2014 Food Stamp/ SNAP Advocacy Guide

An Advocate's Guide to the Food Stamp/ Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in Massachusetts

By Patricia Baker, Victoria Negus, Laura Gallant, Deborah Harris, and Rochelle Hahn, Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, January 2014 Edition

As described by MCLE:

An indispensable handbook for all who need to know about the Food Stamp/SNAP program in Massachusetts. The 2014 Food Stamp/SNAP Advocacy Guide provides practical information about how and where to apply, who is eligible, and how to appeal a denial or termination. This Guide has been updated to reflect significant changes in Food Stamp/SNAP policy since January 2009. Organized for quick reference, the Guide takes advocates step-by-step through the financial eligibility rules, household composition rules, immigrant eligibility, and more. It also provides legal and technical information about the program, including detailed references to DTA regulations and procedural materials (Field Ops Memos, Hotline Q&As, Beacon User's Guide, and federal USDA guidance). Includes a Food Stamp/SNAP calculation worksheet, index of DTA regulations, sample advocacy forms.

A bound copy of this Guide is available for purchase from MCLE ($9.95). You can also download chapters in PDF format for free.

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About MLRI, Acknowledgements, and Copyright

About Massachusetts Law Reform Institute

Massachusetts Law Reform Institute is a statewide legal advocacy and support center. Our mission is to represent low-income people, elders, and persons with disabilities in their struggle for basic human needs, to defend against policies and actions that harm and marginalize people living in poverty, and to advocate for systemic reforms that achieve social and economic justice. Our activities include advice, litigation, policy analysis, research, technical assistance and public information.

Acknowledgments

MLRI dedicates this Guide to anti-hunger advocates throughout Massachusetts who work tirelessly to help low-income households obtain the nutrition benefits to which they are entitled and who work to preserve and protect basic benefits for families in poverty.

MLRI wishes to acknowledge the support from Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education, Inc. for MLRI’s publications and from the foundations that have supported our anti-hunger work over the years including MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, Nord Family Foundation, Eos Foundation, the Wal-Mart Foundation, Leaves of Grass, Roberta Thall Charitable Trust, and the State Street Foundation. We also appreciate the support and technical assistance on our anti-hunger work from the Food Research Action Center (FRAC) and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP).

This 2014 edition of the Guide was written and edited by Patricia Baker, Victoria Negus (2012-2014 AmeriCorps Member). Contributions to early editions from Laura Gallant, Deborah Harris and Rochelle Hahn.

Nineteenth Edition
January 2014

© 2014 by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
and Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education, Inc.
All rights reserved.
Permission to reprint must be obtained from both the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute and Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education, Inc.

ISBN    1-57589-827-6
LCCN    2013957988
MCLE   2140437B18

 

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Introduction

SNAP benefits are federal assistance to families to help them buy food. In October of 2008, Congress changed the federal name from "Food Stamps" to "Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program" or SNAP. States have the choice to call the name SNAP or use another name. For purposes of this Guide, we will mostly use the "SNAP" name.

Most grocery stores, supermarkets, and co-ops in Massachusetts accept food stamps/SNAP electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards. In Massachusetts, there is no asset test for most SNAP applicants. Most people who meet the federal income limits can get SNAP benefits. Unlike some other federal programs, you do not have to have children or be disabled to get benefits. You can also qualify for food stamps/SNAP even if your cash welfare ended because of a time limit, your income exceeds the cash benefit level, or for other reasons. Food Stamps/SNAP is a critical program in difficult economic times. All low-income individuals and families should be encouraged to apply.

About the Food Stamp/SNAP Program

Congress created the Food Stamp Program in 1964 to reduce hunger by increasing the food-buying power of low-income households.

The federal government pays 100 percent of the cost of these benefits and provides states with reimbursement for almost half of the administrative costs (DTA workers, computers, training, office costs). Massachusetts now brings home over $1.3 billion annually in direct nutrition assistance to needy households in the Commonwealth.

SNAP benefits are widely considered the first line of defense against hunger. Further, for every $1 in SNAP benefits, economists estimate that it triggers a $1.80 economic stimulus to the local economy.  At the same time, it is widely acknowledged that SNAP benefits are too low to cover all of a household’s food needs. The benefit is based on an archaic “Thrifty Food Plan” concept that does not reflect the actual cost of today’s food prices, and presumes that a part of a household’s monthly income is available to buy a portion of the food, even when that is not true for families in the Northeast and other areas with high shelter costs. Advocates should screen for applicable household income deductions to maximize the amount of SNAP benefits.

History of SNAP:

In 1996, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (Public Law 104-193) included provisions restricting eligibility in many federal programs including Food Stamps. PRWORA brought the elimination of most safety net benefits for many legally present immigrants. From 1997 to August of 2002, Massachusetts provided state-funded food stamps to needy legal immigrants ineligible under federal restrictions. These state benefits expired in August 2002, leaving many immigrants without nutrition benefits.

The federal Farm Bill of 2002 (Public Law 107-171, May 13, 2002) restored some of the cuts in the program including SNAP benefits for some of the legal immigrants cut in 1996 – notably legal immigrants with severe disabilities, legal immigrant children and legal immigrants who have had status five years or more. The 2008 Federal Farm Bill (Public Law 110-246) made additional improvements to the program which included indexing (linking) the standard income deduction to inflation, uncapping the child care deduction and treating tax deferred retirement and educational savings accounts as non-countable income (as well as changing the name from "Food Stamps" to SNAP).

The 2009 American Recovery and Reconciliation Act (ARRA, Public Law 111-5, February 17, 2009) provided a 13.6% increase in monthly SNAP benefits and suspended the work requirements for childless individuals due to the recession. Some of the 2009 SNAP increase expired in November of 2013. The ARRA roll back led to a 5.6% decrease in the maximum benefit allotment, which led to across the board cuts in SNAP. A household of three saw a cut of $29 per month. For more information about the ARRA cuts, visit www.masslegalservices.org/arra.

As this 2014 Guide goes to print at the end of January, Congress is deliberating SNAP reauthorization in the 2013 Farm Bill. On the table are further cuts to the SNAP program including modification of the historic “Heat and Eat” option available to sates to allow SNAP state agencies to simplify the calculation of utility expenses by allowing states to provide special fuel assistance benefits to needy households. If this passes, it could create significant food hardship for SNAP households with seniors and persons with disabilities in Massachusetts. Contact your local Legal Services program or MLRI for an update on the Farm Bill.

See a concise description of the legislative history of the Food Stamp program and start of the EBT system.

Today in Massachusetts:

The Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) administers the SNAP program for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Over the past few years, DTA has elected a number of federal options and pursued a number of waivers and demonstration projects to increase SNAP participation and allowable deductions in the program. Some of these pilots and waivers, such as Bay State CAP are described in this Guide.

In 2000, Massachusetts had the worst food stamp participation rate (of eligible households) in the entire United States, 51st including the District of Columbia. In December 2012, USDA reported Massachusetts SNAP participation rate at 10th in the nation for 2010. The participation rate compares the number of SNAP participants to the number of low income households otherwise eligible for SNAP based on U.S. Census data. As of September 2013, the caseload served almost 900,000 individuals (501,000 households) – a three-fold increase since the beginning of state fiscal year 2002.

During 2013, in response to press claiming extensive fraud and abuse, despite USDA quality control data to the contrary, the Massachusetts Legislature made some changes to the state’s EBT policies affecting both cash assistance and SNAP. In 2013, DTA also implemented a number of “program integrity” policy changes affecting SNAP and cash assistance including increased use of data matching and monitoring of EBT cash and SNAP purchases.  Information on these policy changes are included in sections of the Guide.

In August of 2013, the Massachusetts Legislature passed a law requiring DTA to place the photo of the card holder (head of household) on the EBT card, but exempting more than half of recipients. As this Guide goes to print, Massachusetts the only state in the nation with a mandatory EBT photo card requirement for some of the SNAP and cash recipient population. It is important to know that federal SNAP law prohibits grocers and retailers from selectively carding SNAP recipients or otherwise discriminating against them. Federal law is also clear that all members of a SNAP household are authorized to use the EBT card whether their name or photo is on the card.

Anti-hunger advocates are urged to closely monitor and other “program integrity” policies to ensure that otherwise eligible households are not discouraged from applying, deterred from accessing their SNAP benefits or that EBT cards are not erroneously deactivated by DTA or the EBT vendor. This Guide will help you understand who is eligible, how the application process works and what to do if benefits are erroneously denied or terminated.

Sources of Law:

Federal:

DTA must administer the program in accordance with the federal regulations issued by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and any waivers or demonstration projects approved by USDA.

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SNAP Part I -- Application and Proofs

Applying for Food Stamp/ SNAP benefits.
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01. How do I apply for SNAP benefits?

You have many options to apply for SNAP. 106 C.M.R. § 361.140. You can:

To find the address, telephone and fax number of the DTA office that serves your city or town, call 800-249-2007, or go to http://www.mass.gov/eohhs/gov/departments/dta/food-assistance.html for local DTA office locations.

To get a paper application, you can call the SNAP Benefits Hotline at 1-866-950-FOOD (3663) and ask for a SNAP application form to be mailed to you. Or you can print out a SNAP paper application (including translated forms in Spanish and Portuguese) by going to the following website: http://www.mass.gov/eohhs/gov/departments/dta/food-assistance.html  This website also has a shorter application for elder SNAP applicants.

No wrong door!

If you mail a SNAP application or go in person to a DTA office that does not serve your city or town, that DTA office must accept your application and send it to the correct DTA office. 106 C.M.R. § 361.130. A local DTA office cannot refuse to accept your application. And every DTA office must accept any documents you drop off and get them to the correct DTA office.

Cash assistance applications

Your application for TAFDC (Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children) or EAEDC cash assistance (Emergency Assistance for Elderly, Disabled and Children) is also an automatic application for SNAP benefits. 106 C.M.R. § 361.160. You do not have to file a separate SNAP application or have a separate interview, even if you are found ineligible for cash assistance. 106 C.M.R. §§ 365.120(A)(1), (A)(2).

Same-day filing

DTA has to let you file your application the same day you contact them. 106 C.M.R. § 361.130. If you go to a local DTA office, the office must give you an application and allow you to submit it the same day. If you ask DTA for an application by mail, DTA has to mail it to you the same day. 106 C.M.R. § 361.140.

You have the right to apply for benefits - whether or not a DTA thinks you are in fact eligible. This is a fundamental right. 106 C.M.R. §§ 361.050-361.130. DTA still needs to determine if you are eligible, but you cannot be discouraged from filing a SNAP application.

If you are approved, you will get SNAP benefits back to the date DTA first received the signed application form. 106 C.M.R. § 361.080. Even if you cannot fill in all of the information on the form, write down your name, address and phone number (if you have one). Then sign and date the form, and get it back to DTA. You can give the rest of the information later. 106 C.M.R. §§ 361.100, 361.130.

Advocacy Reminders:

Additional Policy Guidance on FS/SNAP Applications:

  • SNAP paper and on-line applications are considered “sufficient” for establishing an application and start date when the application includes the applicant’s name, address and signature; a completed application is not required to start the SNAP application process. Ops Memo 2011-51 (Oct. 24, 2011) re Virtual Gateway Applications; see also F.O. Memo 2006-53 (Nov.17, 2006); F.O. Memo 2005-16 (March 28, 2005) re paper applications.
  • Electronic signatures accepted for Virtual Gateway applications. F.O. Memo 2007-32 (June 29, 2007).
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02. Can I apply through the Internet?

YES! You can apply for your own SNAP benefits on-line through the Virtual Gateway at www.mass.gov/vg/selfservice or by following the SNAP application steps on DTA’s webpage http://www.mass.gov/eohhs/gov/departments/dta/food-assistance.html.

This is also called a “web application.” A web application is an electronic application for SNAP. Unlike MassHealth, you do not need to go through a health care provider to file a web SNAP application. You can do this yourself—in your home, at a library, or at your place of work!

