It pays not to work: Hawaii residents receive highest welfare benefits in US

Photo: Emily Metcalf
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Photo: Emily Metcalf

HONOLULU — In Hawaii, it pays not to work.

A new report by Cato Institute, which examines the state-by-state value of welfare for a mother of two, said benefits in Hawaii average $49,175 — tops in the nation.


Michael Tanner, co-author of the Cato study, said that since welfare isn’t taxed, a person would have to earn $60,590 in Hawaii to take home the same $49,175 a person on welfare would.

“To be clear: There is no evidence that people on welfare are lazy. Indeed, surveys of them consistently show their desire for a job. But they’re also not stupid. If you pay them more not to work than they can earn by working, many will choose not to work,” Tanner said in a summary of his report.

Senate Minority Leader Sam Slom, a member of the Senate Human Services and Ways and Means committees, said the study’s results are “not surprising” to those who have followed the geometric increases in total welfare benefits and expenditures.

“I said in a public hearing several years ago that within a few years, our human services welfare costs would surpass public education in Hawaii. This came to pass late in 2012,” Slom said. “It is a shame that Hawaii has such huge governmental costs and tax burden, which in turn creates more of a welfare class and the growing inability of a middle class to sustain themselves, let alone to privately assist the less fortunate. We have been promised hope and change in this state. There is no change, only hope.”

Suzie Chun Oakland, the chair of the Senate Human Services Committee, was traveling and could not be reached for comment. The vice chair of the committee, Josh Green, did not return an email inquiry about the study.

State Department of Human Services‘s director Pat McManaman refused comment on the Cato study, saying she hasn’t had time to review it. But the department did provide statistics on Hawaii’s welfare recipients including that supplemental nutrition benefits (SNAP) were provided to 176,676 people in FY 2012; General Assistance was distributed to 5537 individual per month in 2012, the Homeless Programs Office and its contracted agencies provided assistance to more than 14,380 individuals in 2012, the BESSD Child Care Connection Program assisted 20,234 families and MQD oversaw health care benefits for more than 287,000 eligible residents in FY 2012.

Kalbert Young, director of the state Department of Budget and Finance, said that over the next two fiscal years Hawaii is appropriating $2.75 billion and $2.83 billion —or about 20 percent of the state general fund budget — for operating expenses of “social services,” which includes funding for child protective services, community youth programs, adult community care services, general assistance payments, public housing, health care payments such as Medicaid and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. Slightly more than half of those funds come from Washington, D.C.

Tanner said there are 126 separate welfare programs funded by the federal government, 72 of which provide either cash or in-kind benefits to individuals. That’s on top of state and local program to help those with lower incomes.

“Of course, no individual or family gets benefits from all 72 programs, but many do get aid from a number of them at any point in time,” Tanner said.While it may make sense for people to accept welfare in the short term, Tanner said it may actually hurt them over the long term.

“One of the most important steps toward avoiding or getting out of poverty is a job. Only 2.6 percent of full-time workers are poor, versus 23.9 percent of adults who don’t work. And, while many anti-poverty activists decry low-wage jobs, even starting at a minimum-wage job can be a springboard out of poverty. Thus, by providing such generous welfare payments, we may actually not be helping recipients,” Tanner said.

Tanner suggests governments can do more.

“If Congress and state legislatures are serious about reducing welfare dependence and rewarding work, they should consider strengthening work requirements in welfare programs, removing exemptions and narrowing the definition of work,” Tanner said.





  1. […] would have to earn $60,590 in Hawaii to take home the same $49,175 a person on welfare would. It pays not to work: Hawaii residents receive highest welfare benefits in US | Hawaii Reporter When Welfare Pays Better than Work | Cato Institute 2013 Report: […]

  2. SO STUPID PEOPLE HERE, YOU ALL ARE FALLING FOR THE MEDIA HIKE, IF welfare and safe social net were so bad then how come that Europe have a great economy but also a great beneficial welfare system? Why you focus what some people do with the public benefits? Why you dont focus on Corporate tax breaks, money that are used for wars that enrich the oil companies or the banks bail out? THEY WASTE TENS OF TRILLIONS OF DOLLARS THOUSANDS TIMES MORE THEN PEOPLE IN WELFARE SO WHO IS THE BIGGEST PROBLEM IN HERE?

    • You’d be right if you weren’t so wrong. This current welfare system purchases votes for Democrats. Heck, just the other day it was reported about the 2 billion dollars in corruption with the Obama phone alone. Add billions more to these so called “green energy” companies in grants that have been wasted. The big bad companies your liberal talking points talk about, supply millions of tax paying jobs in this country.

      You forgot about the recent 10 billion Obama lost and wasted in the recent GM stock buyback.

