(NaturalNews) When people say that America "is the land of the free," they aren't kidding. That's because a record number of our citizens are now on some form of government assistance, with Uncle Sam's dwindling number of taxpayers being forced to cough up more than a trillion dollars a year to fund more than 120 separate welfare programs.
"Roughly 100 million people - one-third of the U.S. population - receive aid from at least one means-tested welfare program each month. Average benefits come to around $9,000 per recipient," said the Heritage Foundation, pulling data from a Congressional Research Service report requested by Republicans on the Senate Budget Committee.
If all that largess were converted to cash, "means-tested welfare spending is more than five times the amount needed to eliminate all poverty in the United States," said Heritage.
But poverty hasn't been eliminated. Far from it.
Yet, these figures are astounding. They are also sad for a nation that once took pride in hard work, self-sufficiency and being independent.
Whose fault is this? What's going on? Why are more and more Americans getting on the dole? Let's look at that.
When President Obama took office in January 2009, in the throes of one of the worst economic recessions in the history of the country, spending on welfare was already high. The CRS said the government spent $563 billion in fiscal year 2008.
Three years later, in fiscal year 2011, that figure rose 32 percent to $746 billion.
What happened? Was it all related to the recession?
"The numbers tell a complex story of American taxpayers' generosity in supporting a varied social safety net, including food stamps, support for low-income AIDS patients, child care payments and direct cash going from taxpayers to the poor," explained the Washington Times.
The biggest expenditure in this labyrinth of social safety nets is Medicaid - by far. Medicaid was part of the original "Great Society" legislation dating back to 1964 and Lyndon B. Johnson's "War on Poverty." Medicaid falls under a federal-state funding mechanism, but Washington by far, pays the lion's share of costs.
The next highest expenditure are food stamps. Costs for this program are nearly double now than what they were in 2008. The program, which is managed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, now comprises 20 percent - or one-fifth - of all Medicaid-related costs.
"Several programs to funnel cash to the poor also ranked high," the Times said, citing CRS data. "Led by the earned income tax credit, supplemental security income and the additional child tax credit, direct cash aid accounts for about a fifth of all welfare."
Some recession, huh? Worse than we thought, the administration has often said.
Not so fast.
Granted, economic conditions have been slow to recover, and that's another discussion for another time. But this administration has also had a hand - a big hand - in actually expanding Medicaid-related costs.
Over the course of the past year, the White House has loosened once-tougher requirements for receiving welfare assistance. One of those requirements - reached during the welfare reform years of a Democratic president (Bill Clinton) and a Republican Congress in the middle 1990s - was that recipients who were able to work, had to work. At the time, the concept was dubbed "welfare-to-work," in fact, and it was a huge success.
That was then. In the past year, that requirement has been eliminated.
The Obama administration's Health and Human Services secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, has given states permission to waive those work requirements, naturally, of course, with the blessing of her boss, President Obama.
This one policy change has caused most of the exponential growth in welfare rolls.
Critics called the administration on the change, but they answered that they didn't "gut" welfare reform.
Are they being honest?
"Working closely with members of Congress, I helped draft the work requirements in the 1996 law, and I raised the alarm on July 12, when the Obama administration issued a bureaucratic order allowing states to waive those requirements. The law has indeed been gutted," writes Heritage's Robert Rector, in the Washington Post. Rector should know; he helped draft the work requirements in the original 1996 law. In the same piece, he went on to say that, following the reform of 1996, welfare rolls dropped by half and the poverty rate for black children was halved.
That's number one.
Secondly, the Obama administration is actually encouraging people to get onto welfare programs.
Writes Michael Tanner, a senior fellow at the libertarian-leaning CATO Institute, what came on top of work requirement waivers was "a new ad campaign, using Spanish-language soap operas, to encourage more Latinos to sign up for food stamps."
In addition, the administration actually gave "a special award to an Agriculture Department worker who found ways to combat the 'mountain pride' discouraging Appalachian residents from taking full advantage of food stamps and other welfare programs."
This environment left little doubt that the administration's "message was loud and clear: More Americans should be getting welfare," Tanner wrote.
Combined, these two efforts alone have accounted for most of the record growth in the numbers of Americans receiving benefits, and the cost associated with providing those benefits.
The end result, if we don't change course, will be the creation of the world's largest welfare state, one that we simply cannot afford.