On the SNAP application webpage you will find a “screening form” that asks questions about your household, your income and expenses to determine potential eligibility. This screening form is optional. You can skip this and go directly to the SNAP application.

If you need and qualify for expedited benefits you have two options to get SNAP benefits quickly.

  • You can go directly to your local DTA office where you can get screened for expedited SNAP benefits right away and get your EBT card in person.
  • If you apply online, DTA should quickly (within 2 days) try to reach you by phone to screen you for expedited SNAP, and mail you an EBT card so that you can use it within 7 days of your application if you are eligible. Be sure to give a phone number they can reach you at. See Question 9 (Can I get emergency SNAP benefits?) for more on expedited SNAP.

Filling out the online applicationIt’s important to complete as much of the SNAP application as possible, including information on what expenses you have including if you pay child support, shelter and child care costs. Make sure you select what kind of shelter expenses you have (rent or mortgage). If you pay separately for heat or air conditioning in the summer select that option as a utility cost. See Question 56 to see why telling DTA about your utility expenses is important. A more complete application will decrease the amount of paperwork that DTA will ask you to provide.

Signing the application

Your electronic signature has the same legal weight as an ink signature. You do not need to sign a paper application. Your electronic signature is an agreement that the information you have and will provide is truthful and accurate, that you will report changes in a timely manner, and that you understand your rights and responsibilities as well as the penalties for not following the rules. During the phone interview, your SNAP worker should go over these rights and responsibilities. See Question 6 (Does DTA have to interview me and what happens if I miss the interview?).

A SNAP application filed on the Virtual Gateway is considered filed that day if it is received before 5 PM. If an application is received after 5 p.m. or on a weekend it is considered filed the next business day. After the application is filed, a DTA worker is supposed to contact you within 2 business days to screen you for expedited or emergency benefits (see Question 9 (Can I get emergency SNAP benefits?)) and to schedule an interview.

Next steps after filing the web application

Filing a web— or paper— application is only the first step. You still need to have an interview with a DTA worker and send in proofs. See Question 6 (Does DTA have to interview me and what happens if I miss the interview?) and 7 (What proofs (verifications) do I need?). Be sure to list a phone number on the application where DTA can reach you or a member of your family directly (e.g. don’t list a number that is just a phone messaging system, or if you don’t have any minutes left on your cell phone). A DTA worker will call you to have an interview over the phone. If you miss your interview and can’t reach your case manager, call the Web Application Hotline number at (617) 348-5656.

DTA will also send you a plastic EBT card and PIN in the mail. These will be mailed to you in separate envelopes and can take between 5-10 days to arrive in the mail. If you are one of the SNAP households who needs to have a phone on your card, DTA may send you a temporary “Valid without Photo” card at first. DTA will either use an RMV photo if available, or arrange a time to take your photo. See Question 14 (What is the Photo EBT card and do I need one?) for more details about who must have a photo EBT card and how it works.

Your EBT card will not have any benefits on it until your SNAP case is approved. Benefits are typically loaded onto the EBT card by 11:00am on the day following your approval. You should call the phone number on the back of the EBT card and enter in the information asked to confirm.

To find out the status of your SNAP application and other information, you can set up a My Account Page or call DTA's number, 1-877-382-2363. See Question 13 (Is there a quick way to check the status of my application or my benefits?).

Persons who filed a web application through the Boston Web Unit can call the Web Application Hotline at 617/348-5656. Leave a detailed message and you should hear back within a couple of days.

Additional Policy Guidance on Web Applications:

  • Virtual Gateway updated to allow submission of minimal information applications, bypass of screening, request for expedited issuance and inform ability of noncitizens to opt out of household. Ops Memo 2011-51 (Oct 24, 2011).
  • Updates to Virtual Gateway application to address duplicate SNAP applications and provide application confirmation letters. Field Operations (F.O.) Memo 2010-17 (Feb. 24, 2010).
  • Special SNAP Web Units established in Boston and Springfield areas for centralized handling of SNAP web applications. DTA Transitions, p. 1 (Dec. 2009).
  • Expansion of Virtual Gateway statewide: application is considered received same day if it arrives before 5 PM. If paper/walk-in application is still pending, web application will be denied. F.O. Memo 2007-63 (Nov. 28, 2007).
  • Electronic signatures now  accepted for on-line applications; separate paper signature cannot be required. F.O. Memo 2007-32 (June 29, 2007).

 

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03. Can I apply for SNAP benefits at the local Social Security office?

Individuals applying for or receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) have a right to apply for SNAP benefits at the Social Security Administration (SSA). 106 C.M.R. §§ 361.190, 366.926.

Federal SNAP law requires SSA to take your SNAP application and send it to DTA. SSA is supposed to do this if every member of your household receives or is applying for SSI. 7 U.S.C. § 2020(I)(1). Federal law also requires SSA offices to offer a SNAP application form to Social Security (RSDI) recipients. 7 U.S.C. § 2020(J).

DTA has a short SNAP application form that SSA offices should give to SSI and RSDI clients. DTA will then contact you to get additional information if proofs are missing or information is unclear. 106 C.M.R.§ 361.190

While the federal law requires SSA to provide SNAP application assistance to SSI applicants and recipients, SSA District Offices do not do this consistently. You can remind SSA District Office of their obligations by citing the federal rules, and you can also tell your local Congress member when SSA declines to help you.

If you need emergency SNAP benefits – especially if you are just applying for SSI or Social Security – it may be faster to go to the local DTA office or apply on-line. See Question 9 (Can I get emergency SNAP benefits?).

Bay State CAP for SSI Applicants and Recipients

Massachusetts has a special SNAP program where certain SSI applicants and recipients can automatically apply for SNAP when they contact their Social Security office. This is called “Bay State CAP,” a “consolidated application project” for SSI recipients seeking SNAP. 

If you qualify for SNAP under the Bay State CAP pilot, you don’t have to file a SNAP application with DTA, have a DTA interview or provide any proofs. You only have to report changes (e.g. if you move or get other income) to SSA. Your SNAP benefits are certified for 36 months.
To qualify for Bay State CAP through the SSA as an SSI applicant or recipient, you must meet all of the following four (4) criteria:

  • you are an SSI applicant likely to be approved for SSI within 30 days, or you are an SSI recipient and SSA is doing a review (redetermination) of your SSI benefits;
  • you are 18 or older and do not live with a spouse,
  • you live alone, or live with others and you purchase and prepare your own food separate from others, and
  • the SSI benefits you receive are federally-funded (if you get only a small amount of SSI on top of Social Security or other income, you are likely getting state-funded SSI supplement).

When you apply for SSI – or when your SSI benefits are re-determined by SSA – the SSA Claims Representative is supposed to ask if you want SNAP benefits. If you do, they should ask two questions: first, if you purchase and prepare meals separately from others you live with and second, how much you pay in rent or home ownership costs. SSA should then send this information to DTA electronically.

The rules for Bay State CAP are found at: 106 C.M.R. §366.910

Advocacy Reminders:

  • Bay State CAP recipients often receive the same benefit amount as regular SNAP benefits. However, you may wish to apply for regular SNAP benefits to get a higher amount if you have shelter costs above $450/month, if you pay child support to a child outside the home, or if you have unreimbursed medical expenses. You have a right to switch from Bay State CAP to regular SNAP any time.
  • If SSA says your SSI application will take more than 30 days to process (it often takes a while unless you are elderly) it may be faster to apply for regular SNAP benefits by either filing an on-line application, going to DTA in-person, or asking SSA to help you fill out a paper SNAP application.

SSA Policy Guidance on SNAP Applications:

  • The Social Security Administration provides detailed instructions to SSA Claims Representatives on their obligation to offer to take SNAP/food stamp applications for SSI recipients. Policy Operations Manual: SSI 01801.005.

DTA Policy Guidance on SSA Obligations and Bay State CAP

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04. Can I register to vote when I apply for SNAP?

YES!  Whenever you apply or recertify for SNAP or cash assistance, your DTA worker is required to tell you how you can register to vote and assist you with voter registration. 106 C.M.R. § 360.950. DTA is mandated by federal law to ask all SNAP and cash assistance household members – 18 years or older and U.S. citizens – if they would like to register to vote. DTA should also offer to register you any time you report a change of address too!

If you apply in person, you can get a voter registration form out at the local DTA office. DTA will send it to your local election official on your behalf. If you apply for SNAP on line or with a mail in application, DTA should mail back a voter registration card.  If you return the form to DTA, they should also send it to your local election official. Both the on-line and paper applications ask if you want to register to vote.

All voter registration forms received by DTA must be mailed to local election officials within 5 days after they are received. This Massachusetts Official Voter Registration Form can be found in Appendix C.

Additional Policy Guidance on Voter Registration via DTA:

  • In compliance with National Voter Registration Act, DTA instructions that local TAOs are required to provide voter registration services, including MA Official Voter Registration Form and/or Declination Form--in office or by mail. Ops Memo 2012-36, (July 30, 2012).
  • Each TAO required to count and record a Voter Registration Monthly Report. Registration forms must be mailed to election officials within 5 days of receipt. Ops Memo 2012-34A, (Oct. 25, 2012).
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05. Can someone else apply for me?

You can always ask a family member, friend, or social services agency to help you fill out an application. They can also accompany you to DTA or participate in an interviews with you - with your permission.  

However, you should sign the application and do the interview – not a friend or agency, unless you designate them as your "authorized representative." This is important because you are legally responsible for all the information on the application. You could end up with an overpayment, or worse, if the helping friend or agency gets it wrong.  

Some social services agencies assist individuals with filling out  SNAP applications and faxing proofs to DTA. These are not the same as “authorized representatives.” If you want the social service agency to contact  DTA to find out the status of  your SNAP application, you should give them  written permission to contact DTA. See Appendix C, “Authorization for DTA to Release Information.”

Authorized representatives

You have the option to let someone you trust be your “authorized representative.” This person can be given the authority to sign the SNAP application on your behalf and receive SNAP notices and recertification forms. You can still choose to get the EBT card yourself, or you can choose to have your authorized representative receive the EBT card and buy your food for you. 106 C.M.R. §§ 361.300, 361.310.

An authorized representative who actually signs the SNAP application must provide DTA with proof of identity, SSN and other personal information. If you choose to have an authorized representative also buy food for you, this person’s name must be on the EBT card to buy your groceries. See Question 62 (How do I use SNAP benefits?). Authorized representatives are not required to have a photo EBT card. See Question 14 (What is the Photo EBT card?).

You can also ask DTA to issue two EBT cards—one for you and one for your authorized representative. Because an authorized representative has access to all your SNAP benefits, be sure you trust the person you pick. 106 C.M.R. §§ 361.300-361.370.

In most situations, DTA cannot force you to have an authorized representative if you do not want one. It is your choice. You will need to sign a form allowing a person to be your “Authorized Representative, Authorized Agency or Authorized Payee.” You can also revoke this form any time. See Appendix C for a copy of the DTA form.

Residents of group homes

If you live in a group home for persons with disabilities, you may be eligible for SNAP benefits as a one person household even though you live with others. 106 C.M.R. § 361.240(B). You also have the right to apply for and receive your own benefits. You cannot be forced to turn over your EBT card to the group home or appoint them as an authorized representative unless they make an individualized determination that you cannot manage your benefits due to your disability. See Question 30 (Can I get benefits if I am disabled and live in a group home?) for eligibility in group homes and your right to receive your own SNAP benefits.

Residents of other substance abuse or teen parent programs

If you are a resident of a licensed alcohol or drug treatment program, the SNAP rules say that the treatment program must be your authorized representative. 106 C.M.R. § 365.610.

If you live in a “sober house” or other roomer/board situation which is not licensed by the Department of Public Health, the sober house cannot take your EBT card unless you voluntarily appoint them as your authorized representative. If you live in a group home, see Question 30.

