States Where Welfare Supports the Fewest Poor Families
> TANF-to-poverty ratio: 8.2 for every 100 poor families
> Median household income: $52,225 (11th lowest)
> Max. income for eligibility (family of 3): $972 per month (17th highest)
> Max. monthly benefit: $309 (16th lowest)
While nationwide 23 in every 100 poor U.S. families receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits, or welfare, just 8 in every 100 poor families do in Idaho — despite Idaho being one of the poorer states. The typical household earns approximately $8,000 less a year than the U.S. median. Similarly, just 9.7% of state residents receive food stamps, compared to 11.7% of Americans nationwide.
One likely reason for this low access level is that Idaho is one of 19 states that requires residents to be actively searching for work in order to receive welfare benefits. While Idaho exempts recipients providing full-time care to a child under 12 weeks of age from this requirement, it does not exempt those who are ill or caring for someone unable to work, as is the case in many states.
> TANF-to-poverty ratio: 7.0 for every 100 poor families
> Median household income: $54,181 (17th lowest)
> Max. income for eligibility (family of 3): $378 per month (5th lowest)
> Max. monthly benefit: $288 (12th lowest)
Indiana’s low-income families have less access to welfare today than they did 10 years ago. Recipiency fell from 27 in every 100 poor families receiving TANF benefits in 2008, back then in line with national average, to just 7 in every 100, the ninth lowest ratio of any state today. The 74% drop in recipiency represents the largest decline of any state over the period.
Two factors are contributing to low welfare recipiency Indiana. First, the maximum monthly income for a single-parent family of three to be eligible for welfare is just $378, the fifth lowest income limit of any state. Second, the total value of assets allowed for eligibility is $1,000 or less, tied with eight other states as the lowest asset limit.
8. North Carolina
> TANF-to-poverty ratio: 6.7 for every 100 poor families
> Median household income: $52,752 (13th lowest)
> Max. income for eligibility (family of 3): $681 per month (21st lowest)
> Max. monthly benefit: $272 (7th lowest)
Just 7 in every 100 poor families in North Carolina receive TANF benefits, the eighth lowest welfare recipiency ratio of any state. The welfare benefits also are less generous than in other states. The maximum benefit for a single-parent family of three is just $272 a month, the seventh lowest of any state and far below the $454 national average.
TANF is administered as a federal block grant to allow states to allocate money to different programs as they see fit. Many states, however, use TANF funds for other purposes. North Carolina spends just 42.4% of its TANF funds on what the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities deems “core activities” — basic assistance, work activities, and work supports — below the 52.2% national figure. Just 7.2% is used for basic assistance, or cash benefits, the seventh smallest share of any state.
> TANF-to-poverty ratio: 6.1 for every 100 poor families
> Median household income: $56,581 (23rd lowest)
> Max. income for eligibility (family of 3): $585 per month (15th lowest)
> Max. monthly benefit: $278 (8th lowest)
Over the last 10 years, the TANF-to-poverty ratio in Arizona fell from 22 in every 100 poor families receiving welfare to just 6 in every 100 poor families, the second largest decline of any state over the period.
One factor contributing to the decline in welfare recipiency is the reduction in the maximum duration for which state residents are allowed to receive TANF benefits. While federal law limits TANF assistance to a maximum duration of 60 months, some states impose shorter limits. In 2016, Arizona cut its time limit from 24 to just 12 months, now the shortest maximum duration of any state.
> TANF-to-poverty ratio: 5.9 for every 100 poor families
> Median household income: $43,529 (2nd lowest)
> Max. income for eligibility (family of 3): $457 per month (9th lowest)
> Max. monthly benefit: $170 (the lowest)
While nationwide the TANF-to-poverty ratio fell 19.0% over the past 10 years, in Mississippi it fell 51.3% — the 10th largest decline of any state. Today, just 6 in every 100 poor families in Mississippi receive TANF benefits, a lower ratio than in all but five states.
In addition to their limited reach, welfare benefits in Mississippi are less generous than in other states. The maximum monthly TANF benefit for a single-parent family of three is just $170, far less than the $454 national average and the lowest of any state — even when adjusted for Mississippi’s low cost of living.