The federal government currently funds 126 separate anti-poverty programs at an annual cost of $688 billion. Of these, 72 provide cash or other benefits directly to poor families. State, county, and municipal governments often operate additional benefit programs.
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), food stamps (SNAP), Medicaid, housing assistance, WIC, energy assistance (LIHEAP), and free commodities. We found that, in 2013, the value of those benefits varied widely across states, from a low of $16,984 in Mississippi to an astonishing high of $49,175 in Hawaii.
In nine states — Hawaii, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Rhode Island, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maryland — as well as Washington, D.C., annual benefits were worth more than $35,000 a year. The median value of the welfare package across the 50 states is $28,500.
Welfare benefits are not taxed, while wages are, so we calculated how much money a welfare recipient receiving these six benefits would have to earn in pretax income if she took a job and left the welfare rolls. We computed the federal income tax, the state income tax, and the FICA payroll taxes one would have to pay on wage income; we also took into account both federal and state versions of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) as well as child tax credits where available (these helped increase the relative value of work but did not fully offset the taxes due).
In Hawaii, a person leaving welfare for work would have to earn more than $60,590 a year to be better off. In fact, welfare currently pays more than a minimum-wage job in 34 states and the District of Columbia. In Hawaii, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington, D.C., welfare pays more than a $20-an-hour job, and in five additional states it yields more than a $15-per-hour job.
And tell everyone how welfare and the expanded social safety net doesn’t;t encourage not working especially if you live in Hawaii.