FPL Guidelines Remain Unchanged for 2010

By Martha Heberlein

For all those wondering what was going on with the 2010 federal poverty level, your answer arrived today in the Federal Register. But while I have your attention, here’s the back-story.

A decline in the average CPI-U during 2009 would have required HHS to issue poverty guidelines in 2010 that were actually lower than those in 2009, leading to a reduction in eligibility for the safety net programs that rely on the guidelines, including Medicaid. (This would have been an unprecedented event – the only reduction since the issuance of the first poverty guidelines in 1965).

In December, the Department of Defense Appropriations Act (go figure) included a provision to freeze the poverty guidelines at 2009 levels through March 1, 2010. This freeze has been extended twice more until at least May 31, 2010. (I say at least, because all three extensions included language stipulating that the poverty levels would remain in place until updated guidelines were published, hence the somewhat fungible deadlines).

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been on pins and needles since the end of May waiting for the publication of the updated guidelines. Well, the wait is over… ASPE modified the procedure for updating the guidelines to take into account the changes in the CPI-U during the freeze. (Typically, ASPE uses price changes through the most recent “completed” year. In this case, they also took into account the changes between January 2009 and May 31, 2010.)

The percentage increase in the CPI-U was so small that as a result, the poverty guideline figures for the remainder of 2010 are unchanged from the 2009 poverty guideline figures. These guidelines will remain in effect until ASPE publishes the 2011 guidelines, which are expected in late January 2011.