The various Trump administration policy efforts to make more poor people suffer more have been stymied in part by Congress. So the administration is moving toward an administrative change that would change the way poverty is defined, setting a new threshold that would strip benefits from millions.
The federal poverty line is set using the consumer price index (CPI), which measures changes in the cost of a basic market basket of consumer goods and services. It’s not necessarily the most accurate of measures for all the populations it applies to, but it does the basic job. As far as Trump is concerned, it does it too generously, so the administration is thinking about bringing back a proposal from a decade ago, which was included in the failed grand bargain negotiations between then-House Speaker John Boehner and then-President Barack Obama: the chained CPI. This assumes that consumers will substitute cheaper products when prices go up, and grows about a quarter of a percentage point less than the regular CPI, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Because there’s always cheaper rent and child care and utilities out there, amirite?
The federal poverty level is already unbelievably low—$12,140 for a single person in 2018. That could be reduce to $12,113 annually, according to chained-CPI advocate and former poor people punisher Douglas Holtz-Eakin, president of the American Action Forum and a former official in both Bush administrations. Yes, that’s a few dollars less a month, but when you’re operating at those margins, those few dollars count. When you’re also having to jump through all sorts of hoops to prove that you qualify for benefits, as Republicans are increasingly demanding, that’s adding insult to injury.
The proposal would also kick more people off of the Affordable Care Act, because it would lower premium-support payments and increase out-of-pocket premium costs faced by millions of people who get insurance through the ACA marketplaces. It’s a way to punish people in states that aren’t going along with things such as work requirements for Medicaid, and to take those benefits away. The proposal would “unilaterally strip working class people of Medicaid, nutrition assistance and other basic support by pretending that our definition of poverty is too generous,” said Melissa Boteach, vice president for income security, child care, and early learning for the National Women’s Law Center.
And it’s completely up to the administration to impose—there’s no statute or regulation that stipulates how the poverty line is set. Meanwhile, major American corporations reaped $150 BILLION from the Trump tax cuts last year.
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