The States Doling Out the Best (and Worst) Benefits

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5. Alabama
> Average pension benefits: $20,216 (18th highest)
> Total per pupil spending: $8,881 (13th lowest)
> Medicaid payments per enrollee: $4,081 (3rd lowest)
> Pct. of weekly wages covered by unemployment benefits: 26.1% (6th lowest)
> No. of months of TANF received: 25.3 (12th lowest)
> Avg. TANF cash assistance per month: $292 (18th lowest)

In the third quarter of 2012, Alabama covered, through unemployment insurance, just 26.1% of residents’ prior weekly wages. This was the sixth-lowest percentage in the nation and more than seven percentage points below the national average of 32.6%. In 2009, Medicaid payments per enrollee in Alabama were lower than all but two others states. More recently, low health care costs may help drive reduce the expenses associated with medicaid. In the third quarter of 2012, health care in Alabama was less expensive than any other state in the nation.

Also Read:  The 10 Most Expensive Cities to Buy a Home

4. Arizona
> Average pension benefits: $19,406 (22nd highest)
> Total per pupil spending: $7,848 (3rd lowest)
> Medicaid payments per enrollee: $4,846 (9th lowest)
> Pct. of weekly wages covered by unemployment benefits: 24.6% (2nd lowest)
> No. of months of TANF received: 36.9 (18th highest)
> Avg. TANF cash assistance per month: $209 (5th lowest)

According to a number of measures, Arizona was one of the nation’s least generous states. In the third quarter of 2012, unemployment insurance benefits covered, on average, just 24.6% of residents’ previous weekly wages, the second lowest rate in the nation. In 2010, the average family enrolled in TANF received just over $200 a month. This was worse than all but a few states. The state was also among the nation’s worst for both per pupil spending and Medicaid spending, although the East Valley Tribune has reported that Governor Jan Brewer is considering whether to expand Medicaid enough to receive a “generous ‘enhanced’ funding rate from Washington.”

3. Tennessee
> Average pension benefits: N/A
> Total per pupil spending: $8,065 (5th lowest)
> Medicaid payments per enrollee: $4,742 (8th lowest)
> Pct. of weekly wages covered by unemployment benefits: 28.8% (11th lowest)
> No. of months of TANF received: 41.5 (11th highest)
> Avg. TANF cash assistance per month: $165 (2nd lowest)

Tennessee had the nation’s third-lowest tax burden in 2010, when residents paid just 7.7% of per capita income in state and local taxes. Low taxes may have limited the state’s spending on education programs and on Medicaid. Tennessee spent just $8,065 per pupil in fiscal 2010, while Medicaid payments per beneficiary equaled just $4,742 — both among the lowest figures in the nation. The state also gave little assistance to needy families, at an average of $165 for 41.5 months, and covered less than 30% of previous wages for those receiving unemployment insurance. Last year, Tennessee had greater income inequality than 80% of all states.

2. Arkansas
> Average pension benefits: $13,253 (4th lowest)
> Total per pupil spending: $9,143 (tied-16th lowest)
> Medicaid payments per enrollee: $4,639 (6th lowest)
> Pct. of weekly wages covered by unemployment benefits: 40.8% (7th highest)
> No. of months of TANF received: 9.4 (2nd lowest)
> Avg. TANF cash assistance per month: $156 (the lowest)

Although the state’s median household income was the nation’s third-lowest in 2011, at $38,758, Arkansas is among the nation’s least generous state in terms of spreading wealth. Families in the state’s TANF program received an average of $156 a month, lower than any other state in the U.S. Only one other state, Idaho, provided families with fewer months of benefits than Arkansas, where the average family was eligible for less than 10 months. These are especially problematic in a state where nearly 20% of residents lived below the poverty line, more than all but three other states.

1. Oklahoma
> Average pension benefits: $15,326 (11th lowest)
> Total per pupil spending: $7,896 (4th lowest)
> Medicaid payments per enrollee: $4,848 (10th lowest)
> Pct. of weekly wages covered by unemployment benefits: 34.9% (23rd lowest)
> No. of months of TANF received: 24.6 (11th lowest)
> Avg. TANF cash assistance per month: $198 (3rd lowest)

In 2010, Oklahoma spent under $8,000 a year on its students, the fourth-lowest amount in the U.S. That same year, the average eligible family received less than $200 a month in TANF benefits, the third-lowest amount in the U.S. and barely half the U.S. average of $392. Earlier this year, the state passed a law requiring some adult TANF applicants to pass a drug test in order to receive benefits. Oklahoma provided residents receiving unemployment insurance with an average of just $270, equal to less than 35% of their previous weekly wages. Though slightly above the U.S. average, this was less than half of all states.

Michael B. Sauter, Alexander E.M. Hess and Samuel Weigley

Click here to see the 10 states doling out the best benefits

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