Fox News Echoes GOP's Misleading Definition Of Welfare

Fox's Eric Bolling relied on a Republican-commissioned study on federal spending for social benefit programs to claim the government spends more than $1 trillion on welfare. In fact, spending on welfare comprises less than two-tenths of a percent of the federal budget.

Study: Federal Government Spent About $750 Billion On Social Benefit Programs In 2011

CRS Study Found That Spending On Federal Benefits and Services For People With Low IncomesTotaled $746 Billion In 2011. A Congressional Research Service study commissioned by Senate Republicans found that “federal spending for low income programs” totaled "$746 billion" in fiscal year 2011. At the request of the Budget Committee, CRS counted more than 80 social benefit programs in its analysis, but excluded programs specifically targeted to help veterans. [Congressional Research Service, 10/16/12, via The Weekly Standard]

GOP Senate Committee Used Study To Claim Total Federal Spending On Welfare Is $1.03 Trillion With State Data

GOP Senate Budget Committee: “Including Available Data On State Spending On Federal Welfare Programs, The Total Amount Spent On Federal Welfare Stands At $1.03 Trillion.” A press release about the study noted that Sen. Jeff Sessions and the Republican staff of the Senate Budget Committee requested the analysis. The press release, calling the results “staggering,” claimed:

The report reveals that total means-tested welfare spending is currently the single largest category of spending in the federal budget--more than Medicare, Social Security, and national defense. Including available data on state spending on federal welfare programs, the total amount spent on federal welfare stands at $1.03 trillion.


CRS identified 83 overlapping federal welfare programs that together represented the single largest budget item in 2011 -- more than the nation spends on Social Security, Medicare, or national defense. The total amount spent on these 80-plus federal welfare programs amounts to roughly $1.03 trillion. [United States Senate Committee On The Budget -- Republicans, 10/18/12]

Sen. Jeff Sessions: Study Shows “That The United States Spends More On Federal Welfare Than Any Other Program In The Federal Budget.” In a statement about the report, Sen. Jeff Sessions said:

“These astounding figures demonstrate that United States spends more on federal welfare than any other program in the federal budget. It is time to restore -- not retreat from -- the moral principles of the 1996 welfare reform. Such reforms, combined with measures to promote growth, will help both the recipient and the Treasury. [United States Senate Committee On The Budget -- Republicans,10/18/12]

Fox's Bolling Echoed Senate Republicans' Claim That “Welfare Spending In America Crossed $1 Trillion”

Eric Bolling: Welfare Spending “Crossed $1 Trillion.” Discussing the study on Fox News' The Five, co-host Eric Bolling repeatedly claimed that “welfare spending in America crossed $1 trillion for the first time in history.”  [Fox News, The Five, 10/19/12]

The Five Included Graphic Showing That Spending For Social Security And Defense Was Eclipsed By Welfare. During the Five segment, Fox aired a graphic claiming federal expenditures for welfare totaled $1.03 trillion, while it was $731 billion for Social Security, and $700 billion for defense.

[Fox News, The Five, 10/19/12]

Kimberly Guilfoyle: “It's The United States Of Dependency Now.” During the segment, co-host Kimberly Guilfoyle cited the study's findings as proof that the country has become the “United States of Dependency.” She went on to say that the Obama administration “never met a dependent that they didn't like or didn't want to vote from,” adding that “this isn't like helping Americans to strengthen themselves and build their families and to be able to provide, it's creating a weakness and dependency.” [Fox News, The Five, 10/19/12]  

In Fact, Federal Spending On TANF Is Less Than Two Tenths Of 1 Percent Of The Budget

Cash Assistance Under TANF Makes Up 0.18 Percent Of Federal Spending. According to the CRS study, the federal government spent an estimated $6.594 billion in fiscal year 2011 on cash assistance under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. That year, total federal spending was $3.603 trillion. [OMB, accessed 10/19/12, Congressional Research Service, 10/16/12, via The Weekly Standard]

Salon: Welfare “Pretty Much Always” Refers “To TANF.” In a post about the CRS analysis, Salon political writer Alex Pareene wrote:

In the context of political discussions, “welfare” traditionally (as in pretty much always) refers specifically to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, the federal program that was created in 1996 to replace the Aid to Families With Dependent Children program -- also known as “welfare” -- that had existed since the New Deal. This is what people refer to when they say “welfare caseloads” and “welfare rolls,” and when conservatives accuse Obama of gutting “welfare reform” they are referring to TANF. [Salon, 10/18/12]

CNN Money: “Temporary Assistance For Needy Families (TANF)” Is “What Welfare Turned Into In 1996.” A CNNMoney article described how “the cash assistance portion of TANF has fallen to $9.6 billion in 2011, down from $20.4 billion” in 1996. The article stated that “advocates for low-income people contend that Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) which is what welfare turned into in 1996, does not adequately support the poor, particularly in tough times.” [CNNMoney, 8/9/12]

