What's Poverty? HHS Gives us New Figures

CAFCA | February 05, 2014 |

 It’s a subject that can befuddle many of us: the definition of poverty.

 
Well, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) puts out very important poverty guidelines each year, altering them to account for the previous calendar year's increase in prices as measured by the Consumer Price Index. 
 
Its newest ones were published Wednesday in the Federal Register, the bible of government announcements.
 
Here they are for the 48 contiguous states, obviously including New York, and the District of Columbia, based on how many people there are in a household:
 
Persons in family/household Poverty guideline
1                             $11,670
2                              15,730
3                              19,790
4                              23,850
5                              27,910
6                              31,970
7                              36,030
8                              40,090
 
The poverty guidelines are used in very significant ways, as even feuding New York officials like Gov. Cuomo and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio surely know. 
 
They are the bedrock of determining eligibility for the Community Services Block Grant program and many other federal programs. The HHS guidelines issued Wednesday are a simplified version of ones that the Census Bureau uses to prepare its own estimates of how many Americans are in poverty.
 
HHS updates the figures after studying any percentage change in the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U). The guidelines in this new notice “reflect the 1.5 percent price increase between calendar years 2012 and 2013. After this inflation adjustment, the guidelines are rounded and adjusted to standardize the differences between family sizes.”
 
HHS doesn’t offer definitions of “income” or “family” since there are differences in how different programs define those terms. That simply reflects different laws and regulations impacting those programs. 
 
For example, questions like “Is income counted before or after taxes?” “Should a particular type of income be counted?” and “Should a particular person be counted as a member of the family/household?” immerse one in how an individual programs applies poverty guidelines. 
 
The poverty guidelines do not make a distinction between farm and non-farm families.
 
However, they do make a distinction between those 48 contiguous states and the District of Columbia and both Hawaii and Alaska. For the latter, the poverty guidelines are slightly higher: For example, its $14,580 for an individual in Alaska and $13,420 for one in Hawaii.