Skip to content

Work & Welfare Subcommittee Chairman LaHood Opening Statement – Hearing on Measuring Poverty

October 24, 2023

“Good afternoon and welcome.

“I want to thank everyone for joining us for today’s hearing on measuring poverty.

“My name is Darin LaHood and I represent Illinois’ 16th District, covering much of the central and northwestern parts of the state.

“The purpose of today’s hearing is to highlight the potential executive overreach and major policy and budgetary implications of changing the nation’s official poverty measure, which drives decision-making about how federal funds are distributed to families in need.

“In May, a National Academy of Sciences report recommended the Biden Administration replace the official poverty measure with what is called the “Supplemental Poverty Measure” as the nation’s headline poverty statistic; and adopt it as the nation’s principal poverty measure.

“This report is concerning as changing the measure would have profound implications for how federal assistance is distributed to millions of Americans across the country.

“For years, National Academy of Sciences reports have been quietly used as the basis for updates on how the federal government measures poverty.

“For example, two reports in 1995 and 2005 called for the creation of the Supplemental Poverty Measure, which was later published for the first time in 2010 under the Obama Administration.

Numerous federal benefit programs tie eligibility to the Official Poverty Measure, and federal dollars are often distributed to states based on the number of families in poverty to target dollars where there is the highest need.

“Some of the programs tied to the current Official Poverty Measure include Medicaid, SNAP, Head Start, Social Services Block Grant, and the National School Lunch program.

“In addition, the Biden Administration recently proposed tying TANF funds to the Official Poverty Measure.

“Because of the structure of the Supplemental Poverty Measure, elevating it would dramatically alter the poverty line, ultimately increasing spending on means-tested programs.

“Only looking at two programs, Medicaid and SNAP, the American Enterprise Institute estimated government spending could rise by more than $124 billion over the next decade if the Supplemental Poverty Measure was adopted.

“It would also result in a redistribution of funds from low cost-of-living and rural states to high cost-of-living states.

“For example, California would see their poverty rate increase by nearly 6 percent, while Mississippi would see their poverty rate drop by nearly 4 percent.

“Alarmingly, President Biden, through the Office of Management and Budget, has sole authority to act on the National Academy of Science recommendation and change the official measure without congressional approval.

“This would not be unprecedented. Earlier this year, the Biden Administration acted unilaterally to update the USDA thrifty food plan, abandoning a 45-year cost neutrality policy, and hiked food stamp benefits by 27 percent. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that change will cost $250 billion over the next decade alone.

“It is Congress’s responsibility to set the poverty line and ensure government benefits are delivered fairly and equitably to those who need them most, not the Administration or unelected bureaucrats.

“In particular, our rural communities depend on the resources and programs Congress provides to deliver necessary services and fight poverty on the ground. Re-directing resources away from rural communities would have a devastating effect.

“I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today on the history of how the United States set the Official Poverty Measure, problems associated with the Supplemental Poverty Measure, and how the Biden Administration could fundamentally change program eligibility and the allocation of federal resources with the stroke of a pen.

“This issue deserves our immediate attention to ensure Congress is responsible for defining poverty and delivering resources to our citizens who need it most.

“Thank you to our guests for being here today and I look forward to your testimony.”