Personal Finance

15 States That Spend the Most on Welfare

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Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared on Commodity.com.

In its first year, the Biden administration has embarked on an aggressive domestic agenda intended to offer a variety of economic support to lower and middle-class Americans.

The American Rescue Plan, passed in March 2021, included direct payments to U.S. households, new investments into safety net programs like food stamps and unemployment, and increases to the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit.

The Biden administration followed this just a few weeks later with two proposals, the American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan, which would dramatically scale up federal spending on a variety of programs for infrastructure, job creation, education, child care, health, food assistance and tax relief.

Biden’s agenda has prioritized a strong role for the federal government, in offering financial support to needy Americans and creating pathways to the middle class.

This agenda would represent a new chapter for the U.S. welfare state, building beyond the New Deal programs introduced in the 1930s and the Great Society programs enacted in the 1960s. These earlier programs created a wide-ranging role for the government in protecting disadvantaged citizens from economic harm. Today, public welfare encompasses a variety of government programs whose benefits are contingent on need, such as Medicaid, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

Because these programs are typically based on demographic and economic factors, they have grown with shifts in the population and economy over time. According to the Census Bureau, in the last 20 years alone, state and local welfare spending has more than tripled in nominal dollars, rising from $233 billion nationally in 2000 to $743 billion in 2019.

To determine the states spending the most on public welfare, researchers at Commodity.com calculated total state and local welfare spending per person using the most recent data available from the U.S. Census Bureau. Public welfare spending includes cash assistance payments, vendor payments, and other uncategorized payments administered by state and local governments.

Here are the states spending the most on welfare.

15. Maine

Acadia National Park in Maine
Eric Urquhart / Shutterstock.com
  • State & local welfare spending per capita: $2,615
  • State & local welfare spending as a share of total spending: 25.6%
  • Total state & local welfare spending: $3,530,545,000
  • Cash assistance payments: $51,375,000
  • Vendor payments: $2,473,329,000
  • Other public welfare: $1,005,841,000

14. Kentucky

James Kirkikis / Shutterstock.com
  • State & local welfare spending per capita: $2,640
  • State & local welfare spending as a share of total spending: 25.3%
  • Total state & local welfare spending: $11,820,221,000
  • Cash assistance payments: $171,832,000
  • Vendor payments: $10,704,128,000
  • Other public welfare: $944,261,000

13. Delaware

Wilmington, Delaware
Paul Brady Photography / Shutterstock.com
  • State & local welfare spending per capita: $2,681
  • State & local welfare spending as a share of total spending: 20.5%
  • Total state & local welfare spending: $2,645,564,000
  • Cash assistance payments: $36,586,000
  • Vendor payments: $2,276,331,000
  • Other public welfare: $332,647,000

12. West Virginia

West Virginia
Sean Pavone / Shutterstock.com
  • State & local welfare spending per capita: $2,708
  • State & local welfare spending as a share of total spending: 25.7%
  • Total state & local welfare spending: $4,832,936,000
  • Cash assistance payments: $49,058,000
  • Vendor payments: $4,083,045,000
  • Other public welfare: $700,833,000

11. Louisiana

New Orleans, Louisiana at night
f11 photography / Shutterstock.com
  • State & local welfare spending per capita: $2,723
  • State & local welfare spending as a share of total spending: 24.8%
  • Total state & local welfare spending: $12,647,298,000
  • Cash assistance payments: $27,185,000
  • Vendor payments: $11,793,321,000
  • Other public welfare: $826,792,000

10. Pennsylvania

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania at dusk
f11photo / Shutterstock.com
  • State & local welfare spending per capita: $2,787
  • State & local welfare spending as a share of total spending: 22.3%
  • Total state & local welfare spending: $35,628,431,000
  • Cash assistance payments: $1,591,270,000
  • Vendor payments: $28,550,353,000
  • Other public welfare: $5,486,808,000

