The federal poverty measurement hasn’t changed much in the 45 years since Mollie Orshansky first created it – until now. Yesterday, the government announced that they are experimenting with a new Supplemental Poverty Measure, with a final version to be announced in the fall.
During Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty in the 1960s, Orshansky developed the current criteria, which are based on household size, income and food expenses. The new measure would take into account costs like housing, medical care, child care and utilities.
It has long been accepted that the poverty measure needs updating. While in Orshansky’s day, food may have been the largest cost to a family, it’s now dwarfed by other expenses.
Moreover, a reassessment of the poverty measure is a step toward better data – one of the Alliance’s key principles. In order to move towards effective solutions, we must first have a comprehensive understanding of the problem.
Why is the federal poverty measurement important for services to the homeless? For one, the current measurement determines eligibility for programs – Medicaid, TANF, and food stamps, to name a few – that both help prevent homelessness and help stabilize people who experience homelessness.
According to yesterday’s announcement, the new criteria won’t impact eligibility for these programs; instead, it will only be used by the Census Bureau to more accurately determine the rate of poverty in the U.S.
Still, kudos to the Administration for their brave examination of the poverty measure. While it may be politically unwise to acknowledge much more poverty than is officially measured, it is certainly prudent and responsible to reach out to those most in need of our assistance.
As Pres. Obama has mentioned again and again: change is hard, but together – we can make it happen.