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How poor do you have to be before you’re in poverty?

The answer is important because many social welfare programs determine eligibility by some measure of poverty — often based on the federal poverty guidelines. These include the Medicaid health insurance program and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which was previously known as food stamps.

The federal poverty guidelines — which are sometimes loosely referred to as 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.

Following is a look at how these poverty guidelines are determined, what they are used for, and how much they are in the 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories.

What the federal poverty guidelines are used for

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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. Here is a partial list of federal programs that base decisions on poverty guidelines:

  • Head Start
  • Children’s Health Insurance Program
  • Certain parts of Medicaid
  • Medicare – Prescription Drug Coverage (subsidized portion only)
  • The Affordable Care Act’s premium tax credit
  • Community Health Centers
  • Migrant Health Centers
  • Family Planning Services
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

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