Opinion: Changing the definition of poor won’t alleviate the poverty crisis
Poverty in the United States is at crisis levels. It’s not going away, it’s not getting better, and it’s an outrage that in the richest country in the world people are suffering and dying every day simply because they don’t have enough money. It’s imperative that we, as elected officials and those working in government, do all we can to understand where the needs are and how we can meet them.
In the United States we have proven anti-poverty programs — like Social Security, Medicaid and SNAP — that aim to help families who are struggling and provide a pathway to prosperity. What we lack is the political will to fund those and other programs at the proper scale to meet our poverty crisis.
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was promised as relief for the middle class, but it has not come to fruition. Instead, we’ve seen corporate tax rates slashed to allow corporations to make record profits, and instead of creating jobs they’ve given windfalls to shareholders. Meanwhile, the wealth gap in the U.S. is the largest it has been since the 1920s, right before the Great Depression. What’s the response from the White House? The Trump administration is now considering a change in the formula for defining the poverty level. That’s right — this administration’s anti-poverty efforts are focused on “cutting” poverty by simply redefining what it means to be poor.
Right now, our government uses the standard Consumer Price Index (CPI) to adjust the poverty line for inflation. Now, the administration, through the Office of Management and Budget, is considering a dangerous change to what’s called the Chained Consumer Price Index. The Chained CPI changes the inflation rate used to update the poverty line and would raise the poverty line more slowly than traditional CPI, in effect lowering the poverty line over time — a critical threshold for eligibility for all sorts of social programs that ensure everyone lives with dignity.
The Trump administration is determined to cut social services to the working class, and this seemingly subtle change is actually a big deal. Instead of addressing poverty head-on with proven programs that lift people up, the Trump administration is playing behind-the-scenes games with people’s lives.
This change would make millions of vulnerable people ineligible for assistance ranging from health care to food assistance. Programs like Head Start, Medicare Part D, SNAP and school lunches would be snatched from those who need it the most.
In my district — the third poorest in the country, where our biggest school district had to shut off water fountains because they weren’t safe — we simply cannot afford to go backward. We have more people, especially children, sliding into poverty each day, and we must rise to the challenge of serving them.
We should ensure we are taking a holistic approach to understanding poverty in the United States and ensure that our social programs reflect the best ways to provide the greatest resources to those in need.
Unfortunately, I’m not seeing that from the Trump administration. Instead of considering ways to actually address poverty, the administration would rather cheat the numbers and pretend poverty has decreased.
The Office of Management and Budget will be accepting public comment on the proposed change to the federal poverty line calculations. The deadline for public comment is Friday, June 21. You can submit your comment online here.
Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, represents Michigan's 13th district in the U.S. House of Representatives.