Seven States that Deserve an ‘F’ for their Welfare Programs

Published March 28, 2015

When President Bill Clinton signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act into law in 1996, some Democrats and virtually all Republicans in Congress, led by then-Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA), predicted the law would lead to dramatic reductions in welfare.  

They were right. 

Since 1996, welfare rolls have declined by 73 percent—from 12.4 million in 1996 to 3.4 million in October 2014. Few other reforms over the past 20 years have been as successful or as important.

But despite the many improvements caused by the 1996 changes to welfare, many states’ welfare programs continue to lag behind the rest of the nation because they fail to implement simple, commonsense reforms. 

In an effort to identify the reasons why some welfare reform efforts have been far more successful than others, as well as what can be done to improve welfare reform, The Heartland Institute, a free-market think tank headquartered in Chicago, conducted an extensive analysis of every state’s welfare program in 2008. The study also made reform recommendations that history has proven to be effective solutions to helping impoverished Americans move out of welfare and into productive and self-sufficient professional careers. 

To determine its rankings, Heartland analyzed and scored each state’s program outcomes and welfare policies. A state’s program outcomes score was determined by looking at overall poverty rates, work participation rates, unemployment, teen birthrates, and the decline in the number of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program recipients.  Welfare reform policies were scored by analyzing state work requirements, cash diversion, service integration, time limits, and sanctions. 

On March 19, Heartland released an updated version of the 2008 report card after conducting exhaustive research, and the following seven states have been identified as having the lowest-performing welfare programs and policies in the nation: 

#44 Georgia, Grade: F (52/100 points)

Georgia came in as the nation’s seventh-worst state for welfare reform, ranking 49th in unemployment and receiving 0 out of 100 possible points for its poor “cash diversion” program. Cash diversion policies are those that allow case workers to give applicants lump-sum cash payments to meet short-term needs if recipients agree not to participate in TANF for some stated period.

#45 (tied) Alabama, Grade: F (51/100 points)

Alabama finished among the bottom six states, ranking 42nd in TANF recipient decline and earning grades of “F” for having poor cash diversion and sanctions policies. Sanctions are tools state officials can use to ensure recipients comply with work requirements and other mandates necessary for continued use of social services.

#45 (tied) Oregon, Grade: F (51/100 points)

Oregon finished in the bottom 10 of all states for overall poverty rates, work participation rates, and TANF recipient decline. It also received failing marks for its cash diversion and sanctions policies.

#45 (tied) Rhode Island, Grade: F (51/100 points)

The Ocean State finished 49th in the nation for its dismal work participation rate and 40th for its unemployment rate. It also received F grades for its poor service integration and cash diversion policies.

#48 Vermont, Grade: F (46/100 points)

Vermont ranked 48th overall due to its poor reform policies regarding work requirements and time limits, which is the amount of time a recipient is eligible to receive aid in a recipient’s life.

#49 Massachusetts, Grade: F (24.7/100 points)

Massachusetts earned “F” grades in four of five policy categories: work requirements, cash diversion, time limits, and sanctions. Massachusetts received an “A” grade for service integration, but that was only enough to keep it from finishing dead last.

#50 Missouri, Grade: F (24.3/100 points)

The Show Me State receives the dubious honor of being ranked the worst state in the nation for welfare reform, finishing 48th overall for its anti-poverty outcomes and earning “F” grades for its poor sanctions, work requirements, and cash diversion policies. Missouri earned “D” grades for lackluster service integration and poor time limits policies. 

Idaho, Michigan, Nevada, South Dakota, Utah, and Wisconsin received “A” grades for enacting proven reform policies that help move recipients off of welfare and into self-sufficiency. 

You can read Heartland’s complete welfare reform report card, titled “2015 Welfare Reform Report Card” by going to The Heartland Institute’s website, where the study is available for free at

[Published on The Hill]