How poor do you have to be before you break even?
The answer is important because many welfare programs determine eligibility by some poverty criteria, often based on federal poverty guidelines. These include the Medicaid health insurance program and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps.
Federal poverty guidelines, sometimes called the “federal poverty level,” are set by the federal government as a baseline and take into account the size of your family and where you live.
Below is how these poverty guidelines are determined, what they are used for, and how much they are in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and US territories.
What are the federal poverty guidelines used for?
Many federal, state, and local government programs use poverty guidelines to determine eligibility. Some charities and private companies, such as utilities and pharmaceutical companies, also do this. Here is a partial list of federal programs that make decisions based on the poverty guidelines:
- Children’s Health Insurance Program
- Some parts of Medicaid
- Medicare – prescription drug coverage (subsidized portion only)
- The Affordable Care Act premium tax credit
- Community health centers
- Migrant Health Centers
- Family planning services
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
- Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)
- National School Lunch Program (for free and reduced-price meals only)
- Clinics for low-income taxpayers
In contrast, here are some programs where income is eligible but the poverty guidelines are not used:
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
- Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)
- Some parts of Medicaid
- Section 8 Low Income Housing Assistance
- Low-rent public housing
Who sets the federal poverty guidelines?
The federal government maintains two poverty standards that are easily confused: “poverty thresholds” and “poverty guidelines.”
Poverty lines are determined each year by the Census Bureau and are used for statistics that give us an estimate of how many Americans struggle to afford basic necessities.
Poverty guidelines are set each January by the US Department of Health and Human Services and are used to determine financial eligibility for certain programs.
A further conundrum is that different programs use the federal poverty guidelines differently. One program may set a cutoff of 125% of guidelines, while another may set as high as 400%. For this reason, HHS publishes a downloadable chart that shows the different multiples of the guidelines.
Below are the 2022 federal poverty guidelines, listed by location and household size.
These are the 2022 federal poverty guidelines by household for Alaska:
- 1 person16990 dollars
- 2 people$22,890
- 3 people$28,790
- 4 people$34,690
- 5 people$40,590
- 6 people$46,490
- 7 people$52,390
- 8 people$58,290
- More than 8 peopleAdd $5,900 for each additional person
These are the 2022 federal poverty guidelines by family size for Hawaii:
- 1 person15630 dollars
- 2 people21060 dollars
- 3 people$26,490
- 4 people31920 dollars
- 5 people$37,350
- 6 people$42,780
- 7 people48210 dollars
- 8 people$53,640
- More than 8 peopleAdd $5,430 for each additional person
48 contiguous states and DC
The federal poverty guidelines are the same in the other 48 states, as well as in Washington, D.C., for 2022. They are:
- 1 person$13,590
- 2 people18310 dollars
- 3 people23030 dollars
- 4 people$27,750
- 5 people$32,470
- 6 people$37,190
- 7 people41910 dollars
- 8 people46630 dollars
- More than 8 peopleAdd $4,720 for each additional person
The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) does not set federal poverty guidelines for the following areas:
- Puerto Rico
- US Virgin Islands
- American Samoa
- Republic of the Marshall Islands
- Federated States of Micronesia
- Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands
In these parts of the US, poverty is defined on a case-by-case basis. For each federal program, “the federal office administering the program is responsible for determining whether to use the associated state and DC guidelines for those jurisdictions or to follow some other procedure,” HHS says.