Programs

August 31, 2010

More than 50 million Americans are on Medicaid, the federal-state program aimed principally at the poor, a survey of state data by USA Today shows.  That's up at least 17 percent since the recession began in December 2007.  

The program has grown even before the new health care law adds about 16 million people, beginning in 2014.  That has strained doctors.  Private physicians are already indicating that they're at their limit, says Dan Hawkins of the National Association of Community Health Centers. 

In other areas: 

  • More than 40 million people get food stamps, an increase of nearly 50 percent during the economic downturn, according to government data through May; the program has grown steadily for three years.
  • Close to 10 million receive unemployment insurance (nearly four times the number from 2007); benefits have been extended by Congress eight times beyond the basic 26-week program, enabling the long-term unemployed to get up to 99 weeks of benefits; caseloads peaked at nearly 12 million in January.
  • More than 4.4 million people are on welfare, an 18 percent increase during the recession.  

As caseloads for all the programs have soared, so have costs, says USA Today: 

  • The federal price tag for Medicaid has jumped 36 percent in two years, to $273 billion.
  • Jobless benefits have soared from $43 billion to $160 billion.
  • The food stamps program has risen 80 percent, to $70 billion.
  • Welfare is up 24 percent, to $22 billion. 

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. 

Source: Richard Wolf, "Record number in government anti-poverty programs," USA Today, August 30, 2010. 

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