Entitlements / Mandatory Spending


The Budget divides all spending into two broad categories.

Almost one-third of federal spending is called “discretionary spending,” because the amount of spending flows from annual funding decisions by Congress’ Appropriations Committees (and that is roughly divided between defense and non-defense programs).

Roughly two-thirds of the budget is called “mandatory spending,” because the amount of outlays flow from legal obligations of the federal government established in law.

Most mandatory spending is comprised of “entitlement programs” — where eligibility rules and benefit formulas in federal laws determine annual outlays.  The largest entitlement programs are:


Background on Other Mandatory Spending Programs:



CRS refers to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service
CBO refers to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office

FY 2017
(baseline projections)
Net Interest    $304 billion
Net Interest is mandatory spending, i.e., it is determined by the amount of public debt and interest rates, not by annual appropriations decisions.
Veterans Benefits 
Compensation and Pensions   $85 billion
Readjustment Benefits  $15 billion
Veterans Choice Fund  $3.6 billion
Note:  Unlike Veterans Compensation and Veterans Pensions, Veterans Healthcare is not an entitlement, i.e., funding levels are appropriated annually;  see non-defense discretionary spending for veterans healthcare program spending levels.
CRS:  Veterans Disability Compensation
CRS:  Veterans Benefits Overview
CBO:  Veterans Disability Comp
CRS:  Veterans Disability Compensation
CRS : Veterans Benefits for Survivors
CRS:  Veterans Pension Benefit Programs
CRS:  Eligibiilty for Veterans Benefits
Federal Civilian Retirement $86 billion
CRS:  Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS)
CRS:  FERS Budget and Trust Fund Issues
Food Stamps (now known as “SNAP”)  $77 billion
  CRS: SNAP Primer on Benefits and Eligibility
CBO: Potential Effects of Cuts in SNAP
CBO: The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program
Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit   $84 billion
Note:  Although these are “tax credits,” this amount — $84 billion — is considered “spending” because taxpayers are receiving “refunds” larger than their tax liabilities.  These are also known as “refundable tax credits.”
CRS: Earned Income Tax Credit
CRS: EITC Administrative and Compliance Challenges
CRS: EITC Economic Analysis
  CRS: Child Tax Credit
  CRS: Child Tax Credit Economic Analysis and Policy Options
CBO: Refundable Tax Credits
Military Retirement  $58 billion
CRS: Military Retirement – Background and Recent Developments
LOC: Summary of Major Military Retirement Reform Proposals
Supplemental Security Income (SSI)   $56 billion
Note:  SSI is a minimum monthly benefit for aged, blind and disabled who are not covered by Social Security.
CRS: Primer on Disability Benefits – SSDI and SSI
CRS: SSI – Background, Eligibility, and Benefits
CRS Supplemental Security Income Income and Resource Limits and Accounts Exempt from Benefit Determinations
CRS Ticket to Work
Committee on Ways and Means Green Book
CBO SSI_An Overview
Affordable Care Act (ACA) Subsidies $54 billion
Click here for FedWed background on the ACA
Highways  $43 billion
Federal Funding of Highways
Federal funding for Highways is a budgetary oddity since the spending authority is considered to be “mandatory spending” since it is provided in multiyear highway “authorizing legislation,”  however, the outlays are considered to be “discretionary” since they are controlled by the Appropriations Committee.
Unemployment Compensation  $32 billion
CRS: Unemployment Insurance Programs and Benefits
CRS: Unemployment Insurance Consequences of Changes in State Unemployment Compensation Laws
CRS: Unemployment Compensation and the Unemployment Trust Fund_Funding UC Benefits
CRS: Unemployment Insurance and Legislative Issues in the 114th Congress
CBO: The Unemployment Insurance System
Ways & Means Committee: 2016 Green Book
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)  $17 billion
The state-administered program that replaced welfare (Aid to Families with Dependent Children) in the 1990s.
CRS: Temporary Assistance for Needy Families
CRS: Temporary Assistance for Needy Families_Primer on Financing and Federal Requirements
CRS: Temporary Assistance for Needy Families_Size and Characteristics of the Cash Assistance Caseload
CRS :Temporary Assistance for Needy Families_Welfaare to Work Revisited
CRS: Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Financing Issues
CRS: The Financial Impact of Child Support on TANF Families
Ways and Means Committee: 2016 Green Book
CRS: Trends in Child Care Spending from the Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) and TANF
Child Nutrition  $24 billion
Includes School Lunches, School Breakfasts, and other child and adult care food programs.
CRS: Domestic Food Assistance Programs
CRS: School Meals Programs and Other USDA Child Nutrition Programs_A Primer
CRS: Improving Child Nutrition Integrity and Access Act of 2016
CBO: Child Nutrition Programs_Spending and Policy Options
Agriculture Programs $19 billion
CRS Farm Safety Net Programs: Crop Insurance; Commodity Programs; Disaster Assistance – Background and Issues
CRS Federal Crop Insurance
CRS: Farm Commodity Provisions in the Farm Bill
 CRS:: Agricultural Disaster Assistance
CRS: What is the Farm Bill
Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)  $14 billion
CRS: State Children’s Health Insurance Program_An Overview
CRS: Federal Financing for the State Childrens Health Insurance Progam CHIP
Mass Transit $10.5 billion
Federal funding for Mass Transit: similar to funding for Highways, explained above, the outlays for mass transit are considered to be “discretionary,” although the spending authority is controlled by multiyear authorizing legislation.
Access to Telecommunications $11 billion
Universal Service Fund
Railroad Retirement $8 billion
Foster Care and Adoption Assistance  $8 billion
Higher Education (Mandatory Portion of Pell Grants)  $6 billion
 Federal Pell Grant Program


General Reports and Studies on Mandatory Spending and Entitlement Programs