The States Doling Out the Best (and Worst) Benefits

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States Doling Out the Worst Benefits

10. Mississippi
> Average pension benefits: $19,968 (20th highest)
> Total per pupil spending: $8,119 (6th lowest)
> Medicaid payments per enrollee: $4,890 (12th lowest)
> Pct. of weekly wages covered by unemployment benefits: 28.7% (10th lowest)
> No. of months of TANF received: 37.0 (17th highest)
> Avg. TANF cash assistance per month: $234 (12th lowest)

Mississippi’s income inequality is among the worst in the country as the state’s low and middle-income residents are poorer than residents of any other state in the country. Mississippi had the lowest median household income in 2011 at just $36,919. The state also had the highest poverty rate in the country, with 22.6% of households below the poverty line. Although former Governor Haley Barbour shepherded significant cuts through the legislature during 2010, the current governor Phil Bryant earlier in 2012 got the legislature to pass modest increases in education and Medicaid funding.

9. Texas
> Average pension benefits: $19,022 (24th highest)
> Total per pupil spending: $8,746 (10th lowest)
> Medicaid payments per enrollee: $4,884 (11th lowest)
> Pct. of weekly wages covered by unemployment benefits: 34.0% (22nd lowest)
> No. of months of TANF received: 31.5 (24th lowest)
> Avg. TANF cash assistance per month: $230 (9th lowest)

Texas legislators last year cut approximately $5.4 billion from the 2012 budget in order to help balance it, with school districts across the country facing cuts in personnel, sports teams, and bus services. The legislature also slashed by two-thirds family planning services, which is predominantly used of by lower-income women. This has led to the closure of at least 60 family planning clinics in the state and cuts to dozens more. But Governor Rick Perry has taken a zealously conservative budget position in 2012, as his “Texas Budget Compact” vowed no new or increased taxes and constitutional limits on state spending.

Also Read: America’s Best (and Worst) Educated States

8. Idaho
> Average pension benefits: $16,470 (14th lowest)
> Total per pupil spending: $7,106 (2nd lowest)
> Medicaid payments per enrollee: $5,658 (24th lowest)
> Pct. of weekly wages covered by unemployment benefits: 36.8% (19th highest)
> No. of months of TANF received: 6.5 (the lowest)
> Avg. TANF cash assistance per month: $298 (19th lowest)

In the third-quarter of 2012, Idaho was one of the nation’s least expensive states to live in. Despite the low costs of living, few states spend less on social programs than Idaho. In 2010, the state spent just over $7,000 per student, the second-lowest amount in the nation behind Utah. A September report from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities stated that per student spending in Idaho was down 19% from 2008 after adjusting for inflation. This was a larger decline than nearly all states in the U.S. Needy families in the state also received little support, getting just over six months of TANF benefits on average — worse than any other state and nearly 32 months less than the U.S. average.

7. Florida
> Average pension benefits: $20,266 (17th highest)
> Total per pupil spending: $8,741 (9th lowest)
> Medicaid payments per enrollee: $4,168 (4th lowest)
> Pct. of weekly wages covered by unemployment benefits: 28.4% (9th lowest)
> No. of months of TANF received: 30.4 (20th lowest)
> Avg. TANF cash assistance per month: $237 (13th lowest)

While the budget that Governor Rick Scott signed in April contained $1 billion more in funds for public education than the previous budget, the plan slashed spending for a variety of projects ranging from health care to economic development in low-income areas. The state implemented a controversial law in 2011, mandating drug testing for welfare recipients, although the program is currently in legal limbo. While the governor touted the plan as a way to prevent welfare abuse, the law ended up costing taxpayers about $46,000 more than it saved them, as only 108 people out of the 4,086 who took the test actually failed it. Despite these measures, the governor has already pushed through business friendly tax cuts and has proposed lower business taxes for 2013.

6. South Carolina
> Average pension benefits: $18,263 (18th lowest)
> Total per pupil spending: $9,143 (tied for 16th lowest)
> Medicaid payments per enrollee: $5,181 (17th lowest)
> Pct. of weekly wages covered by unemployment benefits: 32.3% (17th lowest)
> No. of months of TANF received: 23.7 (10th lowest)
> Avg. TANF cash assistance per month: $204 (4th lowest)

South Carolina does a very poor job in spreading wealth. It spent far less than the national average in a variety of programs. The state’s limited tax revenue in recent years might explain its lower spending. South Carolina’s state and local tax burden in 2010 was 8.4%, 10th lowest in the U.S. That year, the state’s education spending was also lower than the average national spending, at just $9,143 per student compared to $10,615 per student nationwide. South Carolina was also one of the worst states at assisting needy families, providing families enrolled in TANF an average of just $204 a month for an average of just under 24 months — both among the worst in the U.S. During 2009, per enrollee spending on Medicaid was also below the U.S. average of $5,527.