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Highlights

Owing to high levels of poverty, American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), Guam, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) rely heavily on need-based federal programs to provide basic services. Two federal agencies publish measures used by some federal programs to determine poverty status and allocate need-based assistance: the Census Bureau (Census) publishes poverty thresholds--dollar-value benchmarks for determining poverty status--and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) provides poverty guidelines, which are derived from the poverty thresholds. The approaches used to determine these poverty measures affect, respectively, poverty population statistics and income eligibility of individuals and families for certain need-based federal assistance. The poverty thresholds apply nationwide and in the insular areas, with no geographic variation, while separate poverty guidelines for Alaska and Hawaii, but not for the insular areas, have been provided since 1970. We (1) examined how the Census poverty thresholds and HHS poverty guidelines are determined for the insular areas. In addition, we (2) considered the possibility of providing poverty thresholds and guidelines specific to the insular areas and identified the implications of extending to the insular areas the approach originally used to determine the Alaska and Hawaii guidelines.

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