Lesson Plan: How Are Your Tax Dollars Being Spent on Federal Social Programs?

What are Entitlements?

Melissa Boteach, Vice President, Center for American Progress, Poverty to Prosperity Program and James C. Capretta, Resident Fellow, American Enterprise Institute explain what an entitlement is.


As Congress prepares the national budget, they must consider programs that fall within the scope of its spending, the impact funding those programs will have and prioritize items in the budget. In this lesson, students will explore mandatory and discretionary spending as well as various government assistance programs and the factors associated with them.


  • Step 1:

    As a class, view the following video clips to provide background information on the subject. Engage in class discussion on what it means to be eligible for benefits and the difference between mandatory and discretionary spending.

    Vocabulary: Eligibility

    Video Clip 1: What are Entitlements? (1:12)

    Melissa Boteach, Vice President, Center for American Progress, Poverty to Prosperity Program and James C. Capretta, Resident Fellow, American Enterprise Institute explain what an entitlement is.

    Video Clip 2: Mandatory and Discretionary Spending (2:16)

    Michael Tanner explains these types of spending as they relate to federal programs.

  • Step 2:

    Handout: How Are Your Tax Dollars Being Spent on Federal Programs? (Google Doc)

    Have students view the following videos on federal programs and take notes on the accompanying handout. This can be done as an individual or jigsaw activity. Students can discuss the questions related to each video in their group and explain their position on the program. Should it be continued? Would they make any changes to it? They should be prepared to explain their program during class discussion.

  • Video Clip 3: The WIC Program (8:04)

    Douglas Besharov talked about the Special Supplemental Nutrition program for Women, Infants and Children (commonly known as "WIC").

    Vocabulary: Department of Agriculture, Endemic, Malnutrition, Stunted, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (snap)

    1. According to Douglas Besharov, what was the original purpose of this program?

    2. Who is eligible to receive benefits from this program?

    3. What is nutritional risk and how is a person determined to be at risk?

    4. Which agency implements this program and who oversees it?

    5. Explain the SNAP program.

    6. Describe the parameters for who can receive benefits from this program and the problems associated with it as Douglas Besharov discusses.
  • Video Clip 4: Social Security (3:30)

    Michael Tanner explains the Social Security system and the potential problems with funding it in the future.

    Vocabulary: Ponzi Scheme

    1. Explain how the Social Security system works.

    2. According to Michael Tanner, what are some of the future challenges with this program?
  • Video Clip 5: Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Program (4:30)

    LaDonna Pavetti talked about the parameters of the program and the distribution of funds.

    Vocabulary: Block Grant, Contingency

    1. What changes were made to improve the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program?

    2. What goals did President Clinton have for reforming the Welfare Program?

    3. What are some of the purposes of the TANF program?

    4. Explain the process upon entering this program.

    5. How do the programs vary from state to state?
  • Video Clip 6: Supplemental Security Income Program (3:44)

    Professor Edward Berkowitz spoke about the history and policy of the Supplemental Security Income (SSI), which provides benefits to low-income elderly and disabled citizens.

    **Vocabulary: Asset, Beneficiaries, House Committee On Ways And Means, Malign, Progressive Era, Social Security Act Of 1935

    1. How did the Committee on Ways and Means define the Supplemental Security Income program?

    2. What qualifies a person to participate in this program in terms of means and assets?

    3. Who is covered by this program?

    4. Why does Edward Berkowitz think it is important that this program is administered at the federal level rather than the state or local level?
  • Video Clip 7: Housing Assistance for Low-Income Families (5:42)

    Emily Badger talked about rental assistance provided by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to low-income Americans and a HUD effort to encourage municipalities to reduce housing segregation.

    Vocabulary: Bureaucratic, Department Of Housing And Urban Development, Discriminate, Housing Choice Voucher, Poverty

    1. Explain the Housing Choice Voucher program.

    2. Describe the application process to participate in this program.

    3. Where do people reside while they are going through the process of securing a housing voucher?

    4. Explain the requirements and challenges of participating in the program.

    5. How long do people typically stay in this program?

    6. Explain the goal of the program.
  • Video Clip 8: Medicare and Medicaid Acts of 1965 (5:49)

    Tom Scully talked about the Medicare and Medicaid Acts of 1965.

