National Academies Press: OpenBook

Measuring Poverty: A New Approach (1995)

Chapter: WIC

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Suggested Citation:"WIC." National Research Council. 1995. Measuring Poverty: A New Approach. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4759.
Page 325

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USE OF THE POVERTY MEASURE IN GOVERNMENT ASSISTANCE PROGRAMS 325 School Nutrition Programs For school nutrition programs administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)—School Lunch, School Breakfast, Special Milk Program— federal regulations are fairly specific, although states may institute additional policies that do not conflict with the federal requirements. Generally, schools are required to inform households of the availability of free or reduced-price school meals to those who meet eligibility requirements. Households already participating in food stamps or AFDC can be certified automatically through contact with the local food stamp and AFDC offices; other households must provide information on their previous month's income.7 A USDA manual (Food and Nutrition Service, 1991) specifies the types of income to be included and excluded. Federal law excludes various benefits from the calculation of income, such as food stamps and educational assistance received under means-tested programs (e.g., Pell Grants); and negative self- employment income is set to zero; otherwise, the definition of income is much the same as the gross money income definition used in the March Current Population Survey for the official poverty statistics. The specific information requested from households is in the form of a grid, with each household member listed down the side and the following sources of income listed across the top: gross monthly earnings (before deductions) for the first and second job; combined monthly payments from welfare, child support, alimony; combined monthly payments from pensions, retirement, Social Security; other monthly income. From the information provided, the school computes total income and compares it with a multiple of the appropriate poverty guideline (130% for free meals, 185% for reduced-price meals). Finally, the school is responsible for conducting annually a verification of income for a sample of participating households. WIC State agencies that operate the WIC program may adopt the income eligibility criteria for reduced-price school meals (i.e., 185% of the poverty guidelines), and, if they do so, they must follow the definition of income used by the school nutrition programs. Alternatively, state WIC agencies may adopt the income eligibility criteria used by state or local agencies for free or reduced- price health care, so long as the income limit is not less than 100 percent and not more than 185 percent of the poverty guidelines. Under this alternative, state WIC agencies may use the income definition of the state or local health care agencies. However, the value of in-kind housing or other in-kind benefits must not be counted as income; likewise, the value of various payments 7 Households in special circumstances (e.g., those that have money from seasonal work) may project their anticipated annual income rather than reporting previous month's income.

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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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