Government entitlement programs, whether these provide goods or services, are made available to a large number of potential beneficiaries who meet eligibility requirements specified by the law.
The beneficiaries of entitlement programs are normally individual citizens or residents, but sometimes organizations such as business corporations, local governments or even political parties may have similar special “entitlements” under certain programs.
The beneficiaries almost always have a legal right — enforceable by the court, if necessary — whenever they meet eligibility conditions specified by the law that authorizes the program.
The most important examples of entitlement programs on the federal level include Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, most Veterans’ Administration benefits, federal employee and military retirement plans, unemployment compensation, and food stamps.
The programs on the state level include healthcare, aid to dependent children (ADC) and food subsidies.
Take Social Security benefits, for example. Not only did we contribute 15 percent of our income before tax to Social Security, but our employers also made counterpart contributions. And the value of the amount we put into the program is more than enough hedge for us to live comfortably in our retirement age.
The same is true with Medicare and Medicaid, to which we made contributions during our working years.
And although we are legally entitled to the benefits, there are negative perceptions associated with entitlements. The benefits are sometimes perceived as welfare doleouts, aid to illegal immigrants and benefits to the poor and the disenfranchised.
The Congress and the Senate are having a hard time appropriating funds because it is often very hard to predict just how many individuals are going to meet the entitlement criteria during any given year. Consequently, it is difficult to estimate what the total costs to the government would be at the time when the appropriation bills for the coming fiscal year are being drafted.
The funds needed for the unemployment benefits for the jobless, for example, vary from month to month.
Since the mid-1980s, entitlement programs have accounted for more than half of all federal spending.
Taken together with the other mandated expenses such as interest payments on the national debt and the appropriations for the entitlement programs, Congress is left with no more than about 25 percent of the annual budget to be scrutinized for possible cutbacks in the regular appropriations.