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How states rank: Federal spending driven by census data

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Mr. Reamer looked at the data in terms of metropolitan areas, counties, and states. In terms of metro areas, state capitals dominated in per capita spending – in large part because money flows from Washington to the state capitals for further distribution. Thus, the top five metro areas were all capitals: Albany, N.Y.; Sacramento, Calif.; Baton Rouge, La.; Harrisburg, Pa.; and Austin, Texas.

A look at the states may better illustrate how the census matters. Here’s one part of that analysis: The largest state program that relies on federal census statistics is Medicaid, the program for individuals who are not covered by private health-insurance programs and have low incomes. Medicaid represents about 58 percent of the federal census-driven dollars.

However, it’s not just a large population that matters for Medicaid. Instead, each state determines income-level eligibility, plus what health issues will be covered. What this means is that California, America’s most populous state, ranks 20th in terms of per capita federal spending based on census numbers. Vermont, meanwhile, has a generous Medicaid program, meaning that the rural state ranks second.

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