States With the Most (and Least) Government Benefits

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5. Florida
> Average pension benefits: $21,304 (23rd lowest)
> Total per pupil spending: $8,887 (13th lowest)
> Medicaid payments per enrollee: $4,434 (5th lowest)
> Tax collections per capita: $1,718 (7th lowest)

Florida had one of the lowest rates of health insurance coverage in the country as of 2012. At least part of this likely has to do with the state’s relatively older population. Older U.S. residents are automatically covered by the federally funded Medicare program. However, according to the Kaiser Foundation, when excluding people over 65, the state has the second-lowest rate of health insurance coverage. State residents covered by Medicaid received an average of just $4,434 per person, more than $1,000 less than the U.S. average. The state’s unemployment insurance program was also one of the least generous in the country, with the average weekly benefit accounting for just 28.2% of weekly wages, compared to a national rate of 32.9%.

ALSO READ: States About To Lose The Most Unemployment Insurance

4. Oklahoma
> Average pension benefits: $18,558 (12th lowest)
> Total per pupil spending: $7,587 (3rd lowest)
> Medicaid payments per enrollee: $4,782 (6th lowest)
> Tax collections per capita: $2,057 (14th lowest)

Oklahoma spent less than $8,000 per public school student in 2011, less than any other state except for Idaho and Utah. In fiscal year 2011, the state’s per pupil expenditures on educator salaries and employee benefits were also among the lowest in the nation — $4,361 and $1,402, respectively. Additionally, 18.4% of state residents didn’t have health insurance in 2012, more than all but four other states. In 2008, the state acknowledged only a minimal obligation for health insurance for retirees. As of 2012, the state did not fund any retiree health insurance programs, unlike the majority of states.

3. Alabama
> Average pension benefits: $21,921 (24th highest)
> Total per pupil spending: $8,813 (12th lowest)
> Medicaid payments per enrollee: $4,150 (4th lowest)
> Tax collections per capita: $1,801 (10th lowest)

Alabama was among the lowest spenders on a number of programs. Unemployment insurance benefits averaged just $206 per week, or barely 26% of workers’ average wages. This was less than all but a few other states. TANF benefit levels for a single-parent family of three were also among the least generous in the nation. Additionally, Medicaid spending per enrollee as of fiscal 2010 totalled just $4,150, less than in all but three other states. Alabama elected not to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, which offers states the opportunity to expand the program at little cost. Last year, the state made other changes to Medicaid, replacing its fee-for-service model with a managed care system, in which providers receive a fixed payment per patient.

ALSO READ: America’s Most (and Least) Healthy States

2. Mississippi
> Average pension benefits: $20,891 (20th lowest)
> Total per pupil spending: $7,928 (5th lowest)
> Medicaid payments per enrollee: $5,005 (11th lowest)
> Tax collections per capita: $2,257 (19th lowest)

In 2012, 24.2% of people in Mississippi lived below the poverty line, more than any other state. Nearly one in five households relied on food stamps that year, second-most nationally. While state residents rely heavily on federal benefit programs, they are less able to rely on state-level benefit programs. Mississippi residents relying on TANF have received among the smallest payments in the country since 1996. In addition, compensation for teachers in Mississippi’s K-12 system was among the worst in the country in fiscal year 2011. On a per-pupil basis, educator wages were lower than $5,000, less than all but three states. State spending on employee benefits was also among the lowest nationally that year.

1. Tennessee
> Average pension benefits: $16,626 (9th lowest)
> Total per pupil spending: $8,242 (6th lowest)
> Medicaid payments per enrollee: $5,565 (20th lowest)
> Tax collections per capita: $1,761 (8th lowest)

No state ranks below Tennessee in providing benefits to its residents. A family of three, living with a single parent and with no other source of cash income, could receive just $185 per week in TANF benefits as of July 2013, lower than in any state but Mississippi. Even with SNAP benefits, such a family would receive benefits equal to just 43.7% of the poverty level, lower than in almost any other state. As of 2012, 17.9% of state residents lived below the poverty line, versus 15.9% of all Americans. The state was similarly sparse in spending on education, unemployment insurance benefits, and pension benefits. The average annual benefit payment to state and local workers with a pension was $16,626 in fiscal 2011. Last year, Tennessee decided to overhaul its pension system. Beginning in July, workers hired by the state will be eligible for a hybrid pension plan that requires contributions by both employees and the state.