How poor do you have to be before you’re in poverty?
The answer is important because many social welfare programs determine eligibility by some measure of poverty — often based on the federal poverty guidelines. These include the Medicaid health insurance program and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which was previously known as food stamps.
The federal poverty guidelines — which are sometimes loosely referred to as the “federal poverty level” — are set by the federal government as a baseline and take into account the size of your family and where you live.
Following is a look at how these poverty guidelines are determined, what they are used for, and how much they are in the 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories.
What the federal poverty guidelines are used for
Many federal, state and local government programs use poverty guidelines to determine eligibility. Some charities and private companies, such as utilities and pharmaceutical companies, also do. Here is a partial list of federal programs that base decisions on poverty guidelines:
- Head Start
- Children’s Health Insurance Program
- Certain parts of Medicaid
- Medicare – Prescription Drug Coverage (subsidized portion only)
- The Affordable Care Act’s premium tax credit
- Community Health Centers
- Migrant Health Centers
- Family Planning Services
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
- Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)
- National School Lunch Program (for free and reduced-price meals only)
- Low-Income Taxpayer Clinics
In contrast, here are some programs where income is relevant but the poverty guidelines are not used:
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
- Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)
- Some parts of Medicaid
- Section 8 low-income housing assistance
- Low-rent public housing
Who determines the federal poverty guidelines
The federal government maintains two measures of poverty that are easily confused: the “poverty thresholds” and the “poverty guidelines.”
Poverty thresholds are determined annually by the Census Bureau and are used for statistics that give us an estimate of how many Americans struggle to afford basic necessities.
Poverty guidelines are determined each January by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and used to determine financial eligibility for certain programs.
Adding further confusion is that different programs use the federal poverty guidelines differently. One program might set the cutoff at 125% of the guidelines while another might set it as high as 400%. For this reason, HHS publishes a downloadable chart showing different multiples of the guidelines.
Following are the 2022 federal poverty guidelines listed by location and household size.
These are the 2022 federal poverty guidelines by household size for Alaska:
- 1 person: $16,990
- 2 people: $22,890
- 3 people: $28,790
- 4 people: $34,690
- 5 people: $40,590
- 6 people: $46,490
- 7 people: $52,390
- 8 people: $58,290
- More than 8 people: Add $5,900 for each additional person
These are the 2022 federal poverty guidelines by household size for Hawaii:
- 1 person: $15,630
- 2 people: $21,060
- 3 people: $26,490
- 4 people: $31,920
- 5 people: $37,350
- 6 people: $42,780
- 7 people: $48,210
- 8 people: $53,640
- More than 8 people: Add $5,430 for each additional person
The 48 contiguous states and D.C.
The federal poverty guidelines are the same across the other 48 states as well as Washington, D.C. For 2022, they are:
- 1 person: $13,590
- 2 people: $18,310
- 3 people: $23,030
- 4 people: $27,750
- 5 people: $32,470
- 6 people: $37,190
- 7 people: $41,910
- 8 people: $46,630
- More than 8 people: Add $4,720 for each additional person
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) does not set federal poverty guidelines for the following territories:
- Puerto Rico
- U.S. Virgin Islands
- American Samoa
- Republic of the Marshall Islands
- Federated States of Micronesia
- Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands
In these parts of the U.S., poverty is defined on a case-by-case basis. For each federal program, “the federal office which administers the program is responsible for deciding whether to use the contiguous-states-and-D.C. guidelines for those jurisdictions or to follow some other procedure,” HHS says.
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