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New bill would modernize federal poverty line, make aid more accessible

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Suzanne Potter

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(California News Service) The U.S. House of Representatives is considering a new bill that would modernize the Federal Poverty Line, which hasn't been substantially updated since the 1960s. 

Many aid programs are pegged to the FPL - and raising the maximum people can make would help millions more low-income families qualify for aid. 

Casey Peeks is a policy advisor with the Children's Defense Fund.

"We're trying to make sure that the families who are not able to put food on the table and can't afford child care are included in this definition of poverty," said Peeks, "so that they receive the support they need from the federal government."

The poverty line dictates who can and cannot get federal assistance. This bill would update the federal poverty line so that it more accurately reflects the cost of living. 

That includes things such as housing, food, clothing, phone, internet, and health care. It also considers whether a family has children and is regionally adjusted to consider things like the cost of rent or child care. 

Opponents say raising the FPL would greatly expand the social safety net, which would balloon the costs. Peeks admitted that the bill has little chance of passing the current 118th Congress.

"We also have to understand the realities of the House, which is currently Republican-controlled," said Peeks. "So even though I think I can say it is unlikely that we will see this signed into law, this is something that is important to put a stake in the ground so that people are thinking about these things."

Peeks added that California's relatively high minimum wage means some very low-income families may make a bit over the FPL - so they may not qualify for federal assistance, even though the cost of living is higher here than in many other states.