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States That Spend the Most and Least on Welfare

With the cost of living rising in many parts of the country, state and local governments are spending billions of dollars on public welfare.

The total spending on public welfare — which includes “cash assistance paid directly to needy persons under the categorical programs Old Age Assistance, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families” and more — in the U.S. is more than $637 billion, according to the Census Bureau’s 2016 Annual Surveys of State and Local Government Finances.

To find out how much states spend on welfare, GOBankingRates analyzed the most recent census data to pinpoint the 10 states that spend the most on welfare per capita, as well as the 10 states that spend the least. Keep in mind this ranking highlights the public welfare per capita spending — not the total amount spent per welfare recipient. At the end of the slideshow, you’ll also see the total public welfare expenditures in every state. Keep reading to see if your state is one of the best for poor Americans.

Data is accurate as of Oct 12, 2018, and is subject to change.

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States That Spend the Least on Welfare

Many of the states with the lowest welfare spending have a lower cost of living and lower percentages of households receiving public assistance. Click through to find out the lowest welfare rates by state.

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10. Idaho

  • Welfare spending per capita: $1,430
  • Total public welfare expenditures: $2.46 billion

Idaho’s low welfare spending could be due to the fact that Idaho has some of the lowest living costs in the country. For example, Idaho’s grocery costs are among the lowest in the U.S., found a GOBankingRates study that identified the best states for families to live a richer life.

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9. Virginia

  • Welfare spending per capita: $1,429
  • Total public welfare expenditures: $12.1 billion

Virginia is one of the richest states in America, a separate GOBankingRates study found, so it’s no wonder welfare spending in the state is low. Virginia’s median income and state GDP are both among the highest of all the states.

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8. Nebraska

  • Welfare spending per capita: $1,413
  • Total public welfare expenditures: $2.71 billion

The poverty rate in Nebraska is 10 percent, the 10th lowest of all the states. This could possibly explain the state’s low welfare spending.

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7. Nevada

  • Welfare spending per capita: $1,411
  • Total public welfare expenditures: $4.23 billion

Nevada’s welfare spending is low compared to other states, but its expenditures on public safety are among the highest, a separate GOBankingRates analysis found. The state spends more than 10 percent of its budget on keeping its citizens safe.

6. Texas

  • Welfare spending per capita: $1,305
  • Total public welfare expenditures: $36.95 billion

Although the welfare spending per capita in Texas is low, the state has the third-highest total welfare expenditures, likely because it is the second-most populous state.

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5. North Carolina

  • Welfare spending per capita: $1,303
  • Total public welfare expenditures: $13.39 billion

North Carolina spends a relatively low amount on welfare, but it’s one of the states that spend the most on natural disaster relief, another GOBankingRates study found.

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4. Florida

  • Welfare spending per capita: $1,274
  • Total public welfare expenditures: $26.73 billion

It’s one of the best states for America’s middle class, but Florida’s welfare spending per capita is one of the lowest in the U.S. However, its total expenditures on welfare are the fifth-highest. This is likely due to the fact that it’s the third-most populous state.

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3. South Dakota

  • Welfare spending per capita: $1,219
  • Total public welfare expenditures: $1.06 billion

In addition to the third-lowest spending per capita, South Dakota also has the second-lowest total welfare expenditures. Retirees might make up a significant portion of those who do receive aid from the state — South Dakota is one of the states with the poorest retirees.

2. Utah

  • Welfare spending per capita: $1,149
  • Total public welfare expenditures: $3.56 billion

The poverty rate in Utah is low — at 8.6 percent, it’s the fourth-lowest of all the states — so it makes sense that welfare spending is low in the state as well. Overall, though, Utah is one of the richest states in America.

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1. Georgia

  • Welfare spending per capita: $1,126
  • Total public welfare expenditures: $11.74 billion

Georgia is among the states with the lowest living costs, a separate GOBankingRates study found. It’s one of the 10 states where you’re least likely to live paycheck to paycheck, which could account for its low welfare spending.

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States That Spend the Most on Welfare

Although California has the highest total public welfare expenditures, it’s not one of the states that spends the most on welfare per capita. The following 10 states that spend more on welfare also tend to have high living costs.

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10. Kentucky

  • Welfare spending per capita: $2,517
  • Total public welfare expenditures: $11.21 billion

The poverty rate in Kentucky is 14.8 percent — tied for the seventh-highest of all the states — which could account for its high welfare spending per capita.

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9. Oregon

  • Welfare spending per capita: $2,520
  • Total public welfare expenditures: $10.44 billion

Although Oregon spends a lot on welfare compared to other states, it’s not one of the best states for poor Americans, a separate GOBankingRates study found. This is due to an overall high cost of living, high crime rates and a lack of affordable housing.

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8. Maine

  • Welfare spending per capita: $2,530
  • Total public welfare expenditures: $3.38 billion

Maine is one of the states that spends the most on welfare per capita. However, it’s among the top 15 states with the lowest total public welfare expenditures.

