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Receipt of Government Supports Varies Widely by State

Authors: Heather Koball and Ayana Douglas-Hall
Publication Date: September 2004
Children in low-income families

Figure 1: Children in low-income families

Low-income families face very different access to government programs depending on the states in which they live 1. State choices in implementation of federal policy can encourage or restrict access to government programs that offer important supports to low-income families. At the same time, although 37 percent of U.S. children live in low-income families, the low-income rate varies tremendously across states. For example, the state with the lowest percent of children in low-income families is Maryland at 20 percent. The state with the highest percent is Arkansas at 53 percent (see Table) 2.

Government Supports Vary Across States

There are several federal and state government programs that provide important supports to low-income families, such as food stamps, public health insurance, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF); however, states have wide discretion over how these programs are implemented. This discretion can lead to vastly different levels in the use of these programs by low-income families.

Food Program

Low-income children receiving food stamps

Figure 2: Low-income children receiving food stamps

The food stamps program is subject to federal eligibility rules; however, states have wide discretion over application and recertification procedures, which impacts enrollment in this program. Nationwide, 28 percent of children in low-income families receive food stamps, but this rate varies from a low of 13 percent in Nevada to a high of 40 percent in West Virginia (the District of Columbia is higher at 49 percent) (see Table). There is no clear pattern of food stamp use across states (see Map 2). Much of the southeast has high rates of food stamp participation with the exception of North Carolina, Georgia, Virginia, and Florida. Many western states have low rates of food stamp enrollment, with the exception of Oregon, Montana, and North Dakota.

Cash Assistance

Low-income children receiving TANF

Figure 3: Low-income children receiving TANF

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) cash assistance is primarily a state-run program, although it is subject to some federal rules. TANF receipt is quite low among children in low-income families, only 12 percent of children nationwide receive TANF. Again, this varies quite dramatically across states, from 3 percent in Idaho to 25 percent in Rhode Island (the District of Columbia is higher at 35 percent) (See Table). Interestingly, the lowest rates of TANF receipt are concentrated in southeastern states, where there is a fairly high rate of food stamp use. On the other hand, many of the western states with low food stamp use also have the lowest rates of TANF receipt. Northeastern states show the highest rates of TANF receipt (see Map 3).

Public Health

Low-income children receiving public health insurance

Figure 4: Low-income children receiving public health insurance

50-state comparisons

Figure 5: 50-state comparisons

Public health insurance, such as Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), provide free or low-cost health insurance to children in low-income families. Because of state differences in application procedures and eligibility, use of these health insurance programs can vary greatly. Across the United States, almost half (47 percent) of children in low-income families receive public health insurance; however, this varies from 27 percent receiving public health insurance in Colorado and Nevada to more than twice as many (64 percent) receiving it in Vermont (the District of Columbia is higher at 70 percent) (see Table). Not surprisingly, many of the western states in which low-income children are least likely to receive public health insurance also have the highest percent of low-income children who are uninsured 3.

Endnotes

Estimates in this fact sheet were prepared by Heather Koball and Ayana Douglas-Hall of NCCP based on the U.S Current Population Survey (CPS), Annual Social and economic Supplement for March 2001-2003; final figures represent the average data over calendar years 2000, 2001, and 2002. Rates of receipt of public benefits derived from CPS data are not comparable to those derived from administrative data sources (e.g., the figures reported in NCCP’s 50-State Policy Database).

1. Low-income is defined as income below twice the poverty level, which research suggests is the minimum necessary to meet basic needs. The federal poverty level was $18,850 for a family of four in 2004.

2. Koball, H. & Douglas-Hall, A. (2004). Rate of children in low-income families varies widely by state. New York, NY: National Center for Children in Poverty, Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.

3. Koball, H. & Douglas-Hall, A. (2004). Parental employment does not guarantee health insurance for children. New York, NY: National Center for Children in Poverty, Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.