skip to main content

H.R. 5069 (116th): The Recognizing Poverty Act

Would the increase encompass millions in the middle class who don’t want to be classified as impoverished?


The poverty line is an income amount, under which a person or household qualifies for taxpayer-funded benefits programs such as food stamps, free school lunches, or public housing. The measure is determined annually by the Department of Health and Human Services.

In 2019, the federal poverty levels are $12,490 for an individual, $16,910 for a two-person household, $21,330 for a three-person household, and $25,750 for a four-person household.

This is so low that it’s routine for multiples of the poverty line to be used in calculations for programs. For example, Obamacare health insurance tax credits are available for people earning up to quadruple the poverty line.

What the bill does

The Recognizing Poverty Act would require the Department of Health and Human Services develop a new formula when calculating the poverty line. They would now have to factor in differing costs of living across states and cities, costs of health insurance, work expenses, child care, and internet access.

While the bill doesn’t set exact numbers for new poverty lines, its lead sponsor estimated in a September interview that it may be $38,000 for an individual, nearly triple the current level. For context, that would make the new individual poverty lines higher than the current six-person household poverty line.

It was introduced in the House on November 13 as bill number H.R. 5069, by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY14).

What supporters say

Supporters argue the legislation would better reflect the costs of living in the modern day, encompassing more who arguably should be considered impoverished yet currently lie just outside the government’s definition.

“Productivity has risen and more family members have entered the workforce, but purchasing power of the average household has remained the same,” Rep. Ocasio Cortez’s website reads. “Despite the evolving nature of our expenses, the way we calculate the federal poverty line has not been adjusted, causing millions of Americans experiencing poverty to fall through the ever-growing holes in our social safety programs.”

What opponents say

Opponents counter that the legislation would drastically and unnecessarily skyrocketing taxpayer spending, including many who are financially secure without such assistance who would take offense to the idea that they need such government benefits.

“The socialist congresswoman has said she thinks the poverty line should be as high as $38,000 in annual salary. This would triple poverty overnight, classifying many working-class, self-sufficient Americans as if they were in dire need of government intervention,” *Washington Examiner *deputy contributors editor and commentary writer Brad Polumbo wrote.

“Besides, the poverty line doesn’t even indicate whether or not someone is actually *living *in poverty because it doesn’t count government benefits,” Polumbo continued. “So Ocasio-Cortez is saying that someone earning nearly $40,000 *before *any government benefits should be classified as ‘poor,’ and, likely in her mind, thus entitled to even more handouts.”

Odds of passage

The bill has attracted seven cosponsors, all Democrats. It awaits a potential vote in the House Education and Labor Committee.

Odds of passage are extremely low in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Last updated Dec 30, 2019. View all GovTrack summaries.

No summary available.