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The Safety Net’s Impact: A State-by-State Look

August 2, 2016 at 2:45 PM

Our new state-by-state fact sheets on the safety net’s impact show that, in every state, programs assisting low-income Americans lift large numbers of people above the poverty line and provide health coverage to a large share of children.  The fact sheets illustrate that:

  • From 2009 through 2012, the safety net reduced poverty by more than half in 41 states, and reduced child poverty by more than half in 43 states.
  • Over the same period, the safety net reduced poverty overall by two-thirds in four states:  Idaho, Iowa, Maine, and West Virginia.
  • In 2016, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) provide health coverage to more than one of every three children in 45 states, and provide coverage to more than half of all children in 14 states.  In Louisiana and Mississippi, three in five children receive health coverage through Medicaid or CHIP.

The fact sheets use the latest government information of its kind available, as explained here, often combining several years of information to enhance state-level reliability.  The figures modestly overstate the safety net’s current overall anti-poverty impact, largely due to the drop in unemployment benefits since 2012.   

In addition to assessing the overall extent to which government programs reduce poverty in their state, readers can use the fact sheets to learn how many people are helped by the programs with the largest anti-poverty effects:  Social Security, SNAP (formerly food stamps), the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit, Supplemental Security Income, and federal rental assistance.  The fact sheets also explain how many state residents have health coverage through Medicaid or CHIP. 

Safety net programs not only reduce immediate deprivation but also have long-term benefits for children, a growing body of research indicates.  The findings suggest, for instance, that SNAP and the EITC help reduce infant mortality and low birthweight, and improve children’s reading and math test scores, high school completion, college entry, and expected future earnings.  The findings also indicate that housing assistance that helps low-income families move to safe, low-poverty neighborhoods with better schools can enhance their children’s long-term prospects.  Further, people eligible for Medicaid coverage in childhood miss fewer school days due to illness or injury, are likelier to complete high school and college, and earn more as adults.

The fact sheets consider both federal and state benefits, but federal programs account for the vast majority of poverty reduction in every state.  

Find the individual state fact sheets here.