9. Oregon

Eugene, Oregon
Sean Pavone / Shutterstock.com
  • State & local welfare spending per capita: $2,861
  • State & local welfare spending as a share of total spending: 20.1%
  • Total state & local welfare spending: $12,135,117,000
  • Cash assistance payments: $255,356,000
  • Vendor payments: $7,309,385,000
  • Other public welfare: $4,570,376,000

8. Vermont

Lake Memphremagog in Newport, Vermont
NEKVT / Shutterstock.com
  • State & local welfare spending per capita: $2,988
  • State & local welfare spending as a share of total spending: 21.5%
  • Total state & local welfare spending: $1,862,528,000
  • Cash assistance payments: $20,775,000
  • Vendor payments: $1,164,720,000
  • Other public welfare: $677,033,000

7. New Mexico

View from the Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway in New Mexico
Gestalt Imagery / Shutterstock.com
  • State & local welfare spending per capita: $3,003
  • State & local welfare spending as a share of total spending: 24.2%
  • Total state & local welfare spending: $6,324,770,000
  • Cash assistance payments: $54,620,000
  • Vendor payments: $5,821,877,000
  • Other public welfare: $448,273,000

6. Minnesota

Rochester, Minnesota
IMG_191 / Shutterstock.com
  • State & local welfare spending per capita: $3,012
  • State & local welfare spending as a share of total spending: 23.6%
  • Total state & local welfare spending: $17,039,955,000
  • Cash assistance payments: $710,269,000
  • Vendor payments: $13,688,638,000
  • Other public welfare: $2,641,049,000

5. Rhode Island

Providence, Rhode Island
Nagel Photography / Shutterstock.com
  • State & local welfare spending per capita: $3,107
  • State & local welfare spending as a share of total spending: 24.0%
  • Total state & local welfare spending: $3,284,006,000
  • Cash assistance payments: $21,856,000
  • Vendor payments: $2,960,598,000
  • Other public welfare: $301,552,000

4. California

Highway traffic in Los Angeles, California
Sean Pavone / Shutterstock.com
  • State & local welfare spending per capita: $3,403
  • State & local welfare spending as a share of total spending: 21.1%
  • Total state & local welfare spending: $133,978,520,000
  • Cash assistance payments: $6,917,786,000
  • Vendor payments: $108,643,810,000
  • Other public welfare: $18,416,924,000

3. Massachusetts

Lowell, Massachusetts
Andriy Danylov / Shutterstock.com
  • State & local welfare spending per capita: $3,574
  • State & local welfare spending as a share of total spending: 25.0%
  • Total state & local welfare spending: $24,639,146,000
  • Cash assistance payments: $529,154,000
  • Vendor payments: $22,154,310,000
  • Other public welfare: $1,955,682,000

2. Alaska

Anchorage, Alaska
Rex Lisman / Shutterstock.com
  • State & local welfare spending per capita: $3,811
  • State & local welfare spending as a share of total spending: 18.6%
  • Total state & local welfare spending: $2,786,410,000
  • Cash assistance payments: $119,053,000
  • Vendor payments: $2,323,495,000
  • Other public welfare: $343,862,000

1. New York

Albany, New York
Sean Pavone / Shutterstock.com
  • State & local welfare spending per capita: $4,094
  • State & local welfare spending as a share of total spending: 21.0%
  • Total state & local welfare spending: $79,165,215,000
  • Cash assistance payments: $2,589,581,000
  • Vendor payments: $65,848,681,000
  • Other public welfare: $10,726,953,000

Detailed Findings & Methodology

Data entry on a laptop
baranq / Shutterstock.com

The data used in this analysis is from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Annual Survey of State and Local Government Finances and the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates, covering data from 2019.

To determine the states spending the most on public welfare, researchers calculated total state and local welfare spending per person using the most recent data available.

Public welfare spending includes cash assistance payments, vendor payments, and other uncategorized payments administered by state and local governments.

A full list of definitions from the survey can be found here.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

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