States With the Most (and Least) Government Benefits

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5. Alaska
> Average pension benefits: $23,795 (15th highest)
> Total per pupil spending: $16,674 (2nd highest)
> Medicaid payments per enrollee: $9,310 (the highest)
> Tax collections per capita: $7,708 (the highest)

Alaskans paid more state taxes than any other state in 2011. Considering their high incomes and the state’s low poverty rate, Alaska residents may have been able to afford it. Median household income in the state was $67,712 in 2012, higher than all but two other states. Due in part to high taxes, the state’s revenue in 2011 was $17,630 per capita, by far the highest in the nation that year. During the 12 months through the third quarter of last year, however, Alaska’s unemployed received $250 per week, on average, relatively small compared to the rest of the U.S. Additionally, more than one in five people in Alaska did not have health insurance in 2012, more than nearly any other state. Overall, however, Alaskans have access to very generous benefits. For families living in poverty, the federal food stamp program, together with Alaska’s welfare system, can cover families for more than 80% of the federal poverty level and the highest combined benefit as of 2013.

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4. Massachusetts
> Average pension benefits: $29,067 (9th highest)
> Total per pupil spending: $13,941 (7th highest)
> Medicaid payments per enrollee: $6,841 (12th highest)
> Tax collections per capita: $3,361 (9th highest)

Massachusetts had $6,832 per person in state revenue as of fiscal 2011, more than all but eight other states. Much of this likely went to support the state’s various social safety net programs. Per pupil spending on K-12 schools was the seventh highest in the nation that year, while the average annual benefit payment to state and local pension beneficiaries was ninth-highest in the U.S. The state was also a high spender on Medicaid, paying $6,841 per enrollee as of fiscal 2010, 12th most in the nation. However, this may have been in part due to the high cost of health care in the state. As of the most recent quarter, only care in Alaska was more expensive, according to MERIC. Despite the high health care costs, just 3.9% of the state’s population did not have health insurance in 2012, the lowest percentage of any state. The state’s 2006 health care reforms, often considered a model for the ACA, are likely the reason for the high coverage rates in the state.

3. Connecticut
> Average pension benefits: $35,079 (the highest)
> Total per pupil spending: $15,600 (6th highest)
> Medicaid payments per enrollee: $7,561 (7th highest)
> Tax collections per capita: $3,754 (5th highest)

Connecticut pension beneficiaries received generous payments in 2011 of more than $35,000 on average — the highest in the country. Connecticut was among the highest spenders on education in 2011, spending more than $5,000 more per pupil than the national average. Teacher salaries and benefits were among the highest at that time as well. Connecticut residents were also among the wealthiest in the nation as of 2012, with more than 11% earning $200,000 or more per year, the highest proportion nationally.

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2. New York
> Average pension benefits: $30,871 (5th highest)
> Total per pupil spending: $19,076 (the highest)
> Medicaid payments per enrollee: $8,910 (2nd highest)
> Tax collections per capita: $3,497 (8th highest)

New York was one of the top benefit spenders in the nation on a wide range of state programs. New York spent $8,910 per Medicaid enrollee in fiscal 2010, trailing only Alaska. In 2012, Governor Andrew Cuomo petitioned the federal government to allow the state to keep some of the billions of dollars its Medicaid redesign saved. However, a decision on whether to allow the state to reinvest this money within its own health system is pending. In addition to its high Medicaid expenses, New York also led the nation in per pupil spending as of fiscal 2011, at more than $19,000. TANF benefit levels were among the highest in the nation as well last year, due in part to a state program that includes a number of different components, including a variable amount for rent that well exceeds what some states give in TANF benefits. Of course, New York must also raise enough taxes to be able to provide these services. The state collected $3,500 in fiscal 2011, eighth-most in the U.S.

1. Rhode Island
> Average pension benefits: $31,548 (3rd highest)
> Total per pupil spending: $13,815 (9th highest)
> Medicaid payments per enrollee: $8,229 (5th highest)
> Tax collections per capita: $2,603 (18th highest)

Rhode Island was one of just six states to pay pension beneficiaries more than $30,000 in fiscal year 2011; the state paid $31,548 on average. In November 2011, state legislators enacted the Retirement Security Act, which introduced considerable reforms to the state’s pension program. The act was designed to lower the state’s overall pension liabilities, which were projected to increase under the previous system. Rhode Islanders received another relatively generous benefit. The jobless received unemployment checks worth nearly 40% of the typical weekly wage on average over the 12 months through the third quarter of last year, among the best compensation nationally.

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