WV Center on Budget and Policy > Blog > Family Economic Security > West Virginia Must Strengthen Its Safety Net

West Virginia Must Strengthen Its Safety Net

Our state safety net is a crucial lifeline for families and children in poverty, whether it is providing child care assistance to help a single mom get to work, providing affordable and quality health care to a child or disabled person, or ensuring that kids can get breakfast at school. Unfortunately, West Virginia has one of the weakest safety nets in the country. 

This is according to a recent report by the National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP) that examined the commitment of state safety nets to addressing poverty.  NCCP measured the strength of each state’s safety net by looking at the share of state spending going to public welfare programs (e.g., TANF, SSI, Medicaid, SCHIP, and other programs) based on each state’s poverty rate. 

According to the report, West Virginia had the 4th weakest safety net in 2008. With only 33.7 percent of West Virginia’s state spending going to public welfare. Nationally, the average was 34.6 percent or slightly higher than West Virginia. Because of West Virginia’s above average poverty rate (17% in 2008), NCCP concluded the state needs to spend about 45.7 percent on its safety net in order to meet the national average.  

Using updated 2010 data provided by U.S. Census Bureau, the table below shows similar results. In 2010, West Virginia spent 35.8 percent of direct state expenditures on safety net programs compared to 36.5 percent nationally. While the slight increase in safety net spending in 2010 was likely due to the lingering effects of the Great Recession, West Virginia still ranks below most states in its commitment to safety-net spending. As the table shows, West Virginia would need to increase safety-net spending by about 13 percent to match the commitment that most states make to their safety nets.    

States with Strong and Weak Safety Net Commitments, 2010

State

Actual Safety Net Spending (%)

Expected Safety Net Spending (%)

Actual-Expected (percentage points)

State Poverty Rate (%)

ALL STATES

36.5

36.5

N/A

N/A

Ten Highest Expenditure States

Minnesota

48.1

31.2

16.9

11.6

New Hampshire

36.3

 22.3

14.0

8.3

Maryland

 37.3

26.6

10.7

9.9

Massachusetts

41.2

30.6

10.6

11.4

Maine

43.9

34.7

9.2

12.9

Nevada

31.6

40.0

8.4

14.9

New Jersey

34.5

27.7

6.8

10.3

Connecticut

32.8

27.2

5.6

10.1

Rhode Island

43.0

 37.6

5.4

14.0

New York

45.4

40.1

5.3

14.9

Ten Lowest Expenditure States

Louisiana

27.6

50.3

-22.7

18.7

Mississippi

40.0

60.2

-20.2

22.4

New Mexico

37.9

54.9

-17.0

20.4

Alabama

34.2

51.1

-16.9

19.0

North Carolina

32.7

47.1

-14.4

17.5

Kentucky

36.9

51.1

-14.2

19.0

South Carolina

34.9

48.9

-14.0

18.2

West Virginia

35.8

48.7

-12.9

18.1

California

30.0

42.5

-12.5

15.8

Colorado

23.7

36.0

-12.3

13.4

Other States

Alaska

21.8

26.6

-4.8

9.9

Arizona

43.6

46.8

-3.2

17.4

Arkansas

39.9

50.6

-10.7

18.8

Delaware

29.0

31.7

-2.7

11.8

Florida

41.4

44.4

-3.0

16.5

Georgia

36.5

48.1

-11.6

17.9

Hawaii

20.4

28.8

-8.4

10.7

Idaho

35.0

42.2

-7.2

15.7

Illinois

39.1

37.1

2.0

13.8

Indiana

38.4

41.2

-2.8

15.3

Iowa

38.1

33.9

4.5

12.6

Kansas

33.4

36.6

-3.2

13.6

Michigan

36.6

45.2

-8.6

16.8

Missouri

37.0

41.1

-4.1

15.3

Montana

27.1

39.3

-12.2

14.6

Nebraska

33.8

34.7

-0.9

12.9

North Dakota

23.7

35.0

-11.3

13.0

Ohio

39.3

42.5

-3.2

15.8

Oklahoma

36.5

45.5

-9.0

16.9

Oregon

32.9

42.5

-9.6

15.8

Pennsylvania

40.4

36.0

4.4

13.4

South Dakota

29.9

38.7

-8.8

14.4

Tennessee

46.9

47.6

-0.7

17.7

Texas

37.8

48.1

-10.3

17.9

Utah

23.8

35.5

-11.7

13.2

Vermont

38.4

34.1

4.3

12.7

Virginia

29.4

29.9

-0.5

11.1

Washington

32.0

36.0

-4.0

13.4

Wisconsin

37.4

35.5

1.9

13.2

Wyoming

23.0

30.1

-7.1

11.2 

Source: National Center on Children and Poverty
Notes: Actual Safety Net Spending is the ratio of public welfare spending to total direct state general expenditure. The ratio of the safety net share of spending is 2.69 to one. For each increase in the state poverty rate of one percentage point, the Expected Safety Net Spending increases by 2.69 percentage points.

West Virginia needs to invest more to prevent more working families and children from falling into poverty. Too many continue slipping through the holes in the safety net. To strengthen the state’s safety net and reduce poverty, West Virginia could join the other states that have expanded their commitment to children in poverty, such as expanding Medicaid, providing work subsidies, enacting a state Earned Income Tax Credit or Child Care Tax Credit, providing additional funds for child care assistance, and getting rid of asset limits on public welfare programs

For West Virginia to be a great place to live, work, and raise a family, it must take concrete steps to reduce the high number of families living in poverty. While this will require federal action, it is clear that state policymakers can also play a vital role in strengthening our state’s safety net.

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