Skip to main content
Post Summary


COSM Commentary

October 11, 2023

Earlier this year, a National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine report recommended elevating the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) to the “nation’s headline poverty statistic,” and noted that the Office of Management and Budget could christen the SPM as the new official poverty measure. This action would require no Congressional input. The two interactive maps below report how this change would affect program eligibility and the distribution of federal aid to states. For further information, see the full post or the working paper.

Figure 1: Effect of Designating the Supplemental Poverty Measure the Official Measure on the Poverty Line and Program Eligibility for a Family of Four, by State, 2024

This interactive map shows how the poverty line would change in each state if the SPM were adopted as the official measure. While the existing poverty line is uniform across states, the SPM has a higher poverty threshold in areas with higher housing costs. The map is shaded based on how much each state’s poverty line would change. The darkest state, California, would see its poverty line for a family of four increase by $15,600. The lightest state, South Dakota, would see its poverty line decrease by $300. 

The map also shows how program eligibility thresholds tied to the official poverty line would change (viewable by hovering over a given state). Programs shown include SNAP, School Lunch, Medicaid (for children aged 6-17), ACA subsidies, and Medicare Part D subsidies. For example, the maximum income a family of four could have and still receive SNAP is currently just under $41,000 in every state except Alaska and Hawaii. The SNAP eligibility threshold would increase to over $61,000 in California while falling to about $40,500 in South Dakota. The program with the largest effects on the eligibility threshold are ACA subsidies. The maximum income to qualify would rise by over $62,000 in California (up to about $188,000), while falling by just over $1,000 (down to about $125,000) in South Dakota. 

In general, high income states like California, Massachusetts, Maryland, and New Jersey would see the largest expansions in families assisted by major means tested programs because their poverty lines would increase the most. Low income states like South Dakota, West Virginia, North Dakota, and Mississippi would see essentially no change in families assisted because their poverty lines would remain roughly unchanged.

Figure 2: Difference between Supplemental Poverty Rate and Official Poverty Rate, by State, 2017-2019

In addition to affecting the eligibility thresholds for means tested programs, making the SPM the official poverty measure could also change the poverty rates uses to allocate federal grants to states and localities. Examples of federal aid tied to poverty rates in an area include Title I education grants; Special Education Grants; the Individuals with Disabilities Act; the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children; the Community Development Block Grant; and the New Markets Tax Credit. If the SPM were adopted as the poverty definition used for these programs, the allocation of funding would change as well, since SPM poverty rates substantially differ from the existing official poverty rates.

The interactive map (Figure 2) shows the difference between the (existing) official poverty rate and the supplemental poverty rate in each state (which can be seen by hovering over a given state). In this case I use data covering the three year period from 2017-2019, because the Census Bureau recommends pooling three years of data for state-level estimates and because 2020 and 2021 were atypical in terms of economic conditions and income transfer policies. The states that would see the largest increases in their poverty rates—and thus likely receive a greater share of federal aid—by switching from the official to the supplemental poverty measure are California (5.8 percentage points), Maryland (4.4 percentage points) and New Jersey (4.4 percentage points). The states that would see the largest decrease in their poverty rates—and thus likely receive a smaller share of federal aid—are Mississippi (-3.9 percentage points), New Mexico (-3.5 percentage points) and Kentucky (-3.1 percentage points).