600 Income Security:Cap Total Means-Tested Welfare Spending

Savings in Millions of Dollars
  • 2016
  • 2017
  • 2018
  • 2019
  • 2020
  • 2021
  • 2022
  • 2023
  • 2024
  • 2025
  • 2016-2020
  • 2016-2025


Savings were calculated by Heritage analyst Robert Rector, Senior Research Fellow in the Institute for Family, Community, and Opportunity. See Robert Rector and Rachel Sheffield, “How to Get Welfare Spending Under Control,” Heritage Foundation Issue Brief No. 3874, March 11, 2013.


Technical Notes on Scoring

CBO Baseline

Unless otherwise noted, calculations for savings for each recommendation relies on the most recent Congressional Budget Office baseline, as found in “An Update to the Budget and Economic Outlook: 2014 to 2024,” published August 27, 2014, has been used.

Savings “Totals”

While totals for the five and 10 year savings are provided by section and for the complete set of recommendations, there are two reasons they should not be viewed as representing total savings for The Budget Book.

First, as noted in the introduction, The Heritage Foundation would recommend that the savings realized in the Function 050 Defense section would stay within the Department of Defense to strengthen the nation’s defense capabilities.

Second, the numbers cannot be deemed to represent the realized savings if every single recommendation were adopted because policy changes made in one program can impact spending levels in other programs.  Thus, the numbers in the table do not reflect any potential interactions between the various policy changes affecting spending or savings.


Heritage Recommendation:

Gradually scale back aggregate means-tested welfare spending to pre-recession (FY 2007) levels plus 10 percent, and cap at the rate of inflation going forward. This proposal would save $100 billion in 2016, and $2.7 trillion over 10 years.


It’s time to return means-tested welfare spending to pre-recession levels.

The U.S. welfare system consists of approximately 80 federally means-tested welfare programs that provide cash, food, housing, medical care, and social services to poor and lower-income Americans. Total spending on these programs in FY 2013 was $943 billion. Total annual welfare spending has increased sixteenfold since the 1960s, and has cost taxpayers a total of $22 trillion, or three times the amount the government has spent on all military wars combined since the beginning of the nation’s history. Furthermore, under President Obama’s current plan, welfare spending will amount to $13 trillion over the next decade alone.

Welfare spending must be put on a more prudent course. Rolling back spending to pre-recession levels (plus 10 percent) as the economy recovers, and then capping it at the rate of inflation, would require policymakers to direct welfare spending to the areas of greatest priority, rather than allowing welfare spending to simply continue its upward climb without helping individuals achieve self-sufficiency.

It’s time to return means-tested welfare spending to pre-recession levels.

Contributing Expert

Robert Rector, a leading authority on poverty, welfare programs and immigration in America for three decades, is The Heritage Foundation’s senior research fellow in domestic policy.

See publications by Robert Rector

Robert RectorSenior Research Fellow

Heritage Expert

Rachel Sheffield focuses on welfare, marriage and family, and education as policy analyst in the DeVos Center for Religion & Civil Society at The Heritage Foundation.

See publications by Rachel Sheffield

Rachel SheffieldPolicy Analyst

Additional Reading