Millions of Americans who rely on government assistance programs soon will find it more difficult to obtain benefits if the Trump Administration goes forward with plans to change how poverty is legally defined. In effect, it's a sneak attack on those who need help the most.
Under consideration is changing how inflation is calculated in the “official poverty measure,” explained the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in a regulatory filing last month. The formula has been used since the 1960s to determine whether people qualify for certain federal programs and benefits.
The measure is calculated at three times the cost of a minimum food diet and adjusted annually for inflation. In 2018, a family of four making no more than $25,900 was considered impoverished. If the change is made, federal, state, and non-profit programs, including Medicaid and food stamps would be effected and if fewer people are included in the poverty threshold, fewer will be eligible for benefits.
So officially there will be fewer people living in poverty. Only they won't be, and what the government wants to do will only make their situation ever worse.
One proposal OMB suggested would be to use so-called chained CPI, which regularly shows a slower pace of price gains than traditional measures because it assumes consumers will substitute less expensive items when prices for specific individual goods increase significantly.
“Because of this, changes to the poverty thresholds, including how they are updated for inflation over time, may affect eligibility for programs that use the poverty guidelines,” OMB said in its notice.
The Nation magazine reports that “using the Chained CPI would mean more than 300,000 children would lose access to Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and more than 250,000 seniors and people with disabilities would lose help paying for Medicare health coverage. Millions fewer people would be able to take advantage of lifesaving programs.”
But that’s only a small part of the picture. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) publishes the CPI each month and reports that the index “affects the income of almost 80 million people as a result of statutory action” including:
47.8 million Social Security beneficiaries.
About 4.1 million military and Federal Civil Service retirees and survivors.
About 22.4 million food stamp recipients.
The cost of lunches for the 26.7 million children who eat lunch at school.
All of this tracks with consistent efforts by the Trump administration to make it more difficult for people to access welfare programs. Last year, Trump signed an executive order instructing federal agencies to strictly enforce work requirements for welfare recipients, including those who rely on Medicaid, and proposed additional, more stringent requirements that could further reduce eligibility.
Said Trump, “Millions of able-bodied, working-age adults continue to collect food stamps without working or even looking for work. Our goal is to move these Americans from dependence to independence, and into a good-paying job and rewarding career.”
That's a message designed to appeal directly to Trump's most ardent supporters who figure they worked hard for what they have, so let other people do the same. In the meantime, however, Trump's plan simply will make it even more difficult for those who need help to survive while they're trying to improve themselves.