Special Report

States Where Welfare Supports the Fewest Poor Families

The share of poor families who receive welfare in the United States through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (TANF) has fallen dramatically in the last 20 years. Today, most poor families do not receive welfare.

The 1996 overhaul of the U.S. welfare system introduced TANF — block grant funds from the federal government that gave states greater discretion over the distribution of these resources. Since then, the proportion of needy families receiving cash assistance nationwide has fallen from 68 in every 100 families living in poverty to just 23 in 100 in 2015. The decline can be partially attributed to budgetary decisions by state officials under the relatively flexible TANF rules. Also, because the block grant has not been adjusted for inflation, it has lost a third of its value since it was introduced.

24/7 Wall St. reviewed the TANF-to-poverty ratio — which measures the number of families receiving benefits for every 100 families living in poverty — in every state from the Urban Institute. In its May 2017 report, “Why Does Cash Welfare Depend on Where You Live?,” the policy think tank analyzed data from the government and a variety of other sources.

In an interview with 24/7 Wall St., Heather Hahn, senior fellow at the Urban Institute and lead author of the research report, said, “States are under no obligation to provide assistance to anyone.” Due primarily to such factors as political culture, budget considerations, eligibility rules, and according to Urban Institute’s findings demographics, provisions for needy families under the TANF welfare program vary dramatically by state.

Click here to see the states where welfare supports the fewest poor families.
Click here to see the states where welfare supports the most poor families.
Click here to see our detailed findings and methodology.