Study: Poverty would drop significantly if people used benefits

Social safety net programs provide critical support to individuals and families with low incomes. However, limits on program funding, a lack of awareness of benefits, stigma, and other barriers mean many people don’t receive the assistance they’re eligible for.

But what if everyone who qualified for these programs actually received assistance?

In this report, the Urban Institute examines how much poverty would decrease—overall, by age, and by race and ethnicity—and how much benefits would increase if all people eligible for safety net programs received the full benefits they qualify for in each of the 50 states and DC.

To test the effects of this hypothetical scenario, we use the Analysis of Transfers, Taxes, and Income Security (ATTIS) microsimulation model. We apply ATTIS to detailed household data from the 2018 American Community Survey that we have projected to represent 2022 (because 2022 data were not available). We include the following seven means-tested safety net programs in our analysis: Supplemental Security Income (SSI); the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP); the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC); Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF); child care subsidies supported by the Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF); the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP); and public and subsidized housing.

We test the scenario using real-world rules, without assuming any changes in federal or state eligibility rules or benefit levels. See our accompanying report for more details about our methodology.

To view data for all states, visit Urban's data catalog.

Nationally, the total amount of benefits for which families are eligible across all seven programs is twice what families currently receive. We find that full funding for these programs and full participation in them would have two major impacts:

  • The total amount of benefits people receive would double. If every program were a fully funded entitlement (meaning all eligible people could receive benefits) and all eligible people participated, aggregate annual benefits would increase from $220 to $447 billion.
  • Poverty would decrease by almost one-third overall and by more than 40 percent for children. The overall poverty rate, as measured with the Supplemental Poverty Measure, would decrease from 14.7 to 10.1 percent (31 percent). The child poverty rate would decrease from 15.2 to 8.5 percent (44 percent).

Read our report to learn more about the potential antipoverty effects of full funding of and participation in safety net programs.