But CRS Study Measured More Than 80 Federal Aid Programs -- Not Just TANF

Salon: Senate Republicans Counted “83 Separate (And Wildly Different) Programs As 'Welfare'” To Make Its Case. In his article criticizing the study and Senate Republicans for redefining welfare and making it sound more expensive than it really is, Parenee wrote:

The con is pretty easy to see when you read the actual CRS report. Senate Republicans are counting 83 separate (and wildly different) programs as “welfare” in order to make the case that the government is spending more on poor people than old people. The majority of this money is Medicaid and CHIP, which are healthcare spending, which is increasing for the same reason that Medicare spending is increasing, which is that healthcare costs are increasing. (And Medicaid is much less generous than Medicare, because it is a program for poor people, not old people.)

But so many other things now also count as welfare, including Pell Grants, public works spending, Head Start, child support enforcement, the Child Tax Credit, Foster Care assistance, housing for old people, and much more. They're also counting the Earned Income Tax Credit, which is, traditionally, the form of “welfare” that conservative Republicans actually support. Basically, all social spending (though specifically not spending on rich old people or on healthcare for veterans with service-related disabilities, which Republicans requested be excluded from the CRS report) now counts as “welfare.” [Salon, 10/18/12]

CRS: Study Included All Social Benefit Programs Designed To Help Lower Income Americans. According to the CRS, “programs were selected for inclusion” in the original report if they based eligibility on “a measure (or proxy) of low or limited income” or “target resources in some way using a measure or proxy of low or limited income.” Several “programs without an explicit low-income provision were included because either their target population is disproportionately poor or their purpose clearly indicates a presumption that participants will be low-income.” [Congressional Research Service, 10/16/12, via The Weekly Standard]

CRS Study Excluded Programs Designed To Help Veterans. CRS specified in its study that “programs for veterans have been removed.” [Congressional Research Service, 10/16/12, via The Weekly Standard]

CRS Included Social Benefit Programs Such As Pell Grants And The Earned Income Tax Credit In Study. In its analysis, CRS counted 83 social benefit programs like these:

  • The Consolidated Health Center Program: The Consolidated Health Centers “provide health services to underserved populations which include all residents in their catchment area, regardless of ability to pay.” [United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, accessed 10/19/12]
  • Children's Health Insurance Program: The Children's Health Insurance Program “provides health coverage to nearly 8 million children in families with incomes too high to qualify for Medicaid, but can't afford private coverage.” [, accessed 10/19/12
  • The National Breast And Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program. The National Breast And Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program “provides access to breast and cervical cancer screening services to underserved women in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, 5 U.S. territories, and 12 tribes.” [Centers for Disease Control, accessed 10/19/12]
  • The Earned Income Tax Credit: The Earned Income Tax Credit “is a refundable federal income tax credit for low to moderate income working individuals and families”. [Internal Revenue, accessed 10/19/12
  • The Federal Pell Grants Program: The Pell Grants Program “provides need-based grants to low-income undergraduate and certain postbaccalaureate students to promote access to postsecondary education.” [, accessed 10/19/12]
  • The Head Start Program: The Head Start program “is a federal program that promotes the school readiness of children ages birth to 5 from low-income families by enhancing their cognitive, social and emotional development.” [Administration For Children &, accessed 10/19/12]

Federal Government Spends 13 Percent Of Its Budget On “Safety Net Programs”

CBPP: Majority Of Federal Spending Was Evenly Split Between Health Care, Social Security, And Defense In 2011. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explained in August that in fiscal 2011, 20 percent of the budget went to defense and security-related international activities, 20 percent went to Social Security, and 21 percent was for three health insurance programs: Medicare, Medicaid, and the Children's Health Insurance Program. [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 8/13/12]

CBPP: About 13 Percent Of Budget Goes To Non-Health Related “Safety Net Programs” That “Keep Millions Of People Out Of Poverty Each Year.” From CBPP:

Safety net programs: About 13 percent of the federal budget in 2011, or $466 billion, went to support programs that provide aid (other than health insurance or Social Security benefits) to individuals and families facing hardship. Spending on safety net programs declined in both nominal and real terms between 2010 and 2011 as the economy continued to improve and initiatives funded by the 2009 Recovery Act began to expire.


Such programs keep millions of people out of poverty each year. A Center analysis shows that government safety net programs kept some 25 million people out of poverty in 2010. Without any government income assistance, either from safety net programs or other income supports like Social Security, the poverty rate would have been nearly double in 2010 (28.6 rather than 15.5 percent).

CBPP published this chart outlining the actual breakdown of how federal dollars are spent:


[Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 8/13/12]

Click here for more on how Fox has distorted the debate over welfare benefits and federal aid programs.