There are few public issues that create more debate than the “social safety net.” By social safety net, I mean the set of government policies, programs and regulations that provide money, services and products to households who cannot maintain an acceptable standard of living using their own resources.

There are many pieces to the social safety net. At the federal level, food assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, medical assistance via Medicaid and a program that provides cash to households — the Earned Income Tax Credit — are key examples. It’s estimated these and complementary programs give assistance worth almost $800 billion annually to eligible households. During the COVID pandemic, the spending was much higher.

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