Trump administration’s poverty line proposal would harm families

Written by: Sarah Barnes
Date Posted: May 24, 2019

This month the Trump administration issued a request for comments on a proposal to change the way the federal poverty line is adjusted for inflation. The change would have significant and lasting impacts on families who are already struggling to overcome barriers to financial security. Over time, this proposal would lower the federal poverty line, which already underestimates the number of struggling families in the United States. It would also limit eligibility for critical programs that support children and families.

The administration is requesting comments on the proposal until June 21. We will provide sample comments and information about how to take action in the coming weeks. For now, read on to learn more about this troubling proposal.

The proposal would lower the measure of inflation currently used to calculate adjustments to the federal poverty level each year. This would lower the poverty line—and the gap between the poverty line today and in the future would widen each year. We know that the poverty line is already too low – $25,750 for a family of four in 2019 – and does not take into account the expenses families face today, such as child care, housing, and health care. The poverty line also does not vary from state to state to account for differences in cost of living. In 2017, 12 percent of Colorado kids, or 149,000 kids, lived in poverty under the current poverty measure. Given how outdated the measure is, this is already an underestimate of how many kids in Colorado are living in families who don’t earn enough to afford our high cost of living.

In addition, the federal poverty line is used to determine eligibility for a number of programs that remove barriers to health and well-being for kids and families. The proposed change would have significant and lasting impacts on eligibility for programs such as Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the National School Lunch Program, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), and Head Start. For example, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that if this proposal were adopted, after 10 years more than 300,000 kids and many pregnant women would lose coverage through Medicaid and CHIP.

We know that these critical programs help keep families out of poverty. SNAP lifted 1.5 million children out of poverty nationally in 2016 and the National School Lunch Program lifted 762,000 kids out of poverty. The administration’s proposal would not only lower an already outdated and inadequate measure of poverty in the United States, but it would also decrease access to programs that help support children and families. Instead of improving the way we measure poverty in the United States, this proposal would move us in the wrong direction, leaving even more children and families behind.

Sarah Barnes

About Sarah Barnes

Sarah serves as the Policy Analyst for the Colorado Children’s Campaign. Prior to joining the Children’s Campaign in September 2014, Sarah taught middle school English and worked as an Interventionist at Pioneer Charter School in Denver. She was a 2011 Teach For America corps member. Prior to teaching, Sarah worked as an attorney in Denver in the areas of venture capital, mergers and acquisitions, general corporate and business law, and commercial transactions. Sarah earned a BA in English from Midland University and a J.D. from the University of Michigan.