In this section, Vermont’s key health care and welfare program costs will be compared to the rest of the country.
According to the J Henry Kaiser Family Foundation, Vermont had 168,961 Medicaid enrollees as of March 2017, representing about 27% of the entire population. For the USA as a whole, Medicaid enrollees represent 23% of the population.
In 2016, per capita Medicaid spending in Vermont was $2,695.95 as compared to $1,713.47 for the country as a whole. Vermont’s per capita Medicaid spend exceeds the national average by 57%. Medicaid spending per enrollee in Vermont is 37% higher than the national average.
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, Vermont’s TANF caseload as of October 2016 was 7,992, comprised of 2,402 adults and 5,590 children.
For a single-parent family of three, the average monthly TANF benefit payment was $644 in Vermont as compared to $427 nationally, 51% higher than the national average.
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP or Food Stamps)
According to the US Department of Agriculture State Activity Report for fiscal year 2014, Vermont has 77,585 EBT card beneficiaries and a further 15,415 individuals receiving cash assistance under SNAP. With 93,000 total beneficiaries, this represents 14.9% of the state’s population compared to 14.4% for the country as a whole.
The average monthly benefit per person in Vermont was $116.78, about 6.6% lower than the national average of $125.01. The average monthly benefit per household in Vermont was $223.58, about 12.8% lower than the national average of $256.46. Federal money under SNAP is reduced on a formula basis when a state’s TANF benefits are high, which is the case for Vermont.
How Generous is Vermont’s Health and Welfare?
In 2013, the CATO Institute did a detailed analysis of welfare programs in all 50 states. Vermont’s rank compared to all other states is provided below.
Health and Welfare Benefits 2013 (Number 1=Most Generous)
|Welfare Program||Vermont’s Rank|
|SNAP (Food Stamps)||49|
Source: CATO Institute, “The Work Versus Welfare Trade-Off: 2013
The Cato Institute is a libertarian think tank so their reports should be read with a healthy degree of skepticism. The report cited above appears to have applied a consistent methodology across all fifty states and its ranking of Vermont is consistent with the information provided by the US Department of Agriculture, the US US Department of Health and Human Services and the J. Henry Kaiser Foundation.
Comprehensive Programs: Vermont has adopted extensive health care and welfare programs to serve low-income individuals and families. Vermont clearly ranks in the top ten states in the country with respect to the amount of benefits paid annually and enrollment as a percentage of the total population.
Unemployment Is Not The Problem: At 3.2%, Vermont has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country. There appear to be plenty of jobs available.
Low Wages Are A Problem: 10% of employed Vermonters earn less than $21,740 per year and 25% earn less than $27,150, equivalent to 108% and 134% of the Federal Poverty Level for a single-parent family of three. At the bottom 25% of Vermont wages, a single person or dual-earning couple with no children would qualify for health insurance subsidies. With children, SNAP, child-care, children’s health insurance and other benefits become available.
Federal Grants Are Important: A majority of the funding for Vermont’s health and welfare programs is provided by federal government grants. Vermont already has some of the highest state taxes in the country. Any reduction in federal grants available to the Agency of Human Services would put great pressure on the state’s fiscal position.
Top Welfare Beneficiaries: Across the USA, tens of billions in welfare assistance is being paid to the employees of companies like Walmart and McDonalds, whose business models rely on low wages. Whether the availability of welfare has the effect of reducing prevailing wages or provides a needed safety net to a low wage economy that would exist in any event is a question that is actively debated.