    Vocabulary: Lou Gehrig's Disease, Subsidy

    1. Describe the factors that contributed to the creation of the Medicare and Medicaid programs. Who benefits from these programs?

    2. According to Tom Scully, what impact has this program had on the elderly population?

    3. What is Medicare?

    4. How does Medicare affect people with disabilities?

    5. Describe the origin of the Medicaid program.
  • Video Clip 9: Food Stamp Program (2:24)

    Alan Bjerga talked about the effectiveness and cost of the food stamp program (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) (SNAP).

    Vocabulary: Food Stamps, Social Welfare, Subsidy, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program

    1. Describe the budget and the number of people in the food stamp program (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program).

    2. What are the limitations for what people can spend food stamps on?

    3. How does SNAP compare to other food assistance programs?

    4. Explain the role of states in the program.
  • Video Clip 10: The Children's Health Insurance Program (4:21)

    Penny Thompson explains the CHIP program, how it is funded, who is covered and the services that are provided.

    Vocabulary: Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission (MACPAC)

    1. Who is covered under this program?
    2. How is this program funded?
    3. What happens when funding runs out?
    4. What types of services are offered in this program?
  • Video Clip 11: FCC Lifeline Program (6:08)

    Amina Fazlullah and Daniel Lyons talked about the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Lifeline program, which subsidizes phone service for poorer Americans.

    Vocabulary: Bipartisan, Commerce, Consumer Federal Communications Commission’s (fcc), Government Accountability Office (gao), Monopoly, Revenue, Subsidy

    1. Explain the origin of the Lifeline program.

    2. What is the cost of the program?

    3. How has this plan evolved over time from wired telephone service to wireless?

    4. Describe Daniel Lyons' assessment of the program.

    5. How is this program funded?

    6. Who qualifies for this program?

    7. Describe Amina Fazlullah's assessment of the program.
  • Step 3:

    Have each group present the information they learned from their video to the class as well as their positions on the program and any changes they would suggest.

    Activity: Have students write an essay explaining the following points:

    • Explain the difference between mandatory and discretionary spending.
    • Explain a factor that may contribute to changes in mandatory or discretionary spending.
    • What recommendations would you make for funding these programs?

Additional Resources

  • Lesson Plan: The History of Federal Entitlement Programs in the U.S.

    Hoover Institution Senior Fellow and former Deputy at Office of Management and Budget John Cogan discusses the history of federal entitlement programs in the U.S. over the past 200 years. In this lesson, students will learn about the origin of the first program, hear from former presidents regarding entitlement programs and discover how these programs have evolved over time.

  • Lesson Plan: Universal Service Fund

    The Universal Service Fund was initially created to provide phone service to people in rural areas of the country. Congress established a program under which phone companies would subsidize the service in high cost areas; however, the program has evolved to include providing service to low income people as well as to schools and libraries, and medical facilities. In this lesson, students will learn about the various programs under the Universal Service Fund and how they are funded.

  • Lesson Plan: Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)

    The LIHEAP Program assists low income households with energy costs. LIHEAP offers programs that keep people cool during the summer and warm during the winter, help with energy bills, repairs and crises to avoid health and safety problems that may occur. Students will learn about this program, what it offers and who qualifies for the services in this lesson.

  • Lesson Plan: The Future of Social Security

    The Social Security Act of 1935 was created in response to social problems that had developed in the 19th and early 20th century. The act created the Social Security program which is funded by payroll taxes and provides benefits to older Americans and Americans with disabilities. With a growing percentage of older Americans in the United States, there have been predictions that there could be funding shortfalls by 2033. This lesson reviews the history of the Social Security program, its current funding model and potential solutions to fixing the future funding shortfalls.


  • Asset
  • Block Grant
  • Bureaucratic
  • Contingency
  • Department Of Agriculture
  • Department Of Housing And Urban Development
  • Discriminate
  • Entitlement
  • House Committee On Ways And Means
  • Medicaid
  • Medicare
  • Progressive Era
  • Social Security Act Of 1935
  • Subsidy


Economics & Financial LiteracySocial Services


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