By Rebecca Mayo, J.D.
HHS has updated the poverty guidelines for 2020 and noted a 1.8 percent inflation adjustment to this year’s guidelines.
The poverty guidelines have been updated for 2020 to account for last calendar year’s increase in prices as measured by the Consumer Price Index. According to HHS, the 2020 guidelines are roughly equal to the poverty thresholds for calendar year 2019, which will be published later this year by the Census Bureau. While HHS is responsible for calculating the poverty guidelines each year, agencies use the guidelines in varying ways within their programs. Therefore, questions relating to how the guidelines are used in a particular program should be directed to the Federal, state, or local office that is responsible for that program (Notice, 85 FR 3060, January 17, 2020).
Adjustment. The guidelines in the notice reflect a 1.8 percent price increase between calendar years 2018 and 2019. Once the inflation adjustment has been applied, the guidelines are rounded and adjusted to standardize the differences between family sizes. In the 48 contiguous states and the District of Columbia the poverty guideline for a single person is $12,760 and $26,200 for a family of four. These guidelines are slightly higher in Hawaii with a poverty guideline of $14,680 for a single person and $30,130 for a family of four. Alaska’s poverty guideline for a single person is $15,950 and $32,750 for a family of four. The guidelines are not defined for Puerto Rico or other outlying jurisdictions so the Federal office administering programs for those areas may choose to use the guidelines for the contiguous states and District of Columbia or follow some other procedure.
Application. The notice does not provide definitions of such terms as "income" or "family" as the programs vary in how they use these terms in applying the poverty guidelines. The poverty guidelines also do not make a distinction between farm and non-farm families or between aged and non-aged units. Some Federal programs use a percentage multiple of the guidelines to qualify for certain programs. For example, the relevant authorizing legislation or program regulations may require an applicant make no more than 125 percent or 185 percent of the guidelines to qualify.
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