Changing The Federal Poverty Measure: A Viable New Affirmative at the TOC?

One of the affirmatives that was produced during the summer at both the Baylor and Northwestern institutes advocated a change in the Federal Poverty Measure in order to provide more needy individuals with access to means-tested social services. To the best of my knowledge, however, no teams have consistently read this affirmative during the season—at least not on the national circuit. Will this be a popular new case at this weekend’s Tournament of Champions? A few thoughts about the viability of this affirmative are below the fold.

Last month, the Obama Administration announced the creation of a “Supplemental Poverty Measure” with the goal of “augmenting, but not replacing, the formula that determines how many people are considered to be in poverty, taking into account a wider range of expenses and income to try to create a truer portrait of which Americans are financially fragile.” The announcement was met with criticism from the right, but a new report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research argues that the change does not go far enough. The CEPR advocates a five-pronged approach to reforming the way the federal government measures poverty:

  • A new national statistical framework for measuring poverty and economic security
  • Restoration of the Family budgets Program at the department of Labor
  • Adjustments for geographic differences in living standards
  • Accurately labeling the Obama administration’s Supplemental Income and Poverty Measure (SIPM) as a measure of extremely low income
  • A public consultation process that would give the public an opportunity to provide input on the development of the SIPM and other proposed measures

What does this mean for students debating the 2009-2010 social services resolution? Can the affirmative defend a plan that implements the CEPR’s recommendations? Or would such a plan be extra- and/or effects-topical? The net result of the CEPR’s policy proposal would certainly increase the amount of social services provided for persons living in poverty—at least for entitlement programs. But does redefining what it means for a person to be “living in poverty in the United States” blow the proverbial lid off the topic, hindering the negative’s ability to thoroughly prepare for new cases at the season-ending national championship?

These questions are certainly debatable, but a smart team should spend at least a few minutes preparing a strategy that can be read against new affirmatives that alter the Federal Poverty Measure. At a minimum, debaters should be equipped with a topicality violation that is sufficiently prepared so that it can be credibly extended as a round-winning option. To be fully prepared, it would also be reasonable to sketch out the basic outline of a complete negative strategy including preparation of some case hits that contest the necessity for changes in the poverty line (the Rector article linked above is a good place to start).

Even a half-hour’s worth of research should be enough to prepare a credible topicality violation, a few case arguments, and some politics links. It is up to each individual team to determine whether the benefits of this preparation outweigh the opportunity cost of investing time into an affirmative that very well may never be read. But if you do find yourself in a big debate against a new affirmative and the 1AC begins with “the federal poverty line is flawed…”, having a small file packed away in your tubs that you can use to build a strong 1NC can be the difference between winning and losing.

What do you think? Will “change the poverty line” affirmatives be popular at the TOC? Are they topical? Is it worth a little pre-tournament preparation?

7 thoughts on “Changing The Federal Poverty Measure: A Viable New Affirmative at the TOC?

  1. Bill Batterman Post author

    I wonder how many gender IR cards St. Mark's will read.

    Actually wait, no I don't… the answer is "a lot" and "too many".

    Stay away from the Swine Flu, Miles—see you in Lexington. 🙂

  2. Michael

    I don't think that it will that big at least to me it seems like that aff would link to any DA or K and is highly substable to PIC's

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