Senior Policy Analyst
The Trump Administration is considering whether to use a lower inflation measure to calculate annual adjustments to the federal poverty line. This approach would ultimately hurt millions of seniors and people with disabilities who would lose their eligibility for, or receive less help from, programs to help them make ends meet. Many programs use the poverty line to determine eligibility and benefits and, if this proposal took effect, the cuts to these programs — and the numbers of people losing assistance or receiving less of it — would increase with each passing year.
Rather than continue to use the traditional consumer price index to calculate annual adjustments to the federal poverty line, the Administration is proposing to use a lower measure of inflation such as the “chained CPI.” That would lower the income thresholds to determine whether someone is eligible for a wide variety of federal programs, which in turn would cut or eliminate assistance to many individuals and families.
Take Medicare, which is critically important for seniors and people with disabilities. While Medicare eligibility itself doesn’t depend on income, lower-income Medicare enrollees qualify for federal help to pay their premiums, deductibles, and other cost sharing obligations through Medicaid or the Medicare Low-Income Subsidy (LIS) program. In many cases, eligibility for that assistance is based on the federal poverty line.
After ten years of updating the poverty line using the chained CPI, we estimate that:
While making it harder for seniors and disabilities to afford health care through Medicare, the proposal would also affect Medicaid eligibility in states that expanded the program under the Affordable Care Act.
Some seniors and people with disabilities would also lose eligibility for SNAP (food stamps), which provides important nutritional support for low-income seniors and people with disabilities living on fixed incomes. For seniors, SNAP participation is linked with reduced nursing home admissions and hospitalization and less frequent skipping of needed medicines. More than one-fourth of SNAP participants have an impairment or disability, so SNAP cuts would inevitably mean more hunger and hardship for people with disabilities.
A number of other programs that assist seniors and people with disabilities also have eligibility limits linked to the poverty level, meaning that some people would no longer be eligible for them (although these programs generally don’t serve all eligible people). These include, for example: