The Department of Health and Human Services updated their annual poverty guidelines this month. The annual guidelines set poverty at $12,490 for 1, $16,910 for 2, $21,330 for three and $25,750 for a family of four. There are separate calculations for Alaska (a family of four is $32,190) and Hawaii (a family of four is $29,620). The poverty guidelines are not defined for Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and Palau. For federal programs using the poverty guidelines serving these US territories and islands the federal office that oversees the program is responsible for deciding whether to use the contiguous-states- (non-Alaska-Hawaii poverty standards) guidelines for those jurisdictions or to follow some other procedure.

Dozens of programs across the federal government are affected by the annual income figures. Some of these include: Head Start, Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)
Pats of Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, Community Health Centers
Migrant Health Centers, Family Planning Services, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)
Parts of the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Programs to name several. States also base eligibility for some of their services and programs.

The poverty guidelines are calculated by taking the 2017 Census Bureau’s poverty thresholds and adjusting them for price changes between 2017 and 2018 using the Consumer Price Index-Urban (CPI-U).

Over the years there has been debate on how well they measure poverty with some conservatives such as the Heritage Foundation arguing that poverty rates aren’t as high because it doesn’t count as income certain support programs such as the nutrition programs. Others such as argue that the standard of living—which is adjusted each year by inflation, measure an old set of needs that don’t accurately reflect what people and families need to exist in the 21st century. The result of the debate is that we maintain the existing formulas.