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D.C. Decoder 101: How Washington spends your money

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HEALTH CARE. As with many US family budgets, the largest single category of federal spending is “health.” Three big health programs – Medicare, Medicaid, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) – account for 21 percent of the $3.6 trillion 2011 federal budget, according to figures compiled by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP).

Of these, Medicare is the Big Kahuna. This program, which funds health care for the elderly and Americans with disabilities, accounts for two-thirds of federal health spending (about $486 billion), according to CBPP.

Medicaid provides health services for certain low-income people and families, and CHIP covers kids growing up in financially tight circumstances. Both are partly funded by states, as well as by Washington.

SOCIAL SECURITY. Just behind health is Social Security, which provides income benefits to retired folks, the disabled, and some other recipient categories. This program accounts for 20 percent of Washington’s budget, figures CBPP.

Social Security checks go out to a little more than 55 million people, according to the program’s own figures. Of these, 44 million are retirees or their dependents, and 10 million are disabled workers or their dependents.

For retirees, Social Security’s average monthly benefit at the beginning of 2012 was $1,230, according to the program.

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