Federal Accounting Change Could Have Serious Impacts for Low-Income Virginians

Jun 24, 2019

Budget officials in Washington are considering an accounting tweak that could harm people who live in poverty.

Is poverty in America overstated? That’s a concern driving a potential change to the way the Office of Management and Budget uses the consumer price index to calculate poverty.

Freddy Meija at the Commonwealth Institute says that change could be disastrous for thousands of Virginians who would lose access to health care or children who would no longer receive free or reduced price lunch.

“These are people with disabilities, children, seniors and also people of color who are overrepresented in poverty due to historical and present day inequalities in income, education and generational wealth,” Meija explains.

Bill Bergman is director of research at the Chicago-based nonprofit Truth in Accounting. He says the accounting tweak doesn’t have to lead to people losing access to health care or children would miss out on lunch.

“What this effort is trying to do is to improve, in theory, the measurement of inflation," says Bergman. "And it may have the side effect of reducing the number of people. But that can easily be fixed if you care about delivering the same amount of services to poor people by changing the qualification levels.”

Those qualification levels would need to be changed at the state and federal levels, so there’s a real risk to thousands of people in Virginia who might lose services — at least in the short term. The comment period on the change is open through the end of this month.

Credit U.S. Census Bureau

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.