CHN: Redefining Poverty: The Trump Administration’s Latest Attack on Struggling Americans

The Trump Administration has put forth a proposal to change the way the federal poverty line is adjusted for inflation. Over time, this adjustment would reduce funding for essential human needs programs by billions of dollars. Millions of Americans would be affected, including children, seniors, people with disabilities, and others who are poor or near poor. The proposal is now in a public comment period, and members of the public with concerns have until June 21 to submit comments.

The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities states that the proposal “would over time cut or take away entirely food assistance, health, and other forms of basic assistance from millions of people who struggle to put food on the table, keep a roof over their heads, and see a doctor when they need to.”

“If the poverty line is altered in this fashion, fewer individuals and families will qualify over time for various forms of assistance, including many who work hard but are paid low wages,” CBPP states. “That’s because using a lower measure of inflation like the chained CPI to adjust the poverty line each year would make the eligibility thresholds for various programs that serve people in need lower and lower over time, compared with what the thresholds otherwise would be. This, in turn, would lower the income eligibility limits for programs like SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) and Medicaid, which are tied to the federal poverty line. It also would reduce the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) premium tax credits — and thereby increase the out-of-pocket premium charges faced by millions of people who purchase health insurance through the ACA marketplaces.”

According to the CBPP, the Trump Administration is considering using a lower inflation measure to adjust the poverty line while wholly ignoring other questions about the adequacy of the poverty line as a measure of whether households can meet basic needs.

The Trump Administration has floated its proposal through a “Request for Comment” – different from a proposed rule, but essentially a request for the public to provide information and views to the federal government on this potential change. But the CBPP notes that the Administration presented no research on how low-income families’ costs for basic necessities has changed over time, the adequacy of the poverty line itself as compared to the cost of basic necessities, or the implications of changing the poverty line for individuals’ and families’ access to needed assistance. Noting that public opinion research shows that most Americans think the current poverty measure is too low, the Center for American Progress’ Talk Poverty blog points out “It’s hard to reconcile a measurement that says only 12.3 percent of people in the U.S. are poor when more than 4 in 10 adults would struggle to come up with $400 in an emergency and 70 percent of voters have confronted a serious financial hardship in the last year.”

“Asking for public comment in apparent preparation for a policy change that could harm millions of struggling Americans over time, without providing the public with research and data on these basic questions, suggests this is not a serious effort to explore the important substantive issues that poverty measurement presents,” the CBPP said.

On Wednesday, May 22, CBPP and CHN will examine this issue in more depth in a webinar entitled, “The Latest Plan to Deny Assistance: Shrinking the Poverty Line.” The webinar will take place at 2 p.m. ET, and will last one hour. Closed captioning will be provided. You can register here. Even if you cannot make the webinar, by registering, you will automatically receive the webinar slides, a recording of the webinar, and a follow-up email with links to a CHN webpage with resources and easy ways to comment.