      Here’s just a few of your Commander and Chief’s quotes:

      “I didn’t make this red line”

      “A youtube video caused this turmoil”

      “I promise to end the illegal wiretapping program of the Bush administration within 30 days of being sworn in as your next president”

      “We are not eavesdropping on law-abiding American citizens”

      “If you like your plan, you can take it with you”

      “I promise an open, honest debate on healthcare reform”

      “My healthcare law has NO new taxes for Americans”

      “I promise to cut the national debt in half within four years”

      “As president, Barack Obama will close the detention facility at Guantanamo.”

      “Increasing the debt ceiling would be irresponsible and un-American, and I won’t do it”

      “I will give you the most transparent administration in our nation’s history”

      “If you like your healthcare plan, you can keep it”

    • That would be the politicians that are elected into office by the people of Hawaii and in every state. It's called cronie capitalism. They give tax breaks and recieve boat loads in return for campaigns and lobbyists or the politicans family members. They are also allowed to insider trade. They are more then happy to have people working for the government rather thn the government working for us. Moving forward, So corporate tax breaks create money for wars that enrich oil companies? That is a very well thought out, carefully examined and unbiased statement. Tens of trillions of dollars and only thousands times more then people on welfare? Well being the wordsmith and mathematician that you are must do very well on the Dole and I don't mean pineapples. Things will not get better until we make the changes to our politicians. If they do not find a way to better things then they should be term limited and or removed. Without the pensions or benefits that a soldier doesn't recieve after serving for 25 years or more.. Hmm one term tax free pensions and benefits and usually and job waiting but the poor soldier, sailor, airman or Marine. Ahh we decided to cut back so goodluck thanks for whatever you did. I'll call you if I need a photo op. Jeez.. BTW I was embarrassed when I saw people walking around Waikiki with Patriots 19-0 shirts. I figured maybe in some war torn area or really poor 3rd world nation. What a shame and Sham.

  3. Economics is not a Science. Yet people treat it like it is. Our money economy is just like religion; You believe in the Bullcrap, even-though you know its a lie.

    • Well Miss, your belifs are rare as KITV reports "Church settles school facility-use lawsuit for $775K"
      Kahle and co-plaintiff Holly Huber asked the Department of Land and Natural Resources for documentation but were told there was none.The lawsuit is being filed on behalf of the state."
      These atheists are suing for money.
      If Kahle & Huber are watching out for Neil & the state, they should sue Martin Luther's parade organizers for rent to allow hare krishna & other cults to worship on Kapiolani park that day. But they are anti-Christian.

  4. So cush! So amazing!

    …Welfare pays less than $3,000/year more than the cost of living in Hawaii.

    Don't you find it odd that the states with the highest welfare amounts are also the states with the highest cost of living?

  5. Don't let this article fool you. Hawaii has a very high cost of living therefore a high welfare amount to counteract it. It's not like these people are making huge profits from their payment as one would immediately assume from reading this. Cost of living or just visiting there is extremely high and why American or anybody else would visit there is beyond me because your dollar doesn't get you very far. Considering the wages of workers, I can't see how anybody can afford to live there unless you were willing to give up your material possessions for nice weather and beaches.

  6. This is a perfect example of how unfair the authorities can be to the citizens. If a person that does not work at all receives this much money, what example are we giving to our youth?

  7. I bust my butt to make a living here in Hawaii – where everything is taxed and taxed some more and government is stupidly corrupt. Those on assistance here are innumerable to count. Now,it is the Hawaiians complaining that the Micronesians, moving to Hawaii by the hundreds, are taking away their benefits. In a sense, they are right. Logically thinking, there are too many people on benefits here already. There are help wanted signs everywhere, but, they are usually low paying and require you to work. Why do that when the state and federal government is dishing out the cash left and right? Many of the welfare folks over here are fighting for nation status. They feel so entitled, yet, don't seem to be doing much to be a working people. They dislike people that are not like them and are not overtly appreciative for what they receive for NOTHING. Then, here come the micronesians. Somebody else to upset them because they tap into the welfare coffer.

    • My wife went to the market a few years ago.The checker- lady behind the counter told her “did you know you are one of the only people that actually pay for your own groceries”? My wife was puzzled.The lady behind the counter preceded to school her with some statistical information .My wife came home and asked me what an EBT card was.

  8. So what will happen if Hawaii does gets the sovereignty they are now fighting for, where will all the welfare paymets come from?

    • I say let them and they can figure it out… They should be able to bring in plenty of money from tourism, agriculture, and leasing out land for military bases.

      All people have a right to determine their own political future, even if that means breaking away. This is why the outcome of the American Civil War was one of the greatest injustices our nation has ever inflicted (dragging half of our country along for the ride for the last 150 years of imperial misadventures.)

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