The States Doling Out the Best (and Worst) Benefits

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5. Alaska
> Average pension benefits: $18,905 (22nd lowest)
> Total per pupil spending: $15,783 (3rd highest)
> Medicaid payments per enrollee: $8,782 (3rd highest)
> Pct. of weekly wages covered by unemployment benefits: 25.8% (5th lowest)
> No. of months of TANF received: 43.2 (8th highest)
> Avg. TANF cash assistance per month: $591 (the highest)

In 2010, Alaska had a state and federal tax burden of just 7%, lower than any other state in the U.S. Despite a low tax burden, the state had the third-highest per student education spending as well as the nation’s third-highest per enrollee Medicaid spending. According to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Studies, “Alaska’s tendency toward comparatively high costs for health care was influenced by its isolation and small markets.” Alaska also provided families receiving TANF benefits with more cash per month on average than any other state, at $591. This high spending may have been influenced by the high cost of living in Alaska.

Also Read: The Best and Worst Run States in America

4. New York
> Average pension benefits: $18,782 (21st lowest)
> Total per pupil spending: $18,618 (the highest)
> Medicaid payments per enrollee: $8,960 (2nd highest)
> Pct. of weekly wages covered by unemployment benefits: 25.7% (4th lowest)
> No. of months of TANF received: 48.9(4th highest)
> Avg. TANF cash assistance per month: $537 (3rd highest)

New York was the nation’s leader in education spending in 2010, when it spent $18,618 per pupil, nearly $1,800 more than the next-highest state, New Jersey. That same fiscal year, the average family received 48.9 months of TANF benefits at an average of $537 per month — one of just five states to exceed $500 in monthly assistance. Increased spending on these programs may be partially driven by the cost of living in New York, which was higher than every state but Hawaii in the third quarter of 2012. The cost of health services in New York was also among the nation’s highest. As of 2009, New York spent the second-most of all states on Medicaid per enrollee. In January 2011, Governor Andrew Cuomo created the state’s Medicaid Redesign Team, which had, as of August, generated $17.1 billion in savings for the federal government.

3. Hawaii
> Average pension benefits: $23,579 (9th highest)
> Total per pupil spending: $11,754 (14th highest)
> Medicaid payments per enrollee: $5,140 (16th lowest)
> Pct. of weekly wages covered by unemployment benefits: 52.8% (the highest)
> No. of months of TANF received: 36.2 (tied for 22nd highest)
> Avg. TANF cash assistance per month: $559 (2nd highest)

In 2010, Hawaii provided residents receiving TANF benefits with an average of $559 per month, more than any state but Alaska. It was also the only state, in the 12 months ending in the third quarter of 2012, that provided recipients of unemployment insurance with more than half their previous weekly wages. Although Medicaid payments per enrollee in Hawaii were less than the national figure of $5,527, many residents receive coverage from the state’s PrePaid Health Care Act, which mandates employers provide health insurance “to employees who work at least twenty (20) hours per week and earn [at least $628] a month.” Last year, just 7.1% of Hawaii residents were uninsured versus 15.1% nationwide.

2. Pennsylvania
> Average pension benefits: $21,844 (13th highest)
> Total per pupil spending: $12,995 (10th highest)
> Medicaid payments per enrollee: $7,397 (9th highest)
> Pct. of weekly wages covered by unemployment benefits: 37.7% (16th highest)
> No. of months of TANF received: 54.8 (the highest)
> Avg. TANF cash assistance per month: $313 (21st lowest)

Pennsylvania was a top spender on both education and health programs. It spent nearly $13,000 per student, the 10th highest of all states, while Medicaid spending per enrollee of just about $7,400 was ninth highest. Additionally, eligible residents of the state received TANF benefits longer than all states, at an average of nearly 55 months. Families enrolled received an average of just $313, however, well below the U.S. average of $392. In October, according to the Philadelphia Enquirer, a bill was introduced to the state’s House of Representatives that aimed to withhold extra TANF benefits from families that add children while enrolled in the program — though several sponsors later removed their names from the bill.

1. Rhode Island
> Average pension benefits: $34,577 (2nd highest)
> Total per pupil spending: $13,699 (9th highest)
> Medicaid payments per enrollee: $8,566 (4th highest)
> Pct. of weekly wages covered by unemployment benefits: 43.4% (2nd highest)
> No. of months of TANF received: 44.5 (6th highest)
> Avg. TANF cash assistance per month: $416 (14th highest)

Rhode Island does more to spread wealth among its residents than any other state. In the third quarter of 2012, unemployment insurance in Rhode Island covered 43.4% of the recipients’ previous weekly wages, more than any state except for Hawaii. The state also provided the average eligible family with 44.5 months of TANF benefits — more than all but five states. In 2010, the average pension benefits under the Employee Retirement System was $34,577 — higher than all but one comparable state pension. But such benefits may soon be a thing of the past. In 2011, Rhode Island reformed its pension system by suspending cost of living adjustments and turning employees’ retirement plans into 401(k)-pension hybrid plans.

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