Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health

Analysis of Safety Net Policies Reveals Striking Variations in the States; Leaders and Laggards Identified in Top Ten Lists
National Center for Children in Poverty Unveils 50-State Policy Tracker

NEW YORK CITY-- Today, the National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP) launches the 50-State Policy Tracker, a web tool for comparing work supports that are critical to the economic security of working families. The tool reveals striking variation among states, showing that state of residence has a major impact on whether low-income working parents succeed in making ends meet. To illustrate the vast policy differences among the states, we highlight below the ten most generous and least generous states providing child care subsidies, a vitally important work support for low-income families.

The Policy Tracker is a free tool available online at "We think the Policy Tracker will be invaluable, especially now, given the state of the economy and what seems to be an unrelenting assault on federal safety net programs," said Renée Wilson-Simmons, DrPH, director of the National Center for Children in Poverty. "A range of audiences — policy makers, advocates, researchers, and the media — can use it to conduct state comparisons of the kinds of programs that can make or break a low-income family."

The Policy Tracker makes it easy to compare state policies across six programs: child care subsidies, minimum wage, family and medical leave, income tax policy, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and the Child Care and Development Tax Credit. Singly and in combination, these programs make a big difference in helping working families meet their basic budget needs.

"With the federal government mired in partisan gridlock and critical social safety net programs under attack, we found notable examples of state governments that are innovating and taking the lead to strengthen economic security for working families," said Curtis Skinner, PhD, director of Family Economic Security at NCCP. "But alongside the leaders, we found many laggards who are not making work supports for low-income families a priority, despite chronic federal dysfunction and a still-sluggish economy."

Skinner noted that these policy differences are not entirely predictable by state per capita income or the red state-blue state political divide. For example, Alaska, New Hampshire, and Wyoming join Connecticut and the District of Columbia with some of the most progressive child care subsidy policies, as noted below. And New York, Nebraska, and Ohio offer the most generous state Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit, while Illinois, New Jersey, Texas, and 20 other states offer no tax credit at all.

"Comparing states with the most progressive and least progressive programs shows the yawning gulf in state initiatives to help make work pay," writes Skinner in his blog. Income eligibility limits for child care subsidies provide a striking example of this variation (see NCCP's lists on the next page). Where states set those limits reveals just how far a state is willing to make good on its social compact with working families. For many low-income families, child care is the single largest work-related expense, and the prospect of losing subsidies when income rises can act as a disincentive to accept a job promotion or pay raise.

Some highlights gleaned from the Policy Tracker:

  • A 50- state comparison by the Policy Tracker reveals that income eligibility limits for child care subsidies run the gamut from approximately $54,000 for a family of three in Alaska to about $23,000 for a similar family in Ohio. The most generous states on this measure are highlighted below, alongside the least generous:

CCDF Subsidies
Earnings Limit for a family of 3 (2012)

  • Led by Washington with a state minimum wage of $9.19 indexed to inflation, 20 states set the minimum wage higher than the federal rate of $7.25. The Policy Tracker makes it easy to compare all 50 states in one table.


    1. Alaska
    2. Maine (TIE w/ N.H.)
    2. New Hampshire
    3. Hawaii
    4. Washington, D.C.
    5. Nevada
    6. Wyoming
    7. Connecticut
    8. North Carolina
    9. California
    10. Massachusetts


    1. Ohio
    2. Idaho
    3. Missouri
    4. Michigan
    5. Alabama
    6. Indiana
    7. Montana
    8. Iowa
    9. Kentucky (TIE w/ S.C.)
    9. South Carolina
    10. Florida

  • Fifteen states, including Alabama and Illinois, continue to levy state income taxes on families with poverty-level income. An additional 15 states and the District of Columbia refund money to these families through the state income tax system. In 2011, a poor family of two adults and two children in New York received an additional $1,873 in credits while a similar family in Alabama paid $548 in state income taxes.

  • The District of Columbia's Earned Income Tax Credit gives a working family with two qualifying children a credit of up to $2,094, and 25 states also offer EITCs to assist low-wage workers. But the other half of the nation's states offer no such tax assistance to strengthen family economic security.

Part of Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, the National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP) is the nation's leading public policy center dedicated to promoting the economic security, health, and well-being of America's low-income families and children. Visit NCCP online at Like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter via &NCCPNews.