States Where Welfare Supports the Fewest Poor Families

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States Where Welfare Supports the Fewest Poor Families

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10. Indiana
> TANF-to-poverty ratio: 8 for every 100 poor families
> Median household income: $50,532 (16th lowest)
> Maximum income for initial eligibility: $378 (5th lowest)
> Maximum monthly benefit: $288 (12th lowest)

Only about eight out of every 100 Indiana families living in poverty receive cash benefits from TANF, versus the national proportion of 23 in 100 needy families. In keeping with the national trend, the share of TANF beneficiaries has dropped dramatically over the last two decades. The share of poor families benefitting from basic cash assistance in Indiana is down from 61 for every 100 in 1996.

Like many other states where welfare supports the fewest families, Indiana’s welfare system is not especially generous. For example, a family struggling to make ends meet in Indiana can only receive benefits under the TANF program for a maximum of 24 months, one of the lowest such limits of all states.

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9. North Carolina
> TANF-to-poverty ratio: 8 for every 100 poor families
> Median household income: $47,830 (10th lowest)
> Maximum income for initial eligibility: $681 (22nd lowest)
> Maximum monthly benefit: $272 (7th lowest)

While TANF rules apply to everyone the same regardless of race, states with less generous and more restrictive TANF policies tend to have larger African Americans populations. North Carolina is no exception. Nearly 22% of the state’s 10million residents are black, one of the largest shares of any state and well above the comparable 13% share of the U.S. population.

As is generally the case, the modest benefits available to needy families in the state are nowhere near enough to alleviate poverty. The maximum benefit a poor family can receive is $272 a month, seventh lowest of all states. Only 9.2% of the state’s total TANF spending is in the form of cash payments, one of the smallest shares of any state and well below the 24.6% national share.

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8. Arizona
> TANF-to-poverty ratio: 8 for every 100 poor families
> Median household income: $51,492 (20th lowest)
> Maximum income for initial eligibility: $585 (16th lowest)
> Maximum monthly benefit: $277 (10th lowest)

Some 17.4% of Arizona residents live in poverty, one of the largest poverty rates of any state and well above the 14.7% national poverty rate. Of the state’s families with children living below the poverty line, only about eight in 100 receive welfare benefits, down from 42 out of 100 in 1996, and 29 per 100 in 2001. In neighboring California, 65 out of every 100 families with children living in poverty receive cash benefits from TANF.

Cash assistance is one of the core spending goals of the TANF block grant. Yet in Arizona it accounts for only about 6% of the $468.9 million spent under the welfare program, the second smallest share of any state and well below the 25% national share.

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7. Idaho
> TANF-to-poverty ratio: 8 for every 100 poor families
> Median household income: $48,275 (11th lowest)
> Maximum income for initial eligibility: $648 (19th lowest)
> Maximum monthly benefit: $309 (16th lowest)

When TANF was introduced in 1996, the size of each state’s federal grant was determined by its historical spending under the old welfare program. Because Idaho’s spending before 1996 was so low, welfare benefits only covered about 32 poor Idaho families out of every 100 in 1996, well below the comparable 68 per 100 nationwide ratio at the time. Partially because Idaho has broad discretion over TANF, today only eight in 100 poor families in the state directly benefit from TANF cash assistance. On top of the state’s limited TANF assistance, Idaho is also one of 19 states that have not implemented Medicaid expansion.

While many states with TANF programs that help relatively few families in poverty are also home to high concentrations of African Americans, Idaho is an exception. Only 0.5% of the state’s population is black, the second smallest share of any state.

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6. Arkansas
> TANF-to-poverty ratio: 7 for every 100 poor families
> Median household income: $41,995 (2nd lowest)
> Maximum income for initial eligibility: $278.75 (3rd lowest)
> Maximum monthly benefit: $204 (3rd lowest)

Though TANF was enacted by President Bill Clinton, his home state has one of the least generous welfare policies in the country. Only 6.4% of the $144.3 million spent in Arkansas under the TANF program goes towards cash assistance for needy families. The maximum monthly benefit for a family of three is only $204, the third lowest amount of any state in the country.

While welfare benefits have declined nationwide since 1996, the rate of decline has been far faster in Arkansas. Two-decades ago, 33 in 100 poor Arkansas families benefitted from welfare, about half the comparable 68 per 100 family national ratio. Today, only seven in 100 poor families in the state benefit, roughly a third of the 23 in 100 national proportion.