Congress debates who should qualify as needy in the U.S.

The recent battle on Capitol Hill about the proposed expansion of a national health program for children put a spotlight on the question of how much money a family needs to earn to be considered self-sufficient.

The State Children’s Health Insurance Program, or SCHIP, is intended to help families who are not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid, but lack the financial stability to pay for their children’s health needs.

The program enjoys bipartisan support, but a proposal to expand its funding and provide states the flexibility to raise the eligibility requirements has President Bush threatening to veto the legislation, saying it’s inappropriate for the government to subsidize health care for middle-class families.

Current SCHIP eligibility extends to families making double the amount of the Federal Poverty Level — an extension that acknowledges families can be above the federal standard of poverty, but still be poor.

A person is considered above the poverty line ifthey make more than $10,210 in one year, according to the 2007 federal standard. A family of four living on an annual income of $20,650 is also above the poverty line.

The FPL is the same for all states except Alaska and Hawaii, regardless of the cost of living in a region. The poverty guideline — or percentages of the guideline — is used in determining eligibility for food stamps, free or reduced-price school lunches and educational programs such as Head Start.

“I think there’s general agreement that the poverty threshold is not an adequate standard,” said Jean Ross, executive director of the California Budget Project, which released a report in 2005 that created regional estimates of what it considered to be basic living costs.

Last month, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said that California hoped to expand its SCHIP eligibility to include families that earn up to 300 percent of the Federal Poverty Level, or $61,950 for a family of four.

By the numbers

While overall income levels are high in San Francisco, some families are sinking:$65,497 Median annual household income

$38,022 Annual income for two parents working full time at minimum wage

$3,169 Average monthly income for two parents working full time at minimum wage

22% Families with children that have annual incomes of less than $35,000

6.8% Families with children that are below the federal poverty line

$2,125 Monthly rent for a market-rate, two-bedroom, one-bath apartment

– Source: U.S. Census, 2006 American Community Survey; California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement; RealFacts

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