Which US States Have The Most Welfare Benefit Programs? [Interactive Map]

 @lisamahapatra on August 22 2013 5:44 AM
Welfare Map
Scroll down for an interactive map that compares the size of welfare benefits programs in U.S. states and Washington DC. IBTimes/Lisa Mahapatra

Welfare benefits programs have seen the most expansion in Vermont, Hawaii and Washington, D.C., in the time period between 1995 and 2013, according to a just-released report from the CATO institute.

Alaska, Maine and Virginia have seen their welfare programs shrink the most in the same time frame.

There are 126 programs targeted at low-income people in the U.S., according to the CATO report, and 72 of these programs provide cash or in-kind benefits to individuals.

The CATO report looked at the full package of welfare benefits available in each state and in Washington, D.C., in 1995 and 2003, excluding Medicaid, and found that welfare programs had shrunk in some states and expanded in others.

For example, in Hawaii, the state with the largest welfare benefit programs, a hypothetical household that is eligible for every single welfare program and successfully manages to gain access to aid, could receive up to $49,175 in aid.

However, such a household is strictly hypothetical as it is nearly impossible for any household to be eligible for every welfare program.

And few eligible households actually receive all the benefits they are eligible for, according to Elise Gould, an economist with Economic Policy Institute.

“If you look at the lowest quintile, you see a very different story,” she said.

The poorest fifth of all U.S. households receive on average $4,633 from welfare programs, not including Medicaid, according to data from the Congressional Budget Office, said Gould. Labor income, or income from work, is on average $12,871 for the same set of households.

Which means that most households receive more income from work than they do from welfare benefits.

This $4,633 of aid received by the average low-income U.S. household is nowhere near CATO’s $47,175 sum total of Hawaiian benefits. It isn’t even close to the sum total of all benefits available in Mississippi, the state on the bottom of CATO’s list -- $16,984. Which is why this total-benefits-available number isn’t a very good way to gauge what benefits actual low-income households are receiving.

However, the CATO report does give one an idea of which states provide better benefits to their residents, and how this has changed since 1995.

Here’s a map of U.S. states, color coded by how much total welfare benefits packages have increased or decreased from 1995 to 2013. Click on any state for more info:

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