Lowering the Poverty Threshold Only Harms People with Low Incomes

By Elizabeth Odunsi

On May 7, the Trump Administration issued yet another administrative proposal that will harm families with low incomes and prevent them from accessing programs that address basic needs such as health and nutrition. The president’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued a notice requesting comments on changing the rate of inflation used to calculate the poverty threshold every year. Under the administration’s proposal, the poverty line would be adjusted using a lower measure of inflation than current practice. This lower rate of inflation would slow annual adjustments to the poverty line. Therefore, every year the poverty threshold would be lower than under the current calculation.

This technical change could have substantive impacts. The federal poverty line is used to set the eligibility standard for several critical programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Child Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), Medicaid, Head Start and many more. By artificially reducing the number of people with incomes that fall below the poverty threshold, over time this change will result in millions of individuals no longer qualifying for basic support services.

The administration claims this change would yield a more accurate calculation. In reality, it would underestimate the number of people who are living in poverty and make it even harder for families to access vital assistance programs. For example, a Center on Budget and Policy Priorities analysis of the proposal found that after 10 years more than 300,000 children would lose Medicaid or CHIP coverage. Moreover, ample evidence shows that the current poverty line already fails to accurately account for major family living expenses, such as child care, and significantly undercounts the number of families who struggle to meet their basic needs.

Due to the clear negative impact this proposal would have on families in low-income households, it’s important that the Trump Administration hear opposition to it. Public comments allow advocates and impacted populations to speak up and can raise awareness about the particular issue.

All of us can fight this proposal by submitting comments that directly address the misguided justification for the change. While OMB is not seeking comments on how this proposal would impact poverty guidelines and program eligibility directly, your comments can highlight how the current measure already falls short and why lowering it over time would result in an inaccurate measure of poverty. You can also urge OMB to conduct more thorough analyses of the proposal’s effects. Our partners at the Coalition for Human Needs have created a guide for leaving a detailed, high-quality comment.

Make your voice heard by submitting a public comment opposing changes to the federal poverty line calculation here by Friday, June 21. CLASP will be submitting a comment, and we hope you will, too.