Each year in January, the U.S. government sets a federal poverty level (FPL). That is the income amount that is used to determine who is eligible for government benefits such as subsidies to buy health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. These benefits also include Head Start, family planning, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs (SNAP, which used to be called Food Stamps), school meal programs, and many others.
Because open enrollment under the Affordable Care Act starts in the fall, the federal poverty level in effect at that time is used to calculate subsidies, even though the insurance does not take effect until the following year. For example, the 2016 federal poverty level is used when calculating subsidies for 2017 health insurance.
Annual income listed as a percentage of poverty level shows how your income compares to the federal poverty level.
The poverty level is the same for the 48 contiguous states. Alaska and Hawaii each have their own poverty level.
To find out how your income compares to the federal poverty level, and whether you are eligible for benefits, click here.