Thousands in Virginia would lose health and food assistance under proposed change to federal poverty line

State social services workers signed up homeless residents for Medicaid at a resource fair in Richmond in early November. (Ned Oliver/ Virginia Mercury)

President Donald Trump’s administration is currently considering changing how the federal poverty line is calculated, which could mean thousands in Virginia might lose access to medical and food assistance programs.

The poverty level, currently $12,490 for a single adult, is adjusted every year to account for inflation, but the new proposal would use a lower measure of inflation than in the past. The Office of Management and Budget is currently accepting comments on the proposal.

The change would essentially mean that the poverty line would increase more slowly, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal-leaning research and policy institute, and millions of people nationwide who would otherwise be eligible for programs like Medicaid and free school lunches, which use the poverty line to determine eligibility, will not have access.

After the Friday deadline for comments, the administration could move forward with the changes, according to the center.

The programs range from Medicare and Medicaid to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. It would also impact those who receive subsidies on the Affordable Care Act’s marketplace and kids covered by the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP.

About 9,000 fewer households in Virginia would have been eligible for SNAP in 2016 if the federal government had used the proposed method of calculating inflation, according to the Urban Institute.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities says 250,000 adults nationwide would lose coverage to Medicaid expansion, while 300,000 children would lose health insurance through CHIP.

By the 10th year using the proposed poverty level calculation, “millions of people would lose eligibility for, or receive less help from, health coverage programs,” the center says. “These widespread cuts would raise uninsured rates and worsen access to care, financial security, and health.”

It’s not clear how many people in Virginia are at risk of losing eligibility to the state’s health programs, but thousands are currently enrolled in them. More than 290,000 people have signed up for Medicaid through the state’s expansion, and almost 80,000 of those have incomes just below the eligibility threshold.

Another 138,233 Virginia children were enrolled in CHIP in June, according to the Department of Medical Assistance Services.

Freddy Mejia, policy analyst with the Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis in Richmond, noted in a blog that many whose incomes are just above the federal poverty line already struggle to make ends meet. A 2017 Urban Institute survey noted that 60 percent of those living between 100 and 200 percent of the poverty line experience food insecurity, problems paying medical bills or missed rent or mortgage payments.

“These numbers show that the current poverty guidelines are extremely low given the needs of families with low incomes, and this proposal could put more families in hardship,” Mejia wrote.