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Impact of the Safety Net: State Fact Sheets, Data Sources, and Calculations

July 22, 2016

The information in the state fact sheets reflects the latest of its kind available as of July 2016.

Anti-poverty estimates.  Obtaining reliable estimates of how much individual programs, or programs in aggregate, reduce poverty requires combining several years of data; for most states the sample size from a single year of the relevant survey data is too small.  In cases where the sample size would be insufficient even with several years of data, that figure is not shown.

In order to produce the best possible estimates of how much safety net programs reduce poverty, the calculations use the federal government’s Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM).  Unlike the government’s “official” poverty measure, which only considers the effects of government cash assistance, the SPM includes both cash and near-cash assistance (such as SNAP or the Earned Income Tax Credit).  Given the importance of non-cash assistance, analysts across the ideological spectrum favor its inclusion in poverty calculations.  The poverty reduction estimates are from a CBPP analysis of the Census Bureau’s March Current Population Survey and SPM public use files.

Most of the CBPP poverty-reduction estimates also adjust for the underreporting of certain benefits that often occurs in household surveys.  The HHS/Urban Institute Trim3 model is used to correct for underreporting of SNAP, Supplemental Security Income, housing assistance, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits in Census data. 

Most of the poverty-reduction figures are four-year averages for the period from 2009 (the first year for which Census provides SPM data files) to 2012 (the latest year for which the underreporting corrections we use are available from TRIM).

The figures on how many people the EITC and the Child Tax Credit (CTC) lift out of poverty cover 2011-2013.  Since underreporting issues are not significant for these credits, underreporting adjustments are not needed and more current information can be used.

Program participation.  The figures on how many people receive aid from individual programs are the official participation figures from the agency administering the program (for example, the number of people receiving SNAP benefits is from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the number helped by federal housing assistance is from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and USDA).  The Medicaid administrative data are for March 2016, and the SNAP and housing assistance data are for 2015.

Estimated numbers of persons and children receiving tax credits are based chiefly on Internal Revenue Service data (for tax year 2013), supplemented with Census Bureau data.  Figures for individuals receiving the low-income portion of the CTC but not the EITC are IRS figures compiled by the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program.  National Census Bureau data were used to help estimate the number of children in certain larger families receiving the EITC, as well as the number of children and spouses in families receiving the low-income portion of the CTC but no EITC. 

For Further Information

All the data used in these fact sheets can be found in this Excel file: Spreadsheet: Additional Data - Impact of the Safety Net. CBPP has also produced state fact sheets with more detailed information on certain individual means-tested programs.  (The figures they contain may not always match these fact sheets due to differences in data and methodology.)  See:

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