with permission from Carol Robidoux / Manchester Ink Link
President Trump discusses the opioid epidemic in Manchester, New Hampshire in March 2018 (with permission from Carol Robidoux / Manchester Ink Link)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A proposal by the Trump administration to change how the Census Bureau measures poverty has advocates concerned that millions nationwide may lose benefits.

The concern is particularly high in states such as Connecticut because of the high cost of living.

The Trump administration is proposing to change how the Census Bureau’s official poverty measure is adjusted annually for inflation. The proposed changes would gradually decrease the poverty line over time, even though inflation is likely rising faster for low-income households than for households overall.

On Tuesday, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) held a conference call to discuss the proposal to change the Census Bureau’s poverty thresholds from the Consumer Price Index (CPI) to either the “chained” CPI or the Personal Consumption Expenditures Price Index.

The administration could move forward with its proposal anytime after the June 21 deadline for public comments.

Policy defenders in the administration contend that millions of Americans have become overly reliant on government help — and less self-sufficient.

Some economists argue Trump’s plan is a more accurate way to measure inflation, and both Barack Obama’s and George W. Bush’s administrations tried, without success, to introduce the use of the chained CPI in federal programs.

The fact that the administration could move forward — on its own without any further approvals — is a source of concern for CBPP.

“Changes in programs have always been proposed through legislation in the past,” said CBPP Vice President for Health Policy Aviva Aron-Dine. She said it is particularly troubling that such major changes “can move forward anytime after Friday and can do so simply by issuing a memo.”

In the past, Aron-Dine said, Congress has always voted on such major changes as the ones being suggested.

“I think the administration expected this to fly below the radar because it is so technical,” Aron-Dine said. “But it is really a proposal to lower the poverty line,” that she said would impact millions of people in every state of the country.

That impact would certainly be felt in Connecticut, according to advocates who work on behalf of those in need.

“The official poverty measure is already too low,” Sharon Langer, interim executive director for Connecticut Voices for Children, said. “True poverty is the inability to afford the basics and the current poverty line is already far below what is needed to raise a family.”

Langer said that’s especially true in states like Connecticut with a high cost of living.

CBPP said the administration’s proposal https://www.cbpp.org/research/poverty-and-inequality/administrations-poverty-line-proposal-would-cut-health-food would ultimately cause millions of people to lose eligibility for, or receive less help from, health, food assistance, and other programs that help them meet basic needs and discuss its analytical flaws.

Neither of the proposed changes would improve the accuracy or usefulness of this threshold, officials from CBPP said. In fact, they said both options would make the threshold even less accurate by applying a smaller cost-of-living adjustment each year without addressing well-documented problems with the poverty measure.

In Connecticut, the number of households unable to afford basic necessities rose by 11 percent from 2010 to 2013 as the basic costs of living increased by 23 percent over this same time period, Langer said.

Langer added: “Connecticut has seen a slow and incomplete recovery from the last recession with wage stagnation and a slower economic recovery than neighboring states.”

Langer stated that low-income households may experience higher inflation.

Furthermore, Langer stated: “We want to note that this proposal would harm working families living in poverty because it would make access to supports such as Medicaid, SNAP, and WIC less accessible over time. As a result, families will have even less and struggle more to make ends meet.”

Evidence suggests, Langer stated, that the price of goods and services purchased by lower-income households, such as housing, are rising faster than those that dominate the spending of other income groups. Low-income households spend a larger than average share of their budgets on housing; the price of rent rose 31 percent from 2008 to 2018, much faster than the overall CPI (17%).

She added that more families are struggling with higher costs and no change in income.

Further, additional research suggests that low-income families have fewer choices for changing their consumption patterns when prices shift due to limited access to nearby retailers, poor transportation, and limited internet access.

Over the years a number of sources, including the National Academy of Sciences have identified inadequacies in the poverty line methodology being proposed by the administration.

One example is that the methodology does not include childcare costs — a major expense for working families at all income levels.