If you are living in a teen parent program, the program is given the authority to decide if it will be the authorized representative and receive the SNAP benefits, or if it will allow you to apply for and spend the benefits yourself. 106 C.M.R. § 365.620(B).

Additional Policy Guidance on Authorized Representatives:

  • Authorized representatives are not subject to EBT photo card requirements and will be issued “Valid without Photo” cards for the individuals they assist. Ops Memo 2013-57A, pg. 2 (Nov 25, 2013).
  • Human services providers can be "authorized representatives" for the limited purpose of submitting an electronic application on the Virtual Gateway. DTA Field Operations (F.O.) Memo 2007-23 (June 29, 2007).
  • Residents of drug/alcohol treatment programs and teen parent programs are required to transfer their benefits to the program staff (through on-site POS terminals), who then purchase food for the residents. F.O. Memo 97-17 (Mar. 14, 1997).
  • Detailed guidance on eligibility of DMR and DMH group home residents including the process for applying, designating an authorized representative, level of authorized rep's authority to transact benefits. F.O. Memo 2009-10, Q. 4 (Feb. 20, 2009), F.O. Memo 2004-41 (Oct. 8, 2004) and F.O. Memo 2004-15 (Apr. 2, 2004).

 

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06. Does DTA have to interview me and what happens if I miss the interview?

DTA is required to interview all applicants for SNAP benefits. 106 C.M.R. § 361.500. The interview is usually conducted by phone, where DTA calls you at a preset time using the number you listed on the application form.

You always have the option of an in-person interview at the local DTA office, but it is usually not required. Sometimes DTA can require you to come to the local office if they have a good reason to talk to you in person (if something in your case seems suspect), or if you are applying for TAFDC or EAEDC cash assistance benefits in addition to SNAP.

If you are scheduled for an in-person interview and you cannot get there, contact an advocate. Federal SNAP law requires DTA to allow for hardship exceptions including if you cannot get to the local office due to illness, disability, lack of transportation, lack of child care, work or training hours that conflict with DTA office hours. 7 CFR § 273.2(e)(2). DTA may schedule an in-office interview if you are required to have a photo EBT card, but the federal SNAP hardship exceptions should apply. See Question 14 (What is the Photo EBT card?).  

If you are disabled and need an accommodation, DTA also has the authority to schedule a home visit if you cannot get to the local office and cannot do a phone interview. See Question 12 (What if a disability makes it hard for me to apply, get proofs, or comply with the SNAP rules?).

Scheduling the interview

A DTA worker should try to call you within two (2) days of when DTA received your SNAP application to schedule an interview and to screen you for emergency benefits. See Question 9 (Can I get emergency SNAP benefits?). If a local organization helped you fill out a paper or on-line application – and the organization is listed on the application as an authorized helping agency or emergency contact – DTA should contact the agency if unable to reach you.DTA should contact the agency if unable to reach you.

To protect your privacy, DTA does not leave voice messages about the reason for their call. Be sure to pay close attention to phone calls and messages from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

If DTA has not reached you within 2 days, they should send you a written notice scheduling a phone interview. This interview should take place within seven (7) days of your application to screen you for expedited benefits. If you do not hear from DTA by phone or by mail within five (5) days of when you filed the application, call your local DTA office or the Web Unit (if you filed on line) and ask to speak with a supervisor.

What happens during the interview?

The SNAP worker's role is to confirm the information you gave on your application, discuss any new information that DTA has from other government databases and tell you what proofs or verifications you need to provide and when. If you are subject to a work requirement, the worker should discuss this with you. See Questions 36 (Are there work rules for childless adults ages 18 to 50 years?) and 37 (Is there a quick way to check the status of my application or my benefits?).

Before or during the interview, the case worker should the documents you sent in with your application and explain what additional documents you need. After the interview, you must be sent a verification checklist and be given at least 10 days to get the proofs in. See Question 7 (What proofs do I need?).

The SNAP worker should also explain your rights and responsibilities, including when you need to report changes in income and other changes. In addition to the SNAP worker asking you for information, the interview is a chance for you to ask questions about the SNAP program and other benefits you might be eligible to receive.

If you need emergency (expedited) SNAP benefits, the worker should screen you during their first contact with you (in person or by phone), even if there is not enough time to do the full interview. See Question 9 (Can I get emergency SNAP benefits?).

If you go in person to DTA, the interview must be conducted confidentially (not in a public setting where others can hear). Your personal information must be kept private and not shared outside DTA unless you give written permission. 106 C.M.R. §§ 361.550, 360.300. If you need help getting any proofs, or you need a list of alternative proofs, you have a right to ask the worker during the interview or at any other time.

If you miss a scheduled interview

If you miss a scheduled interview, DTA is required to send you a written notice called a “Notice of Missed Interview” (DTA calls it a NOMI). The notice must say that you have the right to another interview. 106 C.M.R. §§ 361.500, 361.540. You do not need to have or show good cause for missing the first interview. However, it is up to you to contact DTA to ask for a rescheduled interview.

For Web applications, you can leave a message to reschedule your interview on the Web Application Hotline. The Boston Web Hotline number is 617-348-5656. Leave a message with your name, Social Security Number/Agency ID or date of birth and ask for a new interview. If you do not hear back from staff at the Web Unit within a couple of days, contact an advocate. See Question 2 (Can I apply through the internet?).

If DTA does not hear back from you within 30 days of when you first applied, your SNAP application will be denied. 106 C.M.R. § 361.700(B)(1). You still have the right to reapply for benefits and the denied application will not be held against you, but the date your benefits start will be the date of your new application.

If DTA failed to send you either the notice of initial or the notice of missed interview (NOMI), they cannot deny your application. Contact the supervisor of your SNAP worker or an advocate.

Additional Policy Guidance on Interviews:
  • DTA instructs workers that home visits can be scheduled to take an application and conduct an interview, especially if needed for an accommodation due to client disability. DTA Transitions FYI (Nov 2011).
  • Workers must contact SNAP applicant within two business days to schedule an interview. Ops Memo 2011-38 (Aug. 3, 2011).
  • Requirement that DTA must send “Notice of Missed Interview” (NOMI) for any client not available at initial interview. Transitions Hotline Q&A (March 2011). DTA Failure to send NOMI is considered a negative case error. DTA Transitions, Quality Corner (see both July 2011 and September 2011).
  • Elimination of face-to-face interview unless requested by household or required due to questionable information. F.O. Memo 2009-63A (Nov. 23, 2009).
  • DTA must send notice of missed interview (NOMI) if applicant misses an in-office or phone interview; no need to establish "good cause" to get rescheduled interview. Worker should contact helping agency listed on application if unable to reach client. F.O. Memo 2007-16 (Mar. 15, 2007).
  • Clients who miss appointments will be sent an appointment letter within two days of missed interview. Transitions FYI, p. 9 (July 2010).
  • Worker must screen for expedited benefits eligibility at first contact with client. F.O. Memo 2006-30 (July 10, 2006).
  • If no phone number for the client is listed on the application, DTA will schedule an in-office interview. Transitions Hotline Q&A (Sept. 2006). If your application is filed with the Web Unit, DTA should send you an interview appointment with a number and name of a SNAP worker to call directly.

 

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07. What proofs (verifications) do I need and how do I get them to DTA?

During your interview, the DTA worker should verbally tell you what proofs are needed. 106 C.M.R. §§ 361.550. You should also receive a written verification checklist by mail that lists exactly what DTA needs and gives examples of documents they can accept as proof. DTA should give you at least 10 days from the date on the verifications checklist that was sent for you to get proofs back to them. If DTA denies you without giving you the full 10 days, this is an invalid denial. 

DTA cannot limit proofs to any single document. Any document that proves an eligibility factor should be accepted. 106 C.M.R. §§ 361.640(A), 361.650. Some information can be self-declared and other information DTA can get through “collateral contact”. See Question 8 (What if I am having trouble getting all the proofs, or the proofs get to DTA late?).

If you are eligible for "expedited" SNAP right away, you only need to verify your identity. See Question 9. Below is what you need to know about required and optional verifications.

Required or "mandatory" proofs for SNAP eligibility

  • Proof of the identity of the head of household

    This can include wage stubs, your state ID or driver’s license, school record, a health care card with your name on it, a birth certificate. You do not need a photo ID. And, if you don’t have any of these and are applying for expedited, DTA can confirm your identity using the SSN data base.  See Question 8 (What if I am having trouble getting all the proofs, or the proofs get to DTA late?)

    Only the head of household must verify identity. DTA can verify everyone else using the name, date of birth and SSN of each member. 106 C.M.R. § 361.610(G)
     
  • Proof you are a Massachusetts resident. 

    This can include documents with both your name and current address such as a wage stub; utility bill; bank statement; state or driver ID with your current address; your current lease; rent receipt; or other document that shows where you live.  106 C.M.R. § 361.610(H). DTA cannot require a lease or landlord statement. If you just came to the area, you are homeless or you are a migrant worker, you do not need to verify residence. 106 C.M.R. § 362.120
     
  • Proof of earned income, if you are currently working.  

    This includes copies of wage stubs (usually the last four weeks, unless you just started working), bank statements showing direct deposit or a statement from your employer about your earnings. 106 C.M.R. §§ 361.610(A), 363.210(G)(1). If your employer uses “The Work Number” for employee information, DTA can get your gross wages directly. You should not have to also give them wage stubs.
     
  • Proof of your last day of work and why - if you stopped work in the last 60 days and you are subject to the work rules.  

    If you left work in the last 60 days before your SNAP application, DTA may ask for proof showing your last day of work and the reason you left if the information in your application or during the interview is questionable. See 106 CMR § 362.340 (F).

    You should not be asked for proof if you left work more than 60 days before, or if you meet an exemption from the work rules (disability, caring for a young child, etc). See Questions 36, 39 and 40. If proof is required, your SNAP worker should offer to help if you have any difficulties getting documentation. DTA can often confirm your work history and last day of work through the Department of Revenue (DOR) or through the Work Number.

  • Proof of unearned income.

    This includes any statement on your retirement or disability pension, copy of a check or bank statement showing direct deposit, or proof of alimony or child support paid directly to you. 106 C.M.R. § 363.210(G)(2)

    If you receive SSI, Social Security Retirement or Disability Insurance (RSDI), or Unemployment Assistance, DTA should be able to verify this information through government data. DTA can access data from the Social Security Administration (SDX or the BENDEX), Division of Unemployment Assistance (DUA), or the Department of Revenue (DOR) for child support they collect.
     
  • Proof of self-employment business income and expenses.

    This includes tax returns or business records that show the profit earned on self-employment.  106 C.M.R. § 365.940. You can deduct all the expenses for self-employment. See Question 46 (How is self-employment income counted?). If you get money from renting out a room or apartment in your home or other property, see Question 47.
     
  • Proof of no income, if questionable.

    Your self-declaration of no income on your SNAP application should be accepted. 106 CMR 363.210(A).  However, if DTA thinks you might be hiding income, they may check databases (Social Security, DUA, bank accounts) to confirm you are not getting unearned income, or ask you for additional proofs. 106 CMR 363.210(E). Situations where DTA may suspect unreported income include when able-bodied persons report they are unemployed during peak seasonal employment or when shelter costs reported are higher than reported income and there is no reasonable explanation. 
     
  • Proof of your assets if you are subject to the asset test. 

    Very few SNAP households are subject to this test. If you are, DTA will need proof of your money in the bank, stocks and bonds, real estate, etc. 106 C.M.R. § 361.610(E). See Question 42 (When do assets count?).
     
  • Proof of the immigration status of household members who are also applying to receive SNAP benefits.

    This includes a copy of a legal permanent resident “green card” (Form I-551), employment authorization document (Form I-688), arrival-departure record (Form I-94)  or other government proof or statement from an attorney that shows your immigration status. 106 C.M.R. § 361.610(B). See Question 21 (Am I eligible if I am a legal immigrant?). DTA will confirm your status through the SAVE system (SAVE is the federal USCIS database that verifies immigration status). 
     
