In the general population, the term "low income" casually describes a person or family that earns less than the median income for their area. In Maryland, however, several government programs are only available to low-income applicants. In this case, the definitions of low income are rigidly defined by each agency. Although their definitions vary between programs, many agencies make a distinction between low-income families and families in poverty, with the latter earning much less then low-income households.
Low-income and Impoverished Families
Although costs of living vary around the country, most programs in the state use the federal poverty level defined by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Census Bureau's poverty guidelines as their basis. Households considered poor earn less than the national poverty rate. For the 2011 year, a one-person household that earns less than $10,890 each year qualifies, and at the poverty line for a four-person household is $22,350 annually. Low-income families are those that make less than 200 percent of the federal poverty guideline, $21,780 for a single person or $44,700 for a four-person household.
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Children under the age of 18 who live in low-income families may qualify for Maryland's Medicaid Program. Families must earn less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level for their family size. Other recipients may qualify for Medicaid, but with the exception of pregnant women, who qualify if they earn less than 250 percent of the federal poverty level. Maryland only extends Medicaid benefits to extremely poor, such as working parents who earn less than 38 percent of the poverty level, or medically needy individuals who earn less than 49 percent of the federal poverty level.
Maryland Food Assistance
Maryland's food supplement program defines low-income eligibility differently. To qualify for the Maryland Department of Human Resources' Food Supplement Program, a household must have gross earnings below 130 percent of the federal poverty level, or $1,127 for a one-person household or $2,297 for a four-member household, as of 2011. After the department deducts certain expenses, such as housing, beneficiaries must net less than 100 percent of the federal poverty level for a household of their size.
Maryland Public Housing
Unlike other aid programs, the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development's housing aid program's earnings thresholds aren't derived from national poverty statistics. Instead, it bases eligibility on the local cost of living. To qualify for Section 8 housing vouchers from a Maryland public housing authority, a family must earn less than 50 percent of the median income for the area in which it chooses to live. This figure varies among cities inside the state.