U.S. state governments spent about $390 billion on the welfare of their residents in 2015. Welfare represents about 26% of total state spending, the largest form of state-level spending by a large margin. The category includes cash assistance, public housing, and health expenses like Medicaid.
States differ not just in their economic and demographic makeup, but also in their finances, politics, policies, and procedures — all affect the size of state spending on public assistance programs. At the state level, per capita welfare spending ranges from just over $1,000 to more than $2,700.
While cash assistance programs are the ones most often associated with welfare spending, they represent an extremely small share of low-income support systems – less than 1% of total state welfare spending.
Such programs — including Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF; Supplemental Security Income, or SSI; and the Federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program — are mostly funded at the federal level. At the state level, health spending, and particularly payment to health providers through Medicaid, represents the largest share of state welfare costs.
24/7 Wall St. reviewed per-capita state government welfare expenditure figures from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2015 State and Local Government Expenditures data. States with high welfare expenditures tend to be home to higher shares of elderly residents and higher tax collections per capita. Less affluent states tend to rely far more on the federal government to fund welfare programs. Our list is ranked in order from the lowest per capita state welfare expenditure to the highest.