Advance Notice: Briefs

Report: Trump poverty formula could cut number of welfare recipients

By: - June 11, 2019 2:51 pm

President Donald J. Trump gives a thumbs-up Friday, May 24, 2019, as he prepares to board Air Force One for his trip to Japan. | Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead via Flickr Public Domain

President Donald Trump’s administration is considering changing how the federal government calculates poverty.

But the proposed adjustment could lead to fewer people being eligible for public assistance programs, according to a new report from the Washington D.C.-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Coi Vanover, a retired coal miner, waits for free dental services in the early morning on July 22, 2017 in Wise, Virginia. The county is one of the poorest in the state, with high number of unemployed and underinsured residents. | John Moore/Getty Images

The liberal-leaning think tank argued that gradually lowering the official poverty line through smaller annual cost-of-living adjustments would lead to a rosier-than-reality portrait of poverty. That picture would likely shift more people off of food stamps or other public assistance programs, as well.

The White House’s Management and Budget Office posted a public comment request on the Federal Register for the proposed change last Friday. It would also use a different inflation measure that increases slower than the current rate.

Federal officials currently use the consumer price index to measure poverty.

The federal poverty line is $12,060 for a single individual and $24,600 for a family of four.

In Michigan, residents must make at or below 133%* of the federal poverty line to qualify for Medicaid. About 2.5 million residents — or one in four people in the state — receive health care benefits through the state.

Roughly 1.37 million Michigan residents received benefits through the state’s Food Assistance Program in 2017.

One in five Michigan children live in poverty, a 2018 report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation found. Nationally, almost one-third of kids across the U.S. lived in poverty in 2017, according to the University of Michigan. That’s equivalent to 12.8 million kids, and close to 40 million people, including adults.

The poverty rate in Flint was roughly 3.5 higher and 3 times higher in Detroit than nationally in 2017, according to U-M. Flint was the poorest city in the country that year, MLive reported.

A Flint water protest
Pastor Monica Villareal at a rally drawing attention to the Flint water crisis starting five years ago | Nick Manes

CBPP argues the change is bad policy because the price of goods and services is already climbing faster than the consumer price index, and the “official poverty line is already too low” as a bare-minimum measure of resources needed to cover basic needs.

“The Administration’s plan arbitrarily focuses on one questionable technical change that would lower the poverty line while ignoring the ample evidence that incomes at the poverty line are generally too low to make ends meet and have failed to keep up with basic needs,” the report said.

* This story has been updated with the correct percentage of the federal poverty rate to qualify for Medicaid in Michigan.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Michael Gerstein
Michael Gerstein

Michael Gerstein is a former Advance reporter covering the Governor's office, criminal justice and the environment.