COVID-19

With more people falling below the poverty line, a look at what benefits they might receive

Mitchell Hartman Sep 15, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace Morning Report
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The poverty threshold, just over $26,000 a year for a family of four, is used to allocate more than a trillion dollars in government payments. Spencer Platt/Getty Images
COVID-19

With more people falling below the poverty line, a look at what benefits they might receive

Mitchell Hartman Sep 15, 2020
The poverty threshold, just over $26,000 a year for a family of four, is used to allocate more than a trillion dollars in government payments. Spencer Platt/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
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The latest report from the Census Bureau on income, poverty and health insurance coverage is out. The figures are for 2019, however, and, unfortunately, in this year of pandemic recession and tens of millions of people losing their jobs and income, last year’s numbers are already out-of-date.

It’s likely more people have fallen below the poverty line. And that matters, because the poverty line determines who’s eligible for a whole lot of federal assistance programs.

The poverty rate measures the percentage of people who don’t earn enough to get by in this economy. The income cutoff — called the poverty threshold — is just over $26,000 a year for a family of four.

Economist Bruce Meyer at the University of Chicago said that, in turn, is used “to allocate literally more than a trillion dollars in government payments.”

The poverty line determines eligibility for a host of federal aid programs, including Head Start and school lunches, SNAP (formerly known as Food Stamps), children’s health insurance, family planning, parts of Medicaid and legal aid.

Valerie Wilson at the Economic Policy Institute said that with pandemic job losses, “the reduced income for a larger number of people will mean that more people are eligible for various programs.”

Wilson says job and income losses have been greatest among low-income workers of color, especially women.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What’s going on with extra COVID-19 unemployment benefits?

It’s been weeks since President Donald Trump signed an executive memorandum that was supposed to get the federal government back into the business of topping up unemployment benefits, to $400 a week. Few states, however, are currently paying even part of the benefit that the president promised. And, it looks like, in most states, the maximum additional benefit unemployment recipients will be able to get is $300.

What’s the latest on evictions?

For millions of Americans, things are looking grim. Unemployment is high, and pandemic eviction moratoriums have expired in states across the country. And as many people already know, eviction is something that can haunt a person’s life for years. For instance, getting evicted can make it hard to rent again. And that can lead to spiraling poverty.

Which retailers are requiring that people wear masks when shopping? And how are they enforcing those rules?

Walmart, Target, Lowe’s, CVS, Home Depot, Costco — they all have policies that say shoppers are required to wear a mask. When an employee confronts a customer who refuses, the interaction can spin out of control, so many of these retailers are telling their workers to not enforce these mandates. But, just having them will actually get more people to wear masks.

You can find answers to more questions on unemployment benefits and COVID-19 here.

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