Trump’s poverty rule could cut benefits to 15,000 California households over time, report says

The Trump administration’s proposal to change how the federal government determines what constitutes poverty would make 15,000 fewer households in California eligible for benefits within 15 years, according to a new D.C. think tank study.

The rule – which could be instituted next week – would also have implications for hundreds of thousands of people nationwide who rely on the government for food and medical benefits, including Medicaid and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Funding, formerly known as food stamps.

The effects would be compounded every year, according to Aviva Aron-Dine, vice president for health policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a left-leaning D.C. think tank. So the more time that passes — should the rule be enacted — the more people would no longer qualify for low-income household benefits, which Aron-Dine said they desperately need.

“After 10 years, program eligibility would drop by 2 percent, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but you’re talking about programs that affect millions of people,” Aron-Dine said.

The rule by the Office of Management and Budget proposes tying the poverty level to a different measurement of inflation, one that grows more slowly over time by assuming families will buy items of lower cost as prices on other products increase. Some economists have argued for years that the new inflation measure would be more accurate. The public comment period ends Friday, which means the administration could enact the change after that point.

The poverty line for a family of four is currently just less than $26,000, and 13.3 percent of Californians live in poverty, according to the latest U.S. Census figures. When the cost of housing and other basic expenses are taken into account, the Census reports that 19 percent of Californians live in poverty.

“Studies show these people on the edge of the poverty line already struggle with food insecurity and missed utility, rent and mortgage payments,” Aron-Dine said.

The Urban Institute, a nonprofit research organization, released a breakdown of how the proposal would change who is eligible for SNAP, food help for low-income households. It showed that if this rule was proposed 15 years before, 241,000 fewer households nationwide would be eligible for SNAP by 2016. The effect was worst in high-population states such California, Florida and New York.

More than 800,000 Californians currently benefit from SNAP.

Some families also would no longer be eligible for other programs such as Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Nationwide, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimated that the following would happen within 10 years of the proposed rule’s enactment:

  • More than 250,000 seniors and those suffering from disabilities would have to pay higher health care premiums or prices on medications.
  • About 300,000 children would lose health care coverage under Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

  • About 100,000 children would lose free or reduced price meals.

The Office of Management and Budget did not respond to a request for comment.

Kate Irby is based in Washington, D.C. and reports on issues important to McClatchy’s California newspapers, including the Sacramento Bee, Fresno Bee and Modesto Bee. She previously reported on breaking news in D.C., politics in Florida for the Bradenton Herald and politics in Ohio for the Cleveland Plain Dealer.