In May the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) requested comment on a proposal to update the Census Bureau’s poverty thresholds using an alternative, lower measure of inflation. That would mean lower poverty thresholds than under the current measure, with the gap between the two growing each year. And because the Census thresholds serve as the basis for the Department of Health and Human Services’ poverty guidelines, which help determine eligibility and benefits in many health care, nutrition, and other basic assistance programs, the proposed change would lower the income limits for all of these programs, cutting or eliminating assistance to hundreds of thousands of individuals and families in the coming years.
By the tenth year, for example, more than 250,000 seniors and people with disabilities would lose or receive less help from Medicare’s Part D Low-Income Subsidy Program, more than 300,000 children would lose comprehensive coverage through Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Plan, and hundreds of thousands of low-income households would lose eligibility for federal nutrition assistance, according to CBPP analysis.
Opposition came from a wide range of stakeholders, including health care providers (e.g., the American Medical Association and American Hospital Association); health plans (e.g., America’s Health Insurance Plans and the BlueCross BlueShield Association); advocates for seniors, people with disabilities, and others with serious health needs (e.g., AARP, the American Heart Association, and the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities); policymakers (e.g., the National Governors Association and 21 states’ attorneys general); and service organizations (e.g., the United Way and Catholic Charities).
They raised several serious concerns, explaining that the proposal would:
Moreover, the Administration’s process for considering the proposed change may be unlawful. As 21 states’ attorneys general wrote, “OMB has not advanced a basis for its considered changes. Indeed, OMB made clear that it intends to disregard relevant data. By declining to seek comment on the poverty guidelines and their application, OMB has artificially limited the scope of the information it would consider in determining the appropriate measure to use. . . . If OMB were to take any action to change the poverty threshold without considering its effect on the poverty guidelines and the many government programs that rely on those guidelines to determine eligibility for benefits, such action would necessarily be unlawful.”