Narrowing What Poverty “Means” Doesn’t Change the Conditions of Poor Folk!

June 4, 2019 Jules Kessler

In early May, the Trump administration proposed a change to the process of determining the Official Poverty Measure (OPM). The OPM, colloquially known as the poverty line, has been formulated based on cost of food since its inception. According to census.gov “current official poverty measure was developed in the mid 1960s by Mollie Orshansky, a staff economist at the Social Security Administration. Poverty thresholds were derived from the cost of a minimum food diet multiplied by three to account for other family expenses.” This figure is used to determine whether folks are poor or not, which in turn is used to determine eligibility for federal and state safety net programs including Medicaid, CHIP, and food stamps.

We know all too well that as is the OPM doesn’t accurately assess folk’s state of economic security or insecurity. Although food was one of the larger expenses when the OPM was developed, we know that housing and health care costs now take up a much larger percentage of family expenses. We know that as is the OPM is not designed to support and uplift poor and working-class people. And yet this administration is attempting to further distance individual’s reality of struggle from the way the system classifies what struggle means.

The proposed change to the OPM would vastly narrow the institutional definition of poverty resulting in the harm of hundreds of thousands of people losing access to health care, food, and housing, including roughly 300,000 children losing health care. We know that when we uplift and support the most marginalized folks everyone in society benefits, yet the proposed change to the OPM would NOT change or improve the conditions of marginalized and struggling people; it would not add money or other resources to the pockets of those working multiple jobs, struggling to get by and support their families. Instead, this proposal would “redefine” poverty to exclude even more people from accessing support—support that cannot be miraculously regained by “better” budgeting or getting yet another job. We know that we must fight to dismantle the structures that allow poverty to exist, we cannot pretend that poverty doesn’t exist by redefining the word. We cannot define people’s experiences out of existence.

We ask that you share your voice by following this link and demanding that the Trump administration doesn’t shrink the poverty line! https://actionnetwork.org/letters/dont-shrink-the-poverty-line-comment-today-to-stop-the-latest-plan-to-deny-assistance