Wyoming in Bottom 10 of States for Providing Certain Welfare Benefits
Based on data from the Center on Budget and Public Policy, Wyoming is the ninth-worst state when it comes to providing certain kinds of benefits to those in poverty.
The data is based on benefits given out through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and how it relates to the number of people in Wyoming living in poverty.
Over the past 30 years, Wyoming has given out smaller amounts of benefits to people in the state who are under the poverty line.
In 1996, for every 100 people in poverty, 45 received benefits.
By 2019, that number had gone down to seven.
The national average for TANF benefits in the U.S. was 63 in 1996, and in 2019 it was 23, with Louisiana at the bottom at four.
In Wyoming that translates to 4,794 families receiving TANF benefits from 1995 to 1996, while only 519 families received those same benefits from 2018 to 2019.
During that same period, the number of people in the state living in poverty went from 10,567 in 1996 to 7,356 in 2019, while those living in deep poverty went from 3,632 in 1996 to 3,108 in 2019.
Wyoming is one of a few states that also cut off benefits immediately if work requirements aren't met while also not giving benefits back until families comply with the requirements.
Several other states like Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, and Missouri only cut off a portion of the benefits, up to 50% if single-parent households don't comply with work requirements.
Wyoming also has a lack of exemptions when deciding to take someone off TANF benefits that are more restrictive compared to other states.
There is no exemption made if someone is sick or incapacitated, if they're taking care of someone who is sick or incapacitated, or if they're pregnant.
While there is an exemption if the parent of a child is over 65 or if the child is under three, the latter exemption can only be applied for a year during the entire time TANF benefits are used.
Based on data from the Administration for Children and Family, Wyoming in the fiscal year 2020 was sitting on $27,230,692 in unused funds for various benefits, while receiving $18.4 million from the federal government each year.
Corrine Livers, the Economic Security Programs Administrator for the DFS, said Wyoming uses the federal money from TANF to fund its own version called the Personal Opportunities With Employment Responsibilities (POWER) program.
The program is designed to provide assistance to the poorest citizens in the state while also making sure they are working to get out of poverty.
While the federal poverty line has a household of three making $21,960 a year, or $1,830 a month, the limits to receiving benefits from the POWER program for a three-person household are $726 a month or $8,712 a year.
Liver said that this is because the program is designed to assist those who are most in need.
The amount of money given to families through the POWER program was decided by state statute and is adjusted each year based on the annual price index.
Liver said they determine which programs to fund with federal TANF money based on what would do the most good.
"To move money, and again this is where that decision is, and the Department of Family Services doesn't take it lightly, we get 18.4, that's it," Liver said. "So if we decide to move money from another category, we are pulling it out. Which means that the recipient of funding currently may not be a recipient of funding later. It's not just that we're gonna move money willy nilly. It's a very deliberate decision on what is the best use of money to impact the most families and do the most good within the TANF requirement."
There are various programs when it comes to TANF, such as refundable earned income tax credits, child welfare services, prevention of out-of-wedlock pregnancies, and financial education and asset development, that the state did not spend any money on in FY 2020.
Liver said they don't have anything specific in mind when it comes to improving the program, but there is always room for improvement.
"I think we can always say that there are things we can do to improve," Liver said. "But there's not a list I can provide you right now that I think we could do. We're always looking at ways to ensure that we do a good job and are good stewards with our money."
When it comes to another benefit like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Wyoming has the lowest participation rate across the country.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2018, an estimated 54% of the 53,000 people in Wyoming eligible for SNAP participated, while nationally the participation rate is 82%.
When it comes to why the rate is so low, Elizabeth Lower-Basch, director of Income and Work Supports for the Center for Law and Social Policy, said promoting the program by the state could have an impact on how many people take part.
"There's not a lot the state can legally do to add eligibility rules to SNAP," Lower-Basch said. "I think it is about how well do you advertise it, is the website easy to navigate, how long do people have to wait, if they come in in person or call. Administrative burden is the term that we use. They can either, by not paying attention and not investing in SNAP or deliberately make it harder or easier for people to access SNAP."
LaDonna Pavetti, vice president for Family Income Support Policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said the lack of benefits provided through TANF has an impact on children's development, as poorer families don't have access to the same resources as those families that are more well off.
"Cash makes a huge difference for children over the long term," Pavetti said. "There is evidence that when families have more cash resources, kids do better. And they not only do better in the very immediate, they're not hungry, they're able to go to school, but research has shown that they have better long-term outcomes. They are more likely to do better in schools, to complete schools, to get better health outcomes."