States Where Welfare Supports the Fewest Poor Families

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Since the creation of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) in 1996, the program’s reach has fallen dramatically. While in its first year 68 in every 100 poor families nationwide received TANF benefits, just 23 in every 100 poor families did as of 2017.

A federal block grant, TANF provides states a great degree of flexibility in determining the generosity, restrictiveness, and duration of benefits. As a result, the TANF-to-poverty ratio varies greatly throughout the United States, from 65 in every 100 poor families receiving benefits to just 4 in every 100 families. 

To determine the states where welfare supports the fewest (and the most) poor families, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the TANF-to-poverty ratio — the number of TANF cases relative to the number of families with children living below the poverty line — from the nonpartisan research institute Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Each state may enact its own TANF policies, which explains the variations from state to state. Some states are less generous in the benefit amount, some more restrictive in who is eligible, and some would provide benefits for shorter duration. Each state can determine the maximum monthly amount. The average benefit for a single-parent family of three across all states is $454.

States with more wide-reaching TANF programs tend to have greater access to other public assistance programs, such as food stamps and unemployment insurance, as well. Many of the states with the highest TANF-to-poverty ratios are also among the best states to be unemployed.

TANF recipiency is also positively correlated with wealth, and states with the highest and lowest TANF recipiency ratios tend to be among America’s richest and poorest states, respectively.

Click here to see the full list of states where welfare supports the fewest (and most) poor families.
Click here to see our detailed findings and methodology.