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7. Delaware

  • Welfare spending per capita: $2,544
  • Total public welfare expenditures: $2.45 billion

The per capita spending in Delaware is among the highest, but the state’s total welfare expenditures are the seventh-lowest of all the states. This is likely because it’s the sixth-least populous state.

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6. New Mexico

  • Welfare spending per capita: $2,741
  • Total public welfare expenditures: $5.72 billion

It’s not a surprise that New Mexico is one of the states that spends the most on welfare, because it has the third-highest poverty rate in America: 18.2 percent. It’s also one of the worst states to be rich in America because of its high property crime rates and low incomes.

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5. Minnesota

  • Welfare spending per capita: $2,805
  • Total public welfare expenditures: $15.64 billion

Minnesota is among the top five states that spend the most on welfare per capita, and it’s among the top 15 with the highest total public welfare expenditures.

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4. Vermont

  • Welfare spending per capita: $2,842
  • Total public welfare expenditures: $1.77 billion

This state is one of the best for poor Americans. Although Vermont’s welfare spending per capita is high, its total welfare spending is the fifth-lowest of all the states. This is likely due to its low population.

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3. Massachusetts

  • Welfare spending per capita: $2,911
  • Total public welfare expenditures: $19.97 billion

The percentage of Massachusetts households that lived in poverty during 2016-17 is 10.1 percent. This could be because it’s one of the states with the highest cost of living. Massachusetts is the fourth-most expensive state to live in.

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2. Alaska

  • Welfare spending per capita: $3,020
  • Total public welfare expenditures: $2.23 billion

Because Alaska is one of the least populous states, its total public welfare spending is actually the sixth-lowest of all the states — even though its spending per capita is the No. 2 highest.

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1. New York

  • Welfare spending per capita: $3,305
  • Total public welfare expenditures: $19.85 billion

Considering the fact that residents need to make nearly $100,000 to live comfortably in one of the biggest cities in New York, it’s no surprise this state’s public welfare expenditures are so high. New York has the fifth-highest cost of living in the country.

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Full Ranking: Lowest and Highest Welfare States

There’s a correlation between a state’s cost of living and its welfare spending. Massachusetts, New York, Alaska and Oregon are among the 10 states with the highest cost of living, and they are also among the biggest welfare spenders. Meanwhile, Georgia is one of the 10 states with the lowest cost of living, and it’s also the state with the lowest welfare spending.

However, there are clearly other factors at play, including state budgets, median income, poverty rates, unemployment rates and income inequality within the state.

Here’s a look at the total public welfare expenditures in every state, ranked from lowest to highest:

  1. Wyoming: $843M
  2. South Dakota: $1.1B
  3. North Dakota: $1.6B
  4. Montana: $1.8B
  5. Vermont: $1.8B
  6. Alaska: $2.2B
  7. Delaware: $2.4B
  8. Idaho: $2.5B
  9. New Hampshire: $2.6B
  10. Rhode Island: $2.6B
  11. Nebraska: $2.7B
  12. Hawaii: $2.9B
  13. Maine: $3.4B
  14. Utah: $3.6B
  15. Kansas: $4.2B
  16. Nevada: $4.2B
  17. West Virginia: $4.4B
  18. New Mexico: $5.7B
  19. Mississippi: $6.3B
  20. Iowa: $6.5B
  21. Oklahoma: $6.6B
  22. Arkansas: $6.9B
  23. Alabama: $7.2B
  24. South Carolina: $7.4B
  25. Connecticut: $7.5B
  26. Colorado: $8.5B
  27. Louisiana: $8.7B
  28. Missouri: $8.9B
  29. Oregon: $10.4B
  30. Kentucky: $11.2B
  31. Tennessee: $11.5B
  32. Georgia: $11.7B
  33. Maryland: $12.1B
  34. Virginia: $12.1B
  35. Wisconsin: $12.3B
  36. Indiana: $12.7B
  37. Washington: $12.9B
  38. North Carolina: $13.4B
  39. Arizona: $14.0B
  40. Minnesota: $15.6B
  41. Michigan: $16.9B
  42. New Jersey: $17.7B
  43. Massachusetts: $19.9B
  44. Illinois: $20.2B
  45. Ohio: $26.2B
  46. Florida: $26.7B
  47. Pennsylvania: $30.3B
  48. Texas: $36.9B
  49. New York: $65.6B
  50. California: $98.5B

More From GOBankingRates

Methodology: GOBankingRates used three factors to determine which states spend the most and least amount on welfare. The states were ranked by per capita spending. The states’ percentage of the population that is in poverty was also included as a supplemental factor. Data was sourced from: (1) U.S. Census Bureau 2016 State and Local Government Data: U.S. Summary & Alabama-Mississippi & Missouri-Wyoming; (2) Governing.com; (3) U.S. Census Bureau population estimates as of July 1, 2017; and (4) U.S. Census Bureau population survey, 2015-18.