  • Other proofs when DTA determines that information you gave is “questionable.” 106 C.M.R. § 361.620. Question 8 describes when information can be considered “questionable” by DTA. 

"Optional verifications" for income-related expenses

Some expenses - like shelter and dependent care costs - can be self-declared. Other deductible expenses, like medical expenses, need to be verified. If you do not provide information on the expenses, or proofs where required, your benefits will be calculated without these deductions. 106 C.M.R. § 364.450(D). Your SNAP case should not be denied if you are only missing optional verifications, but if you provide DTA with information about your expense, this may increase your SNAP benefits.

  • Shelter costs. 

    You can declare the amount of your shelter costs on the paper SNAP application or a separate piece of paper signed and dated. 106 C.M.R. §§ 361.610(K). A sample self-declaration form is in Appendix C.

    Shelter costs include what you pay for rent, or if you own your home, what you pay in mortgage and interest as well as homeowner insurance and real estate tax (even if you have zero mortgage). If your shelter costs appear questionable, DTA may ask for proof such as a rent receipt, canceled check, money order, copy of a lease, statement from your landlord or proof of home ownership. If you have rental income from your property, see Question 47 (What is unearned income?) on how to determine the net rental income.
  • Child care or adult dependent care costs

    You can declare what you pay for child care including after-school programs, summer programs, as well as transportation to and from the day care location. You can also claim the costs of care needed for an elderly or disabled household member. 106 C.M.R. § 361.610(K). See Question 55 (What is the child care/dependent care deduction?). Declare this on the paper SNAP form or use the sample sworn statement in Appendix C. If questionable, proof can include a statement from your caregiver, canceled checks or other documents showing what you pay.
     
  • Medical/health expenses.

    If you meet the SNAP criteria as disabled or elderly (60 or older), you can claim these costs but you do need to provide proofs. 106 C.M.R. § 361.610(D).  See Question 53 (What medical expenses can I claim if I am elderly (60+) or disabled?) on the range of proofs and a sample form for medical expenses in Appendix C
     
  • Child support paid to children outside the household. 

    You will need to show both proof that you have a legal obligation to pay support, and the amount that you pay. 106 C.M.R. §§ 361.610(J)364.400(E). See Question 54 (What is the child support deduction?)

How do I submit verifications to my DTA worker?

There are three ways to get documents to DTA: 

  • Hand deliver documents to the local DTA office,
  • Send documents by fax (social services agencies may let you use their fax machines),
  • Send them to DTA by U.S. mail. The address to send documents to is: Department of Transitional Assistance, P.O. Box 4406, Taunton, MA 02780-0420

Beginning February, 2014, DTA is using a new centralized system to handle documents called “electronic document management” or EDM. Applicants and recipients for cash or SNAP will be encouraged to mail their documents to an “electronic document management center” (EDMC) in Taunton, MA. The EDMC will scan in documents and send them electronically to the worker. The goal of the EDM is to make it easier for your DTA worker to find documents you send them.

DTA will give you a pre-stamped and pre-addressed envelope. Put the copies of documents you need to submit in the envelope and drop it off at a mailbox as quickly as you can after you receive the verification checklist.

Important things to know about Electronic Document Management:

  • Don’t send original documents and keep copies of anything you mail in. All documents that are not considered “permanent” (such as birth certificates) will be shredded.
  • Keep track of the date you mailed the documents, in case there are any delays with the U.S. mail. 
  • Put on each document your name, SSN or Agency ID (if you know it). That will help DTA staff at the Taunton center match the documents with your SNAP file. 
  • You still have the right to drop off or fax documents to DTA. This is especially important if you are running out of time before the 10 day or 30 day period is up. If you fax, you will have a fax receipt.  If you bring documents to the local DTA, ask the DTA receptionist or your case manager to make copies and give you a receipt so you have proof you dropped it off.

Advocacy Reminders:

  • DTA cannot deny your application if you failed to provide proofs for deductible expenses such as medical expenses or the amount you pay in child support. DTA should calculate your SNAP but without the deductions. If you later give DTA proof of the deductions, the amount of your benefits should be recalculated.
  • Proof of U.S. citizenship is not required unless DTA determines that your status is "questionable." 106 C.M.R. § 362.210(A). The U.S. citizenship of a child should not be questionable just because his or her parent is foreign-born. Persons born in Puerto Rico do not need to re-verify identity, age, date of birth or U.S. citizenship unless information provided is questionable.
  • Keep DTA informed of any address changes. If the US Postal Service sends mail back to DTA because you have moved, DTA must attempt to contact you. If you do not have a forwarding address on file with the Post Office, DTA will mail a verification request to your old address. If you cannot get your case resolved - or if DTA claims you  moved but you have not – contact an advocate.  
  • Missing wages and last day of work  can sometimes be verified by DTA through an  employee verification system called “The Work Number.” See: http://www.theworknumber.com/  If your employer uses The Work Number, DTA has access to this information.  If not, DTA can still help you get information from your employer using a “Request for Employment Information” form, see Appendix C.
  • If there is a missing wage statement but your pay stubs show year-to-date gross income, DTA should be able to figure out the missing gross income from the other pay stubs you have provided. 
  • Federal guidance requires SNAP state agencies to accept the best evidence available for verification of income and should accept a reasonable explanation from the household regarding discrepant information (in this case, the earnings of an immigrant where the name on pay stubs were different from wage earner). http://www.fns.usda.gov/snap-policy-household-members-name-differs-name-contained-earnings-statement-used-verify-income.

Additional Policy Guidance on Scope of Verifications:

  • Electronic Document Management guidance—proofs sent to Taunton EDMC and electronically routed to local office via DTA myWorkspace. Ops Memo 2013-61 (Dec 12, 2013).
  • DTA using “The Work Number” employment service to verify earned income , from employers who use this service. Ops Memo 2013-33 (July 19, 2013).
  • DTA policy for handing returned USPS mail and procedure for verification of a new address. Ops Memo 2013-13A (March 28, 2013).
  • DTA instructions on  obtaining DUA information through UI online. Ops Memo 2013-29A (Dec 12, 2013)
  • SNAP denial notice must identify specific verifications missing and which household member the verification is for; SNAP workers must enter verifications as received; workers must send additional VC-1 for any new documents needed not on original VC-1; case cannot be denied or closed without adequate time (10 days) to submit verifications nor if missing proofs are optional (e.g. for a deduction) Ops Memo 2012-17 (April 25, 2012);
  • DTA must give at least 10 days following date of the verification checklist (VC-1) to provide verifications including if verifications requested at end of 30 day period; Transitions Quality Corner (March 2012); 
  • Once identity been verified, it is a permanent verification unless your identity is questionable; self-declaration of child care on SNAP application or recertification form is adequate verification of expenses. Transitions Hotline Q&A (July, 2011).
  • Updated DTA policy guidance to workers on permanent verifications, optional and alternate verifications, self-declarations, and worker assistance including instructions on missing wage information. F.O. Memo 2010-55 (Nov. 23, 2010). See also related DTA guidance on SNAP verifications requirements in F.O. Memo 2007-39 (July 31, 2007); F.O. Memo 2006-43 (Sept. 26, 2006).
  • DTA guidance on handling cases for individuals with voided Puerto Rican birth certificates. F.O. Memo 2010-49 (Nov. 1, 2010).
  • Shelter expenses may be self-declared unless questionable, including self-declarations on the SNAP application or recertification forms. F.O. Memo 2010-29 (June 16, 2010).
  • Child care expenses can be self-declared, unless expenses claimed are questionable. Transitions Hotline Q&A (July 2011) and F.O. Memo 2007-19 (Mar. 15, 2007).
  • Child support obligation can be verified though the Department of Revenue, canceled check, wage or UC withholding statements. Transitions Hotline Q&A (May 2008).
  • DTA update on the verification of immigrant status through the SAVE system. Ops Memo 2012-5 (Jan. 23, 2012).
  • Birth certificate not required for identity verification, any document which provides identity information acceptable. DTA Transitions, p. 4 (June 2010).
  • Applicant can also prove identity with an SSN that is confirmed through the State Verification and Exchange System (SVES). Transitions FYI (May 2007) and F.O. Memo 2006-30 (July 10, 2006).
  • SSN card never needed to verify SSN under any circumstances; SSN is verified through a match with SSA. Transitions Hotline Q&A (July 2003).
  • DTA policy on new computer-generated verification checklist. F.O. Memo 2007-22 (Mar. 29, 2007).
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08. What if I am having trouble getting all the DTA proofs, or the proofs get to DTA late?

There are important DTA rules about verifications that you should know, especially if you are having trouble getting proofs or if you think DTA is asking for too many proofs.

Self-declaration

You can self-declare certain eligibility factors unless DTA determines that the information you provided is "questionable" (see below). The following can be self-declared on the SNAP application or other statement:

  • The identity of other household members aside from the head of household, who must verify identity,
  • Your household living situation (e.g. that you purchase and prepare food separately from others)
  • U.S. citizenship of any household member,
  • Age, or date of birth,
  • Shelter expenses (rent, homeownership, utility costs),
  • Child care or elder/disabled adult care expenses,
  • All information needed for expedited SNAP benefits, except identity (see Question 9 (Can I get emergency SNAP benefits?)).

106 C.M.R. §§ 361.610(A), (K); 361.800, 363.210(D), 364.450.

When you sign a SNAP application, you are agreeing that everything stated on the application and other information provided is true under penalty of perjury. You can declare the information above on the SNAP application or any signed and dated communication from the head of household, including information you write on your SNAP application, recertification form or your change report form. It also includes any separate statement you sign and date. See Appendix C for sample sworn statement forms for child care and shelter. 

Alternate proofs

DTA must accept any documents that reasonably prove your eligibility. The SNAP rules state that you do not have to give a specific kind of document or proof. 106 C.M.R. § 361.640. Some eligibility factors can be verified through a wide range of documents, such as your identity, where you live (your address) and your age or date of birth (if required). DTA cannot demand a specific document such as a birth certificate for identity, or statement from a landlord for residence.

Questionable information

Under some circumstances, your worker can ask for additional proofs if he or she determines the information or documents you provided is "questionable." 106 C.M.R. § 361.620.

"Questionable" means the information is inconsistent with other information on your application, or information you reported to your worker or known to DTA (e.g. through database checks). DTA must review the individual circumstances of a household before determining that information is questionable.

DTA should not require you to “prove a negative,” such as being out of work more than 60 days, or having no assets. If you are asked to prove something that you cannot prove, contact a legal advocate.

If DTA rejects the proofs you offer, the worker must document in your case record the reasons for rejecting that proof. 106 C.M.R. § 361.660. If you think you have given DTA enough proof, or your DTA worker is not assisting you with getting an additional proof, ask to speak to a supervisor or contact a legal advocate.

Example:

Clara has been unemployed for a year and has no income when she applies for SNAP. She claims rental costs of $850 per month. Clara reports to DTA that she has been borrowing money from friends after running up debt on her credit card and falling behind on her rent. This reasonable explanation should not be “questionable” and DTA should not make Clara provide additional verifications.

Example:

Sandy is age 48 and stopped working over 3 months ago. After using up her savings, she applied for SNAP. Since it’s been more than 60 days since she left work, Sandy should be able to self-declare her unemployment. She should not be required to get a statement from the employer, even if she quit for no good reason.

DTA worker assistance and collateral contact

DTA workers are supposed to help you get proofs if you tell DTA you are having difficulty, such as if you need a document from another state, are missing wage information from an employer, or information needed to prove a disability.

For example, if you were on SNAP in another state, DTA has access to a data system that can confirm if your SNAP case in that state is closed (PARIS system), or the worker can make a phone call to that state agency. If you have a disability that makes it hard for you to get proofs or comply with other DTA rules, your worker must make reasonable accommodations for you. See Question 12 (What if a disability makes it hard for me to apply, get proofs, or comply with the SNAP rules?).

