States Where Welfare Supports the Fewest Poor Families

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5. Oklahoma
> TANF-to-poverty ratio: 7 for every 100 poor families
> Median household income: $48,568 (12th lowest)
> Maximum income for initial eligibility: $824 (24th highest)
> Maximum monthly benefit: $292 (14th lowest)

A relatively poor state, Oklahoma’s median annual household income of $48,568 is about $7,000 below the national median. Additionally, 16.1% of state residents live below the poverty line, more than the 14.7% U.S. poverty rate. Despite lower than typical incomes and more widespread financial hardship, Oklahoma has one of the least generous and most restrictive welfare programs of any state. Only about seven in every 100 needy families in the state receive cash assistance from the TANF program, less than a third of the 23 in 100 nationwide TANF-to-poverty ratio. Just across the state’s western border in New Mexico, 22 in 100 poor families receive welfare benefits.

Unlike most states on this list, Oklahoma allocates a majority of welfare funds to core TANF goals intended to directly support needy families. For example, 35.7% of spending under TANF goes to child care-related programs, the fourth largest such share nationwide.

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4. Georgia
> TANF-to-poverty ratio: 6 for every 100 poor families
> Median household income: $51,244 (19th lowest)
> Maximum income for initial eligibility: $514 (11th lowest)
> Maximum monthly benefit: $280 (11th lowest)

Only about six in 100 needy families in Georgia receive support from welfare, one of the smallest shares of any states. States with the least generous and most restrictive welfare benefit programs tend to have larger African American populations, and Georgia is no exception. Some 31.3% of Georgia’s population is black, the third largest share of any state. Different political positions on the role of government in supporting low income families also may help explain Georgia’s restrictive welfare program. In addition to the state’s government limited TANF assistance Georgia is one of a minority of states to not implement Medicaid expansion.

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3. Texas
> TANF-to-poverty ratio: 5 for every 100 poor families
> Median household income: $55,653 (22nd highest)
> Maximum income for initial eligibility: $401 (7th lowest)
> Maximum monthly benefit: $277 (10th lowest)

Texas has one of the least generous and most restrictive TANF policies of any state in the country. Only 5.8% of the Texas TANF budget is spent in the form of direct cash assistance to needy families, the third smallest share of any state and well below the 24.6% average share nationwide. If welfare recipients in Texas do not meet the state’s established work requirements, TANF benefits can be completely revoked. In neighboring New Mexico, non-compliance is penalized by a reduction in benefits rather than full revocation.

The cash assistance some needy families in Texas do receive is relatively small. The maximum monthly TANF benefit for a family of three in the state is only $277 dollars, lower than in the vast majority of other states.

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2. Wyoming
> TANF-to-poverty ratio: 5 for every 100 poor families
> Median household income: $60,214 (17th highest)
> Maximum income for initial eligibility: $835 (21st highest)
> Maximum monthly benefit: $635 (6th highest)

Only about five in 100 needy families in Wyoming receive welfare benefits, the second smallest share of any state. Like many states on this list, Wyoming’s less generous and more restrictive TANF policies likely reflect policy makers’ view on the role of government. Wyoming is one of 19 states to choose not to expand Medicaid benefits, which would have provided health care coverage to a larger share of needy families.

While welfare helps relatively few needy families in Wyoming, the benefits available to eligible families are larger than is typical in most states. The maximum monthly benefit for a family of three in Wyoming is $635, more money than in all but five other states.

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1. Louisiana
> TANF-to-poverty ratio: 4 for every 100 poor families
> Median household income: $45,727 (7th lowest)
> Maximum income for initial eligibility: $360 (4th lowest)
> Maximum monthly benefit: $240 (5th lowest)

With only four families receiving TANF for every 100 in poverty, Louisiana’s cash assistance for needy families is the most limited of all states. As the Urban Institute senior fellow Heather Hahn noted, state officials, who are under no obligation to reduce poverty in their jurisdictions, often threaten to end welfare programs in their constituency. In Louisiana, the low level of cash assistance means the state’s welfare program is all but non existent.

Louisiana’s poverty rate, which at 19.6% is third highest of all states, has changed little since the federal government introduced TANF 20 years ago. Over that time, the state has steadily reduced its investment in welfare and other programs designed to help needy families. Approximately 7,000 Louisiana families received cash benefits in 2015, versus more than 70,000 in 1996. According to a recent analysis by policy think tank the Louisiana Policy Project, state officials have used the welfare dollars to fill holes partially caused by tax cuts.