States Where Welfare Supports the Fewest Poor Families

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Source: Sean Pavone / Getty Images

5. Georgia
> TANF-to-poverty ratio: 5.9 for every 100 poor families
> Median household income: $56,183 (19th lowest)
> Max. income for eligibility (family of 3): $514 per month (11th lowest)
> Max. monthly benefit: $280 (9th lowest)

Just 6 in every 100 poor families in Georgia receive TANF benefits, the fifth lowest ratio of any state. Two factors partially explain the low welfare recipiency is the state. To be eligible for TANF benefits in Georgia, a single-parent family of three must make no more than $514 a month, the 11th lowest income limit of any state and far below the $881 national average. Additionally, while a majority of states allow residents to receive TANF benefits for a maximum of 60 months, Georgia limits its recipients to 48 months.

While state TANF policies are race neutral, states with low welfare recipiency tend to have disproportionately large minority populations. In Georgia, 31.1% of the population is African American, the third largest share of any state.

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4. Wyoming
> TANF-to-poverty ratio: 5.6 for every 100 poor families
> Median household income: $60,434 (19th highest)
> Max. income for eligibility (family of 3): $1,259 per month (11th highest)
> Max. monthly benefit: $660 (5th highest)

While the TANF-to-poverty ratio increased more in Wyoming than in any state other than Colorado over the past 10 years — from 3 families on welfare for every 100 poor families to 6 in every 100 — it is still the fourth lowest ratio of any state today. Similarly, just 6.3% of Wyoming residents receive SNAP, or food stamp benefits, tied as the smallest share nationwide and far less than the 11.7% national recipiency rate.

While states with lower access to TANF tend to also have less generous benefits, Wyoming has one of the highest benefit caps in the country. An eligible single-parent family of three can receive up to $660 a month in TANF benefits, more than the $454 national average and the fifth highest maximum monthly benefit of any state.

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3. Arkansas
> TANF-to-poverty ratio: 4.6 for every 100 poor families
> Median household income: $45,869 (3rd lowest)
> Max. income for eligibility (family of 3): $278 per month (3rd lowest)
> Max. monthly benefit: $204 (3rd lowest)

Just 5 in every 100 families living below the poverty line in Arkansas receive TANF benefits, the third lowest such figure of any state and far below the national ratio of 23 in every 100 poor families.

Two factors impacting welfare recipiency in Arkansas are the state’s low income limit and short maximum benefit duration. In Arkansas, the maximum income for initial eligibility is just $278, the lowest of any state, and well below the $881 nationwide average maximum. Additionally, Arkansas limits its recipients to 24 months of benefits, the shortest maximum duration of any state other than Connecticut and Arizona and well below the 60 month federal limit.

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2. Texas
> TANF-to-poverty ratio: 4.4 for every 100 poor families
> Median household income: $59,206 (23rd highest)
> Max. income for eligibility (family of 3): $401 per month (7th lowest)
> Max. monthly benefit: $286 (11th lowest)

Just 4 in every 100 poor families in Texas receive TANF benefits, the second lowest ratio of any state and far below the national figure of 23 in every 100 poor families. One reason for the low welfare recipiency in Texas may be the state’s income and asset limits. To be eligible for TANF benefits in Texas, a single-parent family of three must earn no more than $401 a month, far below the national average maximum of $881 and the seventh lowest of any state.

In addition to income, most states determine eligibility for public benefit programs according to the total value of assets in one’s possession. In Texas, residents are only eligible for welfare if they own $1,000 or less in assets, tied with eight other states as the lowest asset limit in the country.

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1. Louisiana
> TANF-to-poverty ratio: 3.9 for every 100 poor families
> Median household income: $46,145 (4th lowest)
> Max. income for eligibility (family of 3): $360 per month (4th lowest)
> Max. monthly benefit: $240 (5th lowest)

Some 19.7% of the population of Louisiana lives below the poverty line, a higher poverty rate than any state other than Mississippi. Just 4 in every 100 poor families in the state receive TANF benefits — the lowest ratio of any state and far below the national ratio of 23 in every 100. One factor contributing to the state’s low welfare recipiency is the low income cap for TANF recipients of just $360, the fourth lowest of any state. Nationwide, the average single-parent family of three can earn up to $881 a month.

While state TANF policies are race neutral, states with low TANF-to-poverty ratios tend to have disproportionately large minority populations. In Louisiana, 32.1% of the population is African American, the second largest share of any state.

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