“Collateral contact” is when you give your DTA worker permission to call or write to a third party – such as an employer or other agency – to verify information. 106 C.M.R. § 361.640(B). Appendix C has a sample of DTA’s collateral contact form. It is up to you to give your worker the names of people to contact, and to give DTA written permission to contact them by voluntarily signing a collateral contact form. Note, DTA cannot require proof from a particular source if you can verify the information in a different way. Your privacy is important and must be respected. 106 C.M.R. § 360.400.

You cannot be denied SNAP just because you are having trouble getting proofs. But you can be denied if you refuse to cooperate with getting the proofs, refuse to be interviewed, or do not meet the other eligibility rules. 106 C.M.R. §§ 361.400 and 361.650.

Reopening an application denied for lack of proofs

DTA must give you a full 30 days from when you applied before they can deny your SNAP application for missing proofs or failure to have an interview.  If the proofs they need are still missing by day 30, DTA will send you a denial notice. 106 C.M.R. § 361.930.

The denial notice should list the specific proofs or verifications missing, and tell you that you have another 30 days to bring in these proofs (for a total of 60 days from the date you first applied). If you get the proofs to DTA within this second 30 day period, your case should get opened back to the date you first applied. You do not need to reapply.

If you think DTA is taking too long to reopen your case, or DTA lost the proofs you sent in before, contact an advocate.

The BEACON computer system

You might hear case workers refer to a system called “BEACON.” This is a computer system that keeps track of all the caseload data in the state and helps workers confirm eligibility and calculate benefits for clients. BEACON can make mistakes for several reasons. The worker may enter incorrect information or the system programming may be incorrect. Sometimes BEACON tells the worker to ask for information or proofs you should not have to give. Remember, BEACON is only a computer system.

Your DTA worker should not refuse to fix a problem because it may have been caused by BEACON. If you have any questions about BEACON, or you get notices from DTA you think are wrong, talk to your worker or your worker’s supervisor. If the problem is not fixed right away, you should contact an advocate and appeal. See Part 6.

Advocacy Reminders:

  • If you were denied or terminated from SNAP and got a notice within the last 90 days, you still have a right to appeal that denial or termination to get back your SNAP benefits. The hearing officer must accept any proofs you provide under special “de novo” appeal rules. See Question 82 (How should you present your case at the hearing?). You should both reapply for benefits (to get back on quickly) and consider filing an appeal to see if you can get the retroactive (back) benefits.

Additional Policy Guidance on Verifications:

  • Denial notice must identify missing verifications and for which household member; SNAP case cannot be denied or closed if applicant has not had minimal 10 days to submit verifications. Case cannot be denied for lack of verifications needed for certain deductions. Ops Memo 2012-17 (April 25, 2012).
  • Living expenses that exceed income are not questionable if household has reasonable explanation, proofs not required. Transitions Hotline Q&A (May 2012, March 2010).
  • DTA must give at least 10 days following date of VC-1 to provide verifications including if verifications requested at end of 30 day period; Transitions Quality Corner (March 2012).
  • DTA cannot deny  SNAP applications for lack of verification before 30 days have elapsed from date of application. Ops Memo 2011-38 (Aug. 3, 2011).
  • Updated DTA policy guidance to workers on permanent, optional and alternate verifications, use of self-declarations and worker assistance including instructions on missing wage information. F.O. Memo 2010-55 (Nov. 23, 2010). See also related guidance, F.O. Memo 2007-39 (July 13, 2007); F.O. Memo 2006-43 (Sept. 26, 2006); and F.O. Memo 2008-59 (Nov. 12, 2008) re "negative case errors".
  • Shelter expenses may be self-declared unless questionable; household can self-declare on SNAP application or recertification form. F.O. Memo 2010-29 (June 16, 2010).
  • Child care expenses can be self-declared, unless expenses claimed are questionable. F.O. Memo 2007-19 (Mar. 15, 2007).
  • Worker assistance must be provided if clients cannot get verifications for reasons beyond their control, including domestic violence situations. Transitions FYI, p. 9 (May 2008).
  • Applications denied for lack of verification can be reopened if missing verifications are received within 60 days of date of initial application; household not required to file a new application. F.O. Memo 2006-20 (Apr. 21, 2006).
  • Original documents not required, photocopies and faxed documents are acceptable. Transitions Hotline Q&A (June 2005).
  • Workers cannot limit verifications to any single type of document and cannot require verification from a specific person. Transitions Hotline Q&A (Aug. 2004); Transitions FYI (Aug. 2005).
  • Household information and expenses that have not changed do not need to be re-verified at recertification. Earned and self-employment income must always be re-verified. F.O. Memo 2010-03 (Jan. 19, 2010). See also F.O. Memo 2007-39 (July 13, 2007).
  • If client is having difficulty getting verification from third party, DTA worker must offer to assist through collateral contact. F.O. Memo 2010-55 (Nov. 23, 2010) and F.O. Memo 2005-49 (Oct. 3, 2005).
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09. Can I get emergency SNAP benefits?

If your income, cash on hand and savings are very low, you may qualify for emergency, or “expedited,” benefits for one month. The SNAP rules require DTA to screen all applicants for expedited service. 106 C.M.R. § 365.800.  If you qualify, DTA must get you an EBT card and  SNAP benefits within seven (7) days of when you apply.

You are eligible for expedited service if:

  • you have $150 or less in monthly gross income and $100 or less in liquid assets (cash and money in the bank), or
  • your rent (or homeownership costs) and heat/utilities (using the Standard Utility Allowance that applies to your household) are higher than your combined gross monthly income and cash and savings, or
  • you are a migrant household with $100 or less in cash and savings. 106 C.M.R. §§ 365.810-365.830.

If you meet one of these criteria and you provide proof of identity (who you are), you should get SNAP benefits within 7 days. DTA will also validate your social security number (SSN) through the State Verification and Exchange System (SVES). To get SNAP benefits for more than one month, you will have to provide proofs of all the other eligibility factors. 106 C.M.R. § 365.850(B). See Question 7 (What proofs (verifications) do I need?).

Example: Stella earns $200 a week in gross wages (before taxes) at her part time job, for a total monthly income of $866 (weekly x 4.333). Stella pays $400 rent and pays separately for electricity, including for air conditioning. Her total shelter costs are $1,008 based on her rent of $400 plus the $608 heating/cooling standard utility deduction. Because her gross income is less than her shelter costs, Stella is eligible for expedited SNAP for one month.  

Expedited SNAP benefits are not extra benefits—they are just a way to get your first month’s benefits faster.

The amount you get in expedited SNAP benefits is based on the income you have already received (or anticipate receiving) in the thirty days prior to application. DTA counts income in the month you apply, even if it comes from a terminated source. 106 C.M.R. § 365.840.

Advocacy Reminder:

  • If you need expedited SNAP benefits, it may be faster to apply in person at the local DTA office.
  • If DTA tells you that you can only get expedited SNAP benefits once, contact an advocate. DTA cannot refuse to give you expedited benefits a second time if you qualify when you reapply and as long as you verified all the SNAP eligibility factors the last time you applied, or it’s been at least 12 months since your last expedited benefits.
Additional Policy Guidance on Expedited Benefits:
  • If applicant appears expedited eligible and contests amount of bank balance in DOR bank match, (e.g. money was used for rent), expedited rules allow worker to accept asset information reported by applicant unless questionable. Transitions Hotline Q&A, (August 2013).
  • Expedited benefits can be issued more than once if the applicant previously verified required information, or if more than a year has elapsed since receipt of expedited. Transitions FYI (Dec. 2010).
  • Even though the asset test does not apply for most "categorically eligible" households under 200% FPL, households seeking expedited benefits must give DTA information on the amount of liquid assets available. Transitions Hotline Q&A (July 2008).
  • Expedited benefits should not be denied for lack of proof of identity where DTA can verify SSN through State Verification and Exchange System (SVES). Transitions FYI (May 2007).
  • Worker should screen for expedited at time of first contact with applicatn— either in person or by phone. Date of contact is start date of 7-day period for expedited. Field Operations (F.O.) Memo 2006-30 (July 10, 2006).
  • Proof of non-citizen status is not required for expedited benefits; declaration of applicant is sufficient. Transitions Hotline Q&A (Dec. 1997).
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10. How long does it take to get SNAP benefits if I can't get emergency benefits?

DTA has to decide on your application and make sure you get your SNAP benefits within 30 days of the day you apply. The amount you get is retroactive to the date you applied if you are found eligible. 106 C.M.R. § 361.700(A).

If DTA cannot make a decision within 30 days of the day you applied because some required proofs are missing, DTA will deny your application and send you a notice of “pending denial.” If you give DTA the missing proofs within 60 days of applying and you are eligible, DTA will “reopen” your case and not make you start a new application. See Question 8 (What if I am having trouble getting all the proofs, or the proofs get to DTA late?).

Note: If you submit verifications to DTA after 30 days from when you applied, it’s a good idea to call and ask the worker to double check their document files. Sometimes workers do not realize there are verifications that were faxed or mailed in after day 30. If you submitted everything listed on your denial notice before day 60 but DTA does not agree to reopen your case, you can file an appeal and/or contact an advocate.

Additional Policy Guidance:

  • DTA cannot deny SNAP application before Day 30; must give household enough time to comply with both interview and verification requirements. Ops Memo 2012-17 (April 25, 2012), DTA Transitions Quality Corner (January 2012).
  • DTA can only deny SNAP applications before Day 30 if household found ineligible for financial (over income) or non-financial reason (immigrant status, student status, etc.). F.O. Memo 2011-38 (Aug. 3, 2011).
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11. What if I do not speak English or I am deaf?

If English is not your primary language, upon request DTA must provide you with a bilingual DTA worker (or communicate through a translation service). If you are applying for SNAP online through the Virtual Gateway (see Question 2 (Can I apply through the internet?)), you should indicate your primary language in the “Personal Information” section on the drop-down menu labeled “Spoken Language”. On the paper application, DTA asks “What is your preferred language?” in the first section labeled “Information About You.” In addition, while the online application is only in English, DTA has paper applications in Spanish and Portuguese. You can download and print them out by going to http://www.mass.gov/snap.

When you communicate with DTA by phone, your worker should do a three-way call with you and the interpreter or tele-language service to ensure you are able to communicate with DTA and receive the same services as English-speaking clients.

Under federal law, DTA is required to send written notices and materials to you in your primary language, if you do not speak English. DTA currently translates its notices and forms only into Spanish. The failure of DTA to send notices in your primary language could violate federal food stamp law. Contact an advocate for assistance.

If you are deaf or hard of hearing, DTA must communicate with you through interpretation services. 106 C.M.R. § 360.510. The Recipient Services Unit can be contacted by TTY at 617-348-5599 or 1-888-448-7695 for questions about application status and eligibility. Case information can also be found online using My Account Page. See Question 13 (Is there a quick way to check the status of my application or my benefits?).

Both the printed and online SNAP applications ask if you need support services or have a special situation for which you need interpretation services. You should indicate that you are hearing impaired and/or you need interpretation, communication access real time translation (CART), or sign language interpretation to communicate with your case manager.

