How Poor is a Californian Who is Officially Classified as “Poor?”

While some state lawmakers use the phrase low-income, when budget debates get most heated invariably Democrats – and sometimes a Republican or two – talk about how some proposed spending cut would hurt “the poor.”

A large chunk of the $11.2 billion in spending reductions signed into law in March by Gov. Jerry Brown fall heavily on poor Californians.

Welfare recipients can receive checks for only four years instead of five. Monthly support checks will be reduced by 8 percent – from $694 to $638 in the state’s highest cost counties.

The aid sent to the state’s aged, blind and disabled poor will fall to the federal minimum.

Persons receiving care under Medi-Cal, the state’s health system for the poor, will pay $50 instead of $15 for a visit to the emergency room that doesn’t lead to hospitalization and $100 if it does. Generic drugs will cost $3 and name brand drugs will be $5. Doctor and dentist visits will also require a $5 charge.

In the world’s eighth largest economy, there are no shortage of poor Californians.

Of the state’s more than 8.3 million households in 2009, 10.6 percent were living below the poverty level. More than 886,000 families.

Nearly 16 percent of families with children under 18 were living in poverty in 2009, according to the US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey released in December.


For all Californians – 37 million in the 2009 survey  — 20 percent of those under 18 years of age live in poverty: 2.1 million kids.


But what exactly is “poor?”


The governmental definition comes in the form of the Federal Poverty Level. In 2011, that’s annual income of $22,350 for a family of four — $1,862.50 a month.

Most state programs grant services to people with incomes above the poverty level. How far above varies by program.

Pediatric care for the poor tends to offer the most generous eligibility. For example, under Medi-Cal, a family with income up to 200 percent of the poverty level can receive infant care. That’s a ceiling of $44,700 in annual income.

But for children ages 1 through 5 on Medi-Cal, eligibility is reduced to 133 percent of the poverty level — $29,800. CalFresh, what used to be Food Stamps, has a 130 percent of poverty level eligibility but boosts it to 165 percent for seniors and the disabled. The higher level is $36,877 per year.


The Access for Infants and Mothers program goes up to 300 percent of the poverty level. That’s $67,050 – a little above the state’s median income of $58,931 as calculated by the census bureau.

These eligibility percentages aren’t limited to health and human services programs.

In public schools, kids get reduced price meals if their family is at 185 percent of the federal poverty level. If the family is at 130 percent or less, the cost of meals is free.

California-only programs have their own yardstick – State Median Income.

For families seeking state-subsidized child care, they’re eligible if their income is 75 percent of the state median income or below.

A family of four would earn $50,256 or les to be eligible. A family of eight, $69,348.

Brown sought to lower eligibility for childcare subsidies to 60 percent of state median income but lawmakers rejected the idea.





Filed under: Budget and Economy

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