Determining Eligibility for Poverty-Based Assistance Programs: Comparing the Federally Established Poverty Level with the Self Sufficiency Standard for Pennsylvania



Because the official U.S. poverty level is too low to adequately assess need for assistance among low income households, assistance agencies set eligibility levels to multiples of the poverty level, such as 125 or 150 percent. The Self Sufficiency Standard provides an alternative measurement that accounts for many characteristics of modern society and geographical differences in cost of living. We use both measures to examine eligibility levels for customers seeking payment arrangements for their utility bill arrearage. Sensitivity analyses reveal that the two methods are in the greatest agreement when the poverty level is adjusted to 185 percent. We conclude that the Standard is a more accurate assessment of poverty and the need for assistance, but is unlikely to be politically feasible. Given this, we see it as a useful tool for determining the appropriate multiple of the official poverty level to use in setting eligibility levels for assistance programs.