Advocacy Reminders:

  • By federal law, DTA must provide you with an interpreter if you need one. DTA should not tell you to bring your own interpreter. See Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d. DTA should not tell you to have a family member interpret for you. The 2008 Farm Bill codified the regulatory requirements in the food stamp statute. (See Section 4118, Public Law 110-246, June 18, 2008.)
  • Federal food stamp law also requires DTA to have written materials in languages other than English if there are at least 100 households in the area served by the welfare office that speak that language. 7 C.F.R. § 272.4(b)(3). A written notice reducing or stopping your benefits is not valid if it is not in your primary language, you do not read English, and there are 100 or more households in the area served by the welfare office that speak your language.
  • For more information on the federal and state government's duties to persons with limited English proficiency (LEP), see the LEP website and the Civil Rights Division’s Coordination and Review Section on the US Department of Justice website.
  • For SNAP eligibility and benefits information in 35 languages, see the SNAP translations section of the USDA Food and Nutrition Service website.
Additional Policy Guidance on Language Access Requirements:
  • Reaffirms DTA obligations to meet its Title VI obligations to provide bilingual services to LEP clients at first point of contact; workers must use the tele-language line if bilingual staff is not available- and three-way calling option with phone clients. DTA cannot turn a client away or tell them to come back due to a lack of interpreters. Children under age 12 not allowed to interpret; older children only for setting up appointments; interpreter should be offered even if English-speaking family member or friend accompanies client to DTA. Ops Memo 2013-11 (March 19, 2013).
  • Reaffirms DTA obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Field Ops Memo 2010-30 (July 1, 2010).

 

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12. What if a disability makes it hard for me to apply, get proofs, or comply with the SNAP rules?

The federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires DTA to provide equal access to programs and services to qualified people with disabilities. 42 U.S.C. § 12132; see also 106 C.M.R. §§ 360.250, 701.390.

Under the ADA you are a person with a disability if you have a physical or mental disability that substantially impairs a major life activity, such as learning, understanding, walking, working, breathing, or caring for yourself. A temporary health problem like a broken leg may not be a disability under the ADA. You can be disabled under the ADA even if you are not receiving any benefits on the basis of disability and even if DTA has decided you do not qualify for an exemption because of disability.

If a disability makes it hard for you to do things DTA asks you to do to keep benefits, to meet DTA rules or use DTA services, you can ask DTA to grant exceptions to the rules or modify the services. These are called "reasonable accommodations" under the ADA.

Example 1: Because of your disability, you need extra time or help getting information to DTA. DTA should give you the extra time or help.

Example 2: You have trouble reading because of a learning disability. DTA should call and explain its notices to you.

Example 3: Because of your disability, you should get a waiver of any in-office appointments and you should be able to communicate with your DTA worker through appropriate communication devices (e.g., a TTY, CART services, or other devices). DTA can also schedule a home visit.

If you need special help or an exception because of a disability, you can ask your worker, the local office director, or any member of the "Accommodation Team" in each DTA local office. DTA should then help you fill out a form called a "Request for Accommodation." DTA may ask for verification of your disability and why you need the accommodation.  If DTA asks for medical verification and you are not currently seeing a medical provider, they should refer you to one. Many of the commonly needed accommodations are things that DTA can agree to right away; others could take up to 30 days to decide.  DTA will give you a written decision, and if you disagree with it, you can file an appeal.

Try to get a legal advocate to help you with your request for review and your appeal. See Appendix F: Legal Services Offices for a list of Legal Services offices. See Part VI on appeal rights.

Beginning in 2014, DTA will appoint at least one Client Assistance Coordinator in every DTA office to help you request an accommodation. Clients may choose whether to discuss disability issues and accommodations with their worker or the Client Assistance Coordinator. Ask your local DTA office for the name of the Client Assistance Coordinator. For more help, contact Greater Boston Legal Services, 617-371-1234 or 800-323-3205.

Also, if you have a hearing, vision, or other condition that makes it hard for you to communicate, DTA should help you say or show what kind of help you prefer to understand what DTA is saying and to communicate with DTA.

Additional Policy Guidance on ADA:

  • A class action lawsuit Harper, et al. v. MA DTA required DTA to make a number of changes including screening clients for disability, improving systems for reasonable accommodations, and making notices and forms more understandable. DTA notified SNAP and cash recipients of Harper requirements. Ops Memo 2013-25 (May 24, 2013) Also see www.GBLS.org for more information.
  • Reminder that staff need to make use of “auxiliary aids” to effectively communicate with clients who may have a hearing impairment, vision impairment or other condition that interferes with client’s capacity to communicate. Ops Memo 2013-64 (Dec. 19, 2013)
  • Workers instructed that home visits can be scheduled to take an application, conduct an interview, especially if needed for an accommodation due to client disability. Transitions FYI (Nov. 2011).
  • DTA has issued extensive guidance to the field on their obligations under the ADA and specific forms for clients to request accommodation. You can request an accommodation at any time and not just at application or recertification. Field Operations (F.O.) Memo 2010-30 (July 1, 2010).

 

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13. What is the My Account Page and how do I check the status of my benefits?

There are two ways you can check the status of your SNAP application or ongoing benefits without having to call your SNAP worker:

The “My Account Page” (MAP)

If you have access to the Internet, an email address, and have your EBT card, you can set up a “My Account Page” (MAP). While there are a number of questions to fill out, follow these steps to set up your MAP:

Step 1: Visit www.mass.gov/vg/selfservice and click on “My Account Page.” Note: You will need an e-mail address to start the process. If you not have an email, it is a simple process to create a free email through Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, etc.

Step 2: Look out for an email sent back to you from the MAP with a link. This takes just a couple of minutes. Check your spam filter if you do not get an email.

Step 3: Click on the web link in the DTA email you receive from the Virtual Gateway. You will be asked to create a password and answer two security questions for the account. The next screen will show you an assigned “username”---usually first letter of your first name followed by last name and possibly a number---for example, Msmith2. Be sure you write this down—the username will also be sent to the email you provided.

Step 4: The three steps above set up the MAP account. To get access to your personal case information, you now need to log-in, click on the “My Account Page” link in the middle of the screen. Then you need to enter the following four pieces of information:

  • date of birth,
  • Your SSN,
  • The zip code where you live, and
  • Your EBT card number.

This information is required each time you log-on to the MAP.  As of the date of this Guide, DTA does not allow a MAP to be set up for persons without an EBT card. See Question 62 (How do I use SNAP benefits?) regarding how to get a card.

What information will I find on my MAP Account?

There’s lots of information about your SNAP or cash case including:

  • status of your SNAP or cash case, open or closed,
  • all DTA notices and forms sent to you in the past 12 months,
  • names of the individuals listed as a member of your SNAP or cash household,
  • phone number and address DTA has on file for you. (Contact your case manager if you need to update this information.)  
  • amount of your monthly benefit and the date you will receive benefits,,
  • name and phone number of your SNAP worker (case manager),
  • address and contact information for your local DTA office,
  • date your next recertification is due.

You can print out information about your benefits to give to another program as proof (e.g. if you apply for Fuel Assistance) and you can download and print out forms that DTA has sent you in the past 12 months including a SNAP interim report or recertification form.

Note:  The MAP does not currently include appeal notices if you wish to challenge a denial, termination or other DTA action. See Appendix C for a copy of an appeal form.  

What information can I get through DTA Automated Phone Line?

DTA automated phone is 1-877-382-2363. This “interactive” phone number allows you to find out the:

  • status of your SNAP or cash case,
  • amount of your monthly benefits  and next  payment date,
  • date your next recertification is due, and  
  • name of your DTA worker.

This automated phone line does not give as much case information as the MAP, but you do have the option to speak to a live person (after selecting English or Spanish). To get a live person, press 1 to indicate that you are a current SNAP client and then pressing 9 to speak with a representative. Be prepared to wait until one is available. To access your case information through this phone process, you will need your SSN, year of birth, zip code and your EBT card number (even if not activated).

Should I agree to get electronic notification or paper notices?

In 2014 DTA will start a new project called eNotification. eNotification works with the My Account Page (MAP). If you chose to enroll, you will no longer receive paper DTA notices in the mail. Instead, you will receive an email alert advising you that DTA sent you a notice. The email alert will not include a copy of the actual DTA notice or what it’s about. You will need to log onto you’re MAP account to view the notice and take action. You can opt out of e-notify at any point.

Caution: Do not agree to “e-Notification” unless you have regular access to a computer and the internet, you have a MAP set up and you are comfortable with on-line accounts (such as on-line health care accounts or on-line banking). For persons who are limited English proficient or have literacy challenges or are not comfortable using computers, eNotification may not be a good idea. It is also hard to log into the MAP and view notices on the MAP on a smart phone.

Some DTA notices require action so that you don’t lose your benefits. So, it is important to read the notices on the MAP as soon as you get DTA’s email alert. Also, the MAP is currently only in English.

Additional Policy Guidance on Accessing Your Case Information:

  • Launch of DTA’s 2014 eNotification pilot to reduce paper notices by notifying clients electronically and posting notices on MAP. Ops Memo 2013-62 (Dec 12, 2013).
  • MAP upgraded to provide client access to last 12 months of DTA notices, household composition information and status of benefits; also includes information on pilot for provider access to MAP. Ops Memo 2012-41 (Sept. 12, 2012).
  • Interactive Voice Response phone system for case information. DTA Transitions, pg 2 (Jan. 2011).
  • 2010 My Account Page (MAP) rollout. F.O. Memo 2010-06 (January 20, 2010) and Transitions, pg. 1 (Apr. 2010).
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14. What are Photo EBT cards and who needs to have one?

Massachusetts state law now requires some cash and SNAP recipients to receive EBT cards with a photo but other recipients are exempt. You may have gotten a replacement photo EBT card in December of 2013, or a notice to come to DTA for a photo for a new card. Or, you may know someone who has a photo EBT card but you do not.

There are currently 3 types of EBT cards in Massachusetts. All EBT cardholders have the same rights when using the card and buying food. All household members are authorized to use the EBT card. Store clerks should not treat SNAP recipients different from other shoppers. They should not ask to see the photo EBT card unless they ask for ID for all debit and credit card shoppers. Your PIN is your electronic signature, just like debit card holders. 

Photo EBT Card for “mandatory” photo EBT card holders.

 

 

 

“Valid-without-Photo” for applicants who are exempt and recipients who need a replacement card.

 

 

 

Current blue “Bay State Access” EBT card which most exempt cardholders still have.

                      

Exceptions to the photo EBT card requirement:

The photo EBT card requirement affects less than half of the SNAP population in Massachusetts. There are six EXCEPTIONS to the Photo EBT Card requirement. You do not need a photo EBT card if you are:

  • Age 60 or older
  • Disabled
  • Blind
  • Under age 19
  • Victim of domestic violence, or
  • Has sincerely held religious beliefs about photo/facial images.

A victim of domestic violence and person with disabilities can self-attest to their situation without having to provide additional verification. Additional services may be offered to persons who are victims of domestic violence.

If DTA gave you a photo EBT card, but you meet one of the above categories now or in the future, you have the right to request an EBT card without a photo.  This may happen for an individual who turns age 60, becomes disabled or a victim of domestic violence. DTA should not charge you the $5 replacement fee if you are entitled to have a “Valid-without-photo” EBT card if you become exempt.

Mandatory photo EBT card recipients:

If you do not meet one of the exemptions above, DTA will provide you with a photo EBT card on of two ways:

  • DTA will use the photo on file with the Mass Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) if you have a Mass Driver License or State ID, and mail you this new EBT photo card, or
  • DTA will arrange for you to come to a local DTA office for a picture and will hand you the card in person.

If you get a photo appointment notice, you can reschedule the photo appointment if you cannot make it for any reason. You can also go to any DTA office to have your photo taken. DTA cannot close your SNAP case if you do not show up for your photo appointment.

Your rights when you have an EBT photo or valid without photo card:

Federal rules protect the right of all authorized members to use the EBT card and to not be discriminated against, under the following Code of Federal Regulations:  7 CFR 274.7(A), 7 CFR 274.8(b)(5)(iv), 7 CFR. 278.2(b).

