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FY 2009 HHS Poverty Guidelines Remain in Effect for FY 2011

The HHS Division of Energy Assistance (DEA) has notified LIHEAP grantees and other interested parties that the HHS poverty guidelines published January 23, 2009 will continue to remain effective as the maximum income guidelines for FY 2011 LIHEAP programs. 

Normally, updated HHS poverty guidelines are published in the Federal Register in January or February of each year and they are for optional use during the current fiscal year and are mandatory for the next fiscal year. 

However, in December 2009, Congress passed legislation to keep the 2009 federal poverty guidelines (FPGs) in effect until March 1, 2010 (this date was subsequently extended).  According to HHS, this was in response to a decrease in the annual average Consumer Price Index (CPI -U) for 2009, projected during 2009 and announced on January 15, 2010. In the absence of legislative change, this decrease — the first since the poverty guidelines began to be issued in 1965 — would have required HHS to issue 2010 poverty guidelines that were lower than the 2009 poverty guidelines, which would have led to a reduction in eligibility for assistance programs for many people.  

Congressional actions on the matter are as follows:

1. On December 19, 2009, Congress enacted and the President signed the Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2010 (Pub. L. 111-118), which included a provision affecting the poverty guidelines. Section 1012 of this law (as originally enacted, before subsequent amendment) stated that:

”Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the Secretary of Health and Human Services shall not publish updated poverty guidelines for 2010 under section 673(2) of the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1981 (42 U.S.C. 9902(2)) before March 1, 2010, and the poverty guidelines published under such section on January 23, 2009, shall remain in effect until updated poverty guidelines are published.”

The Congressional Record (House) (December 16, 2009, p. H15370) provided the following explanation of this Congressional action in Pub. L. 111-118:

”Section 1012 includes a provision to freeze the Department of Health and Human Services poverty guidelines at 2009 levels in order to prevent a reduction in eligibility for certain means-tested programs, including Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP ), and child nutrition, through March 1, 2010.”  (The March 1 date was subsequently extended several times until the above-cited extension.)

The LIHEAP regulations at 45 C.F.R. A 96.85(a) state that grantees shall, by October 1 of each year, or by the beginning of the State fiscal year, whichever is later, adjust their income eligibility criteria so that they are in accord with the most recently published update of the guidelines or estimates. Therefore, as the HHS poverty guidelines are the most recently published guidelines, LIHEAP grantees must develop their FY 2011 LIHEAP plans in accordance with the guidelines issued in FY 2009. 

 Source: HHS / DEA