National Academies Press: OpenBook

Measuring Poverty: A New Approach (1995)

Chapter: Head Start

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Suggested Citation:"Head Start." National Research Council. 1995. Measuring Poverty: A New Approach. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4759.
Page 324

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USE OF THE POVERTY MEASURE IN GOVERNMENT ASSISTANCE PROGRAMS 324 School Lunch and School Breakfast provide free meals to children of families with incomes below 130 percent of the poverty guidelines and charge a reduced price for families with incomes between 130 and 185 percent of the guidelines. Community and Migrant Health Centers provide free medical care to people with incomes below 100 percent of the poverty guidelines and charge reduced fees on a sliding scale to people with incomes between 100 and 200 percent of the guidelines. The Title X Family Planning Services Program operates in a similar manner except that the cutoff for reduced fees is 250 rather than 200 percent of the poverty guidelines. States have discretion to set income eligibility limits for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) at the level used by state or local agencies for free health care, so long as the level is between 100 and 185 percent of the poverty guidelines. Determining Income Eligibility: Selected Programs To determine how families' incomes are estimated for comparison with the poverty guidelines, we examined application procedures for selected programs.4 In many cases—for example, for Community Health Centers and Title X Family Planning Services5—local centers or agencies have a good deal of discretion in how they determine income eligibility. In other cases, such as food stamps, federal regulations are very specific about the definitions and procedures used. As examples of current procedures and definitions, we summarize the income determination process for Head Start, school nutrition programs, WIC, and food stamps. From our analysis, we conclude that the proposed poverty measure is advantageous for program use in many respects, although it may need modification in some instances. Head Start Local Head Start agencies have discretion in determining income eligibility, although they must have on file documentation for participating families that certifies that they met the income eligibility criteria. Families participating in AFDC are automatically eligible for Head Start, and no additional verification or documentation of their income is required. AFDC families make up about one-half of Head Start participants; the remainder are largely working poor families. Head Start agencies typically ask to see paystubs for documentation of earnings. The income definition used is the same as for the current poverty measure, namely, gross money income.6 4 For more complete program descriptions, see Appendix D. 5 Information provided by Malvina Ford, Congressional Research Service. 6 Information provided by Craig Turner, Head Start Bureau, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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Each year's poverty figures are anxiously awaited by policymakers, analysts, and the media. Yet questions are increasing about the 30-year-old measure as social and economic conditions change.

In Measuring Poverty a distinguished panel provides policymakers with an up-to-date evaluation of:

  • Concepts and procedures for deriving the poverty threshold, including adjustments for different family circumstances.
  • Definitions of family resources.
  • Procedures for annual updates of poverty measures.

The volume explores specific issues underlying the poverty measure, analyzes the likely effects of any changes on poverty rates, and discusses the impact on eligibility for public benefits. In supporting its recommendations the panel provides insightful recognition of the political and social dimensions of this key economic indicator.

Measuring Poverty will be important to government officials, policy analysts, statisticians, economists, researchers, and others involved in virtually all poverty and social welfare issues.

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