  • All authorized members of your SNAP household have the right to use the EBT card. Grocers and retailers cannot refuse to accept the EBT card from household members, such as spouses or older children. This is true even if their name or photo is not on the card. Caretakers or authorized representatives can also use the EBT card to food shop for the cardholder. Just like a debit card, the PIN is what keeps SNAP benefits safe and works as an electronic signature. If the proper PIN is used, the shopper should be able to use the card.
  • Retailers cannot treat SNAP recipients differently from other shoppers. A store clerk cannot ask to see your EBT photo card unless they routinely ask everyone using credit or debit cards to show a photo ID.  Also, stores that accept EBT cards cannot set up “SNAP-only” checkout lines or discriminate against SNAP households.

Deactivated EBT cards in December 2013

When DTA rolled out the EBT photo card changes in n December of 2013, DTA bulk mailed 170K EBT cards with photos available from the Registry of Motor vehicles. Unfortunately, DTA allowed the blue EBT cards to deactivate for close to 12,000 SNAP households who never got their new EBT photo cards in time. This created significant problems for thousands of SNAP recipients, food retailers and food pantries. If you have a blue EBT card that does not work and you did not receive a new EBT card, contact DTA immediately.  Even if your SNAP or cash case is now closed for other reasons, you have a right to access any remaining benefits on your EBT account. Contact an advocate.

In some cases, DTA is taking photos of “mandatory” recipients but not giving them an EBT photo card. This may be confusing for some households and possibly in violation of state and federal laws. If DTA has taken your photo at the local office but did not provide you with an EBT photo card and this is of concern, contact an advocate. 

See Appendix C for a flier that explains the rights of cardholders when using an EBT card. For more information about Photo EBT cards you can also visit: www.masslegalservices.org/photoEBT.

Additional Policy Guidance on Photo EBT Cards:

  • Instructions for DTA workers regarding implementation of Photo EBT, including mailing and deactivation of RMV photo EBT cards, in-office appointment procedures and EBT photo exemptions Ops Memo 2013-57A (Nov 25, 2013) and Ops Memo 2013-58A (Nov 25, 2013).
  • Initial mailing of information on photo EBT card and exemptions, Operations Memo 2013-55 (Oct. 2013) RMV data match with DTA to provide photos and other information including license, car registration, etc. Ops Memo 2013-40 (July 26, 2013).
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SNAP Part II -- General Eligibility Rules

General rules regarding eligibility.
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15. What is a SNAP household or assistance unit?

A SNAP household or assistance unit is either a person living alone or a group of people living together. The SNAP rules look at whether persons who live together "customarily purchase and prepare" food together. 106 C.M.R. § 361.200.

Unlike the TAFDC, EAEDC and MassHealth rules that look at the legal responsibility of persons who live together (spouses to each other and parents to minor children), the SNAP program also looks at a “household” based on the group of people who live under the same roof and how they buy and share food. This is a fundamental concept of the SNAP program, but it can confuse both low-income households and advocates because eligibility differs from other needs-based programs.

This SNAP “household rule” applies even if the people you live with are not related to you, or do not have any legal obligations to you.  If you live with a group of people, they are part of your SNAP “household” when you buy and share food together most of the time (for example, you share commonly bought food for more than 11 out of 21 meals each week.) See Question 16 (Can I get benefits separately from other people I live with?) for examples.

The SNAP household rules also say that if you live with your spouse or you are a child under age 22 and live with your parents, you must be in the same SNAP household. This is true even if you do not buy food and prepare meals together, or even if your parents or your spouse do not want any SNAP benefits. See Question 17 (Who cannot be a separate SNAP household?).

In joint custody situations, children are usually part of the SNAP household of the parent who provides the most day-to-day care and control. Both parents cannot receive SNAP benefits for the same children.

Note: Federal regulations use the term "household." 7 C.F.R. § 273.1(a). DTA uses both the terms "household" and "assistance unit." This Guide uses the term "household."

Additional Policy Guidance on Household Composition:

  • Parents of same-sex couple must be in same SNAP household as dependent child. Transitions Hotline Q&A 1&2 (July 2013).
  • In joint custody, parent who exercises most supervision gets SNAP benefits for child, even if the court order awards custody to other parent; if equal supervision, parents should decide who gets SNAP for child. Hotline Q&A (Feb. 2012).
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16. Can I get benefits separately from other people I live with?

If you live with other people but you buy and prepare your own food separate from them most of the time, you may be able to get your own SNAP benefits. You are not required to keep your food separate from their food, use a different stove or refrigerator or even have access to cooking facilities. 106 C.M.R. § 361.200.

On the application form, when you list other persons you live with, be sure to check off yes or no if you share food with the people sharing your apartment or home. You should only have to provide proof of your situation if the information you provide looks questionable to your case manager. See Question 8 (What if I am having trouble getting all the proofs, or the proofs get to DTA late?). The fact that you do not have money to buy food is not questionable if you are getting food from food pantries or borrowing money for food until you get benefits.

Example: Jane and Steve are roommates who share an apartment. Both have jobs, Jane works part-time. They occasionally eat a meal together, but they buy, prepare and consume the majority of their food (more than 11 meals a week) separately. Jane and Steve can be separate SNAP households. Even if they share a bedroom—unless they are legally married—they can be separate SNAP households.

Example: Sally is a single mother with one child. She is 25 years old and shares an apartment with her sister. Sally pays half of the rent and she purchases and prepares most of her own food for herself and her child. She uses her sister’s kitchen. Sally can be a separate SNAP household. 

If you buy and prepare most of your food yourself, it is usually better to get your own SNAP benefits. The amount you get will be higher than if your allotment is part of another SNAP household.  It also means that you  cannot be cut off or denied if the other person does not comply with program rules. 106 C.M.R. § 361.200(A). See Question 17 (Who cannot be a separate SNAP household?).

If you are too disabled to purchase and prepare your own food and someone other than a spouse or parent (if you are under 22) does those tasks for you, you can still get your own separate SNAP benefits. Special rules also apply to persons who are both elderly and disabled. See Question 18 (What if I am elderly or disabled and live with other people but I cannot buy and cook my own food?).

Additional Guidance on Purchase and Prepare Rule:

  • Battered woman who moves to DV shelter can be own SNAP household even if still part of SNAP grant of abuser. Transitions Hotline Q&A (May 2012).
  • Applicant need not verify household composition (e.g., that the applicant purchases and prepares separately) unless situation is questionable. Transitions Hotline Q&A (May 2008).
  • A person too disabled to purchase and prepare for him or herself and gets assistance with food preparation can still qualify for separate household status. Transitions FYI (December 2007).
  • Roommate subletting need not get "shared housing verification form" filled out; roommates can be separate households without verification unless questionable. Transitions Hotline Q&A (July 2007).
  • DTA clarifies the majority of meals concept in a Bay State CAP mailing to SSI recipients living with others but preparing most meals separately as follows: "most means 11 or more meals per week." Field Operations (F.O.) Memo 2005-50, Attachment B (Oct. 3, 2005).

 

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17. Who cannot be a separate SNAP household?

Some people cannot be a separate household even if they buy and prepare their food separately. Here are three important exceptions:

  • A child under age 22 who lives with a parent or stepparent must be in the same SNAP household as the parent. 106 C.M.R. § 361.200(A)(3).
  • A child (other than a foster child) under age 18 who lives with a responsible adult (regardless of relationship) must be in the same household as the adult. 106 C.M.R. § 361.200(A)(2).
  • A husband and wife who live together must be in the same household, even if they never share meals together. 106 C.M.R. § 361.200(A)(1).

Example 1: Kelly is a single parent, age 20, who lives with her parents and her 1 year old baby. Kelly receives child support from the absent father for herself and her baby. Kelly cannot get her own SNAP benefits and must apply with her parents. She is eligible as a separate SNAP household when she turns 22.

Example 2: Katherine is 65 years of age and receives Social Security. She cares for her two grandchildren, ages 8 and 12, and receives TAFDC for them. Katherine cannot get separate SNAP benefits for her grandchildren because they are minors and she provides financial and parental supervision for them.

    Households with a foster adult or child

    There are special rules for households with foster children and foster adults. A household can choose to include or exclude the foster child or disabled foster adult from the SNAP unit. 106 C.M.R. § 361.240(F). The household may get more SNAP benefits if the foster child/adult is excluded because then the foster care payments do not count toward the SNAP household income.

    For more details on the right to opt out a foster child or foster adult, see Question 33 (What if I am caring for a foster child or for a disabled/elder foster adult?).

    Advocacy Reminders:

    • The TAFDC and SNAP rules differ in the treatment of teen parents who live with parents or siblings. Although a teen parent age 18 or older can get her own TAFDC grant for herself and her baby, she cannot get her own SNAP benefits separately from her parents (if she lives with them) until she turns age 22. If her parents do not wish to apply for SNAP, the teen parent is not eligible but her TAFDC should continue.
    • The TAFDC and SNAP rules also differ in the treatment of children living with non-parent relatives. A grandparent, stepparent, aunt, or other relative can get separate TAFDC for a dependent child without being part of the TAFDC unit or having his/her income count. 106 C.M.R. § 204.320. However, a relative cannot get separate SNAP for a child under age 18 who lives in the home when the relative exercises parent-like control over the child.     

    A “SNAP shot” on separate household status for persons who live together

    Separate SNAP HH?

    Unrelated persons who purchase and prepare most of the food separate from each other.

    YES

    Related persons – other than spouses or children under age 22 – who purchase and prepare most food separately.

    YES

    Spouses who live together and unmarried parents who live with their children in common.

    NO

    Persons under 22 years who live with their parents, or children under 18 living with financially/legally responsible adults

    NO

       

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      18. What if I am elderly or disabled and live with other people but I cannot buy and cook my own food?

      There are two options that can help persons with disabilities get SNAP benefits, even when they are unable to prepare their own meals:

      Option 1: If your disability makes you unable to purchase and prepare your own food, you can get SNAP separately from the people you live with— even if they shop and cook food for you. You have this option as long as the majority of the food you consume (e.g. more than half 21 meals/week) is purchased with your income and prepared for you separately. In contrast to Option 2, you do not have to be both elderly and have a disability, and you do not need to get proof of the income of the people you live with. However, if the person buying and cooking food for you is your spouse, or your parent if you are under age 22, you cannot get separate benefits.

      There are many reasons why persons with disabilities may have meals prepared separately. For example, they may have a special diet, may need to eat meals at different times from others, or otherwise may need to manage their income and expenses separate from others. Having a disability that prevents you from buying and cooking food for yourself does not prevent you from getting your own SNAP benefits.

      Example: Thomas is a 35-year-old disabled adult. He shares an apartment with a roommate, Joe. Because Thomas is unable to buy and cook his own food due to his disability, Joe does that for him. Thomas gives Joe money to buy food and Joe cooks it for him. Joe also cooks and prepares his own food separately. Sometimes they share a meal but the majority of food Thomas consumes is purchased and prepared separately from Joe’s. Thomas could chose to have Joe as his authorized representative and have Joe use Thomas’s EBT card to purchase food for Thomas or he can accompany Joe to the store. Either way, Thomas qualifies for his own SNAP household and Joe is not required to disclose his income to DTA and meet the 165% gross income test in order for Thomas to qualify.

      Option 2: If you are 60 or older and have a permanent disability that prevents you from buying and preparing food, you may be able to get SNAP separately for yourself. This is true even if you get all your meals with the family you live with. To qualify as a separate SNAP household in this situation, you must be severely disabled,  age 60 or older and the gross income of the individual or family you live with must be less than 165% of the federal poverty level (FPL). 106 C.M.R. § 361.200(B)(4). See Appendix B: Income and Benefits Standards, Chart 5.

      Example: Bertha is a 75-year-old disabled woman. She receives $1,000 per month in Social Security benefits. She lives with her 40-year-old daughter Mary and Mary’s two children. Mary’s gross income is $1,200 per month. Mary purchases food and prepares the meals for the entire household, including her mother, Bertha. Since Bertha is both disabled and over age 59 years of age, she can qualify for a separate SNAP benefit. That’s   because her daughter’s gross income is below 165 percent of the federal poverty level for a family of three (Mary and her two children). Mary may also wish to apply for SNAP as a separate SNAP household for herself and her children. The two separate households will receive more in SNAP benefits than if they were in one combined SNAP household.

