Federal Poverty Level and Seniors

Last Updated on January 27, 2024 by Rachel

Poverty is related to poor health outcomes. It influences health-related behaviors, influences environmental exposures, and increases the risk of prolonged diseases and mortality. Among the elderly, poverty increases the risk of homelessness, disability, and physical and mental decline. In the United States, a family’s income is compared to a set poverty minimum amount to cover basic needs to measure its poverty. If the income falls under the threshold, it is considered poor.


A lot of older adults survive on limited incomes and little savings that restrict their ability to afford simple medical care. About 63% of adults aged 65 and above have at least 2 chronic illnesses, leading to more out-of-pocket expenses. The minimum amount of annual income needed for essentials such as clothes, shelter, and transport is known as The Federal Poverty Level (FPL). The FPL considers the income, the number of people in a household, and the state they are in.

There is also a monthly cash benefit known as the Federal Benefit Rate. It is the maximum payment that an aged, disabled, or blind adult can get via Supplemental Security Income. Many other assistance programs also use SSI figures to determine if an applicant has an eligible income. A percentage of the FPL is usually used to determine income eligibility for an aged, disabled, pregnant women, children less than 18 years, and the blind Medicaid, whereas a percentage of the FBR is mostly used to determine if a person’s income is eligible for a nursing home Medicaid or a Home and Community-Based Services (HCBS) Medicaid waiver other than the official poverty measure, there is also the Supplemental poverty Estimate which was introduced in 2011. It’s a measure that adjusts for government programs related to housing, food, utilities, and other expenses like out-of-pocket medical expenses.

More elderly women are living in poverty as compared to their male counterparts. Most Hispanic and Black older adults are struck by poverty versus older adults. The percentage of the elderly in poverty between the ages of 65-69 is lower than for adults over 80 years. There are a lot of local government, federal-state programs, and community programs that exist to help and support the number of adults living in poverty. These programs include Social Security which helps a lot of adults who are at least 65. On average, a retired worker earns $1,555 monthly. The disabled on social security who have a few resources also benefit from the Supplemental Security Income. The government has a health insurance program, Medicare, for all adults who are 65 and older. If adults enrolled in Medicare have limited resources and income they may qualify for additional help to pay for out-of-pocket expenses and premiums through Medicaid. Affordable housing resources are provided by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development for the elderly. The U.S. Department of Agriculture offers food and nutrition support through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The older American Act Title III funds home-delivered meals and congregate meals that serve adults with low incomes. Healthy People 2030 has the aim of reducing the percentage of all people living in poverty to 8.0%.

The 2022 New Hampshire has the least overall FPL of 7.3%. The highest poverty level is in Nebraska with an FPL of 9.9%. Overall the percentage f the 10 states fluctuate at around 9.3%. Assistance programs use the FPLs to set financial eligibility criteria. Normally programs limit a participant’s income to 100% of their PFL. The U.S. Census Bureau helps the Department of Health and Human Services to update its information and publish it.

The FPL and Federal Poverty Guidelines are similar, however, they shouldn’t be confused with the Federal Benefit Rate (FBR) / Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Limit. These guidelines are applied in the same way to the aged as well as the non-aged units. The Census Bureau is the one with separate statistics for the age and the non-aged. Examples of programs that use guidelines such as the 185% guidelines criteria include the SNAP, Head Start, the National School Lunch Program, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program. Cash public assistance programs do not use guidelines to determine eligibility. These include Supplemental Security Income, the Earned Income Tax Credit Program, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

The Census Bureau and the Office of Management and Budget gave the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) to cater for the limitations of the official poverty measure. The SPM has 2 components: financial resources and expenses. It also factors in non-cash transfers such as tax credits, SNAP benefits, geographic cost of living differences, child care, and medical care, and whether a family pays mortgage or rents. The SPM also helps foster children, unrelated children who are younger than 15, and unmarried partners and their children. The SPM has no intentions of being used to get poverty guidelines to determine program eligibility.

Lawmakers refer to the official poverty measure when they speak about lifting people out of poverty. It was developed in the 1960s when the Johnson administration wanted a way to find out how many people are in poverty, measure the effectiveness of antipoverty policies and offer aid. Mollie Orshansky developed a measure from food plans from the Department of Agriculture. It was based on the number of people who afford a nutritional and fair diet. 2 versions of the official poverty measure are the poverty thresholds produced by the U.S and the Census Bureau Federal poverty guidelines (FPG). Poverty starting points are also used to measure poverty. Guidelines and poverty thresholds are updated annually being influenced by the consumer price index. Those in military barracks, college dorms, prisons, etc. are not considered in the poverty estimates.

Most policymakers, researchers, and those studying poverty argue that the official poverty measure is flawed. A better one needs to be developed. It is based on a family’s pre-tax cash income. Other benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), housing subsidies, or other forms of government assistance are not looked at. Other costs related to clothing, housing, transportation, and other expenses considered basic human needs are neglected. The official measure also does not account for differences in the cost of living across the United States.