      Note: Households that are caring for frail elders or persons with disabilities and who receive adult foster care payments can exclude (“opt out”) the foster adult. This excludes the foster care payments as income and can increase the SNAP benefits. 106 CMR § 361.240 (F). See Questions 17 (Who cannot be a separate SNAP household?) and 30 (Can I get benefits if I am disabled and live in a group home?). Adult foster care is a special program through MassHealth which pays someone for in-home care of a low-income adult with a disability or a frail elder who might otherwise be institutionalized.

      Additional Policy Guidance on Separate Household Status:

      • An individual who is both elder and disabled can qualify as separate SNAP unit if income of other household members is below 165% FPL. Transitions Hotline Q&A (Oct. 2010).
      • USDA clarification that a disabled adult unable to purchase and prepare his or her own food can still be a separate SNAP household where the food is bought and prepared by a third party for that person. The disabled person need not be over age 60, or live with persons under 165% gross income test. USDA FNS memo, June 12, 2006.

       

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      19. Are there special rules for elders and persons with disabilities?

      Yes! If you are elderly (for SNAP purposes, 60 years of age or older) or have a disability you can benefit from special program rules. 106 C.M.R. § 361.210.

      You are considered elderly when you turn age 60 or older. DTA will ask you for proof of your age if questionable. Often, a person’s age can be  verified when DTA verifies  your identity or Social Security number, as the Social Security database also contains age information.

      You are considered to have a disability if you receive one of the following:

      • Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits or social security disability benefits,
      • a public disability retirement pension, if you have a disability that social security considers permanent,
      • railroad retirement disability benefits,
      • veteran's disability benefits or veteran's benefits for a spouse or children if you meet special rules,
      • MassHealth for persons with disabilities (DTA can verify this by contacting MassHealth),
      • EAEDC benefits based on a severe disability, or
      • TAFDC benefits and you are exempt from the work rules or time limits based on a severe disability.

      If you receive EAEDC or TAFDC cash assistance, in order to meet the SNAP disability criteria, you must meet the SSI standards of disability as determined by the Disability Evaluation Service (DES). DES codes cases that meet SSI standards as decision code 100, 110, 120, or 130 on the "Disability Determination Tracking Form" it sends to DTA. Many EAEDC and TAFDC recipients with disabilities meet SSI standards even though they have not been approved for SSI benefits.

      For elderly immigrants who do not get a DES evaluation, DTA has developed a form on which a doctor can certify that the immigrant meets the SSI standards. This is especially important for legal permanent residents subject to the 5-year waiting period. See Question 23 (If I am a legal immigrant adult, how do I prove disability so I do not have to wait five years?).

      Additional Policy Guidance on Disability:

      • Specific DES disability codes (Disability Evaluation Service) recognized for MassHealth Disability and EAEDC recipients. Transitions Hotline Q&A (Dec. 2009).
      • See also BEACON User's Guide, Ch. XIII-H, pp. 51-57, on how to determine severity of disability for SNAP purposes.

       

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      20. Who is considered a United States citizen?

      A United States citizen is an individual who was born anywhere in the United States or its territories, including Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Individuals from the American Samoa or Swain's Island are also considered U.S. citizens for benefits purposes.

      An individual who was born in another country and was granted U.S. citizenship through the naturalization process is also a U.S. citizen. 106 C.M.R. § 362.200.

      In addition, "derived citizenship" is based on the U.S. citizenship of one's parents. If an individual was born abroad and at least one of the biological parents was a U.S. born citizen at the time of the child's birth -- and lived in the U.S. at any time prior to the birth -- the individual may have derived citizenship. An individual born abroad also has "derived citizenship" where both parents naturalized to U.S. citizenship before the child turned age 18. 106 C.M.R. § 362.210. These individuals do not need to petition for U.S. citizenship or naturalize in order to be considered a U.S. citizen eligible for SNAP benefits.

      Under the SNAP program, you are not required to verify U.S. citizenship unless the DTA finds the information provided is questionable. 106 C.M.R. § 362.210. The program rules allow you to self-declare, under penalty of perjury, that you are a U.S. citizen. See Question 8 (What if I am having trouble getting all the proofs, or the proofs get to DTA late?). The recent changes in the federal Medicaid law which require verification of U.S. citizenship do not affect the SNAP program.

      Advocacy Reminders:

      • Persons born in Puerto Rico do not need to re-verify identity, age, date of birth or U.S. citizenship unless the information provided is questionable. Recent actions by the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico to void birth certificates issued prior to July 2010 should not affect most SNAP applicants or recipients.
      • It may be helpful to ask an individual born abroad if either of his or her parents were a U.S. citizen or if the parent(s) naturalized before the individual turned age 18. . Some clients may not know they have a right to claim “derived” citizenship and should be referred to an immigration or naturalization specialist.
      Additional Policy Guidance on Citizenship:
      • Proof of U.S. citizenship for SNAP and TAFDC required only when information is questionable. Transitions Hotline Q&A (Oct. 2011).
      • DTA guidance on handling cases for individuals with voided Puerto Rican birth certificates; U.S. citizenship can be self-declared unless questionable. Field Operations (F.O.) Memo 2010-49 (Nov. 1, 2010).
      • Federal medical law effective July 2006 requiring Medicaid/MassHealth recipients verify U.S. citizenship does not affect SNAP/food stamp households. F.O. Memo 2007-25 (March 21, 2007).
      • U.S. citizenship of children is not questionable solely because parents are immigrants. Transitions Hotline Q&A (Mar. 2006).
      • Foreign-born children of U.S.-born and/or naturalized U.S. citizens are themselves U.S. citizens and meet the SNAP eligibility requirements. Transitions Hotline Q&A (May 2006).

       

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      21. Am I eligible if I am a legal immigrant?

      The eligibility rules for immigrants and refugees (immigrants) are very complicated and sometimes require the advice of an experienced advocate. It is also important to note that the SNAP eligibility rules affecting immigrants are different from cash assistance and MassHealth rules. The chart in Appendix D: Eligibility Chart by Immigration Status highlights the differences.

      There are basically three groups of immigrants who qualify for benefits under the SNAP rules. 106 C.M.R. §§ 362.220-362.240.

      Group 1: Refugees and other individuals who have fled persecution

      You qualify under the SNAP eligibility requirements if you are:

      • A person who entered the U.S. as a refugee,
      • A person granted asylum after entering the U.S.,
      • A person granted withholding of deportation or removal,
      • A Cuban/Haitian entrant— defined as a national of Cuba or Haiti who has legal status, a pending application for asylum or an application for certain other statuses,
      • A Vietnamese Amerasian immigrant (e.g., the offspring of a U.S. citizen conceived during the Vietnam war), or
      • A victim of trafficking in persons— such as slavery or sex trafficking— who has applied for status under a special process with the Department of Health and Human Services.
      • Nationals of Iraq or Afghanistan granted a "Special Immigrant Visa" (SIV). These visas are predominantly for interpreters for the U.S. military in Iraq or Afghanistan and their immediate family members, who have been granted legal permanent residence in the U.S.

      If your immigration status falls under one of the above, you qualify for SNAP benefits without the five-year waiting period. You are also eligible without the waiting period if you previously had one of these statuses, even if you are now an LPR, parolee or battered non-citizen.

      Group 2: Legal permanent residents, parolees and battered immigrants

      You may qualify under the SNAP requirements if you are:

      If you are one of the above immigrants, you also must have five years in qualified status unless you meet one of the following:

      Group 3: Immigrants with other special statuses

      You also meet the SNAP eligibility requirements, without any waiting period, if you are:

      • a Native American born in Canada or Mexico (Native Americans born in the U.S. are already U.S. citizens),
      • were a Hmong or Highland Laotian tribe member during the Vietnam war or are the spouse, surviving spouse or unmarried dependent child of a tribe member, or
      • are a veteran of the U.S. military, an active duty service member, or the spouse, widow or dependent of a veteran or active duty service member lawfully residing in the U.S. (even if not an LPR). See 106 C.M.R. § 362.240(A) for a list of immigrants considered to be lawfully residing in the U.S.

      For an excellent guide with copies of U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Service-issued documents and a key to the codes, see materials produced by the National Immigration Law Center (NILC).

      Ineligible immigrants

      Unless you fall within one of the above three groups, you are not eligible for SNAP. See 106 C.M.R. § 362.220(D)-(G). You can still apply for benefits for U.S. citizen or qualified immigrant dependents who meet the eligibility rules but you will not receive benefits for yourself.

      Examples of ineligible immigrants include:

      • An able-bodied LPR adult or parolee who has less than five years in qualified status and not enough qualifying work history. See Question 22 (How can my work history help qualify me so that I don't have to wait the five years?).
      • An immigrant who is lawfully present under other provisions of immigration law, such as an applicant for asylum or adjustment under a relative petition, an immigrant granted Temporary Protected Status, or other status where you have work authorization or are known to the Department of Homeland security,
      • An undocumented or out of status immigrant, or
      • A non-immigrant (student, visitor, diplomat).

      See Question 25 (Can my children get benefits if I am an ineligible immigrant?) for how ineligible immigrant parents can apply for eligible children, and Question 27 (How does DTA count the income of an ineligible immigrant who lives with eligible persons?) for a description of how income of ineligible immigrants is counted to the rest of the household.

      Advocacy Reminders:

      • You must give proof of immigration status for any immigrant household member who is applying for SNAP. Federal law requires DTA to confirm with immigration officials the status of all applicants through the immigrant status verification system, called "SAVE" or Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements. See Question 7 (What proofs (verifications) do I need?).
      • USCIS now has a special process for immigrants to correct wrong or incomplete information in SAVE. You can find information about this process at http://www.uscis.gov/save. Contact an advocate if DTA says SAVE has not confirmed your status or if you wish to correct the information USCIS has in SAVE.
      • Be sure to double check if DTA says you must wait five years for benefits. Untrained DTA workers sometimes misapply this rule to LPRs who were previously in the refugee group, LPR children or immigrants with disabilities not subject to the waiting period, and battered immigrants whose waiting period starts from when the VAWA or relative petition was filed.

      Additional Policy Guidance on Immigrants and Refugees:

      • Updated information from USCIS regarding SAVE document selections and reminder to DTA staff about how to verify noncitizen status. Ops Memo 2013-14A (May 2, 2013).
      • SAVE verification process, and right of immigrants to notify USCIS and correct inaccurate immigration status information, Ops Memo 2012-5 (Jan. 23, 2012). 
      • Five year waiting period includes parole status of immigrant prior to becoming an LPR. Transitions Hotline Q&A (Oct. 2011).
      • Iraqi and Afghan Special Immigrant Visa LPRs are considered “qualified” for SNAP and TAFDC without 5 year wait. Field Operations (F.O.) Memo 2010-19 (Mar. 6, 2010).
      • Detailed guidance on Cuban and Haitian nationals who qualify as "Cuban/Haitian entrants" and how to verify eligibility. F.O. Memo 2007-52 (Sept. 28, 2007). See also Transitions Hotline Q&A (Nov. 2011) re parolee from Cuba or Haiti may qualify without 5 year wait.
      • Detailed guidance on who qualifies as a battered immigrant and acceptable verifications. F.O. Memo 2005-22 (May 1, 2005).
      • Expired document does not mean immigrant's legal status has expired; worker should presume immigrant may still have current legal status and do SAVE check. Transitions FYI (Oct. 2007).
      • Even though LPR parent and LPR child entered U.S. at the same time, the child is not subject to five-year wait; guidance includes examples of LPRs exempt from five-year wait. Transitions Hotline Q&A (Mar. 2006).
      • See also the BEACON User's Guide, Ch. XII-E, pp. 1-20, on coding, verification, and process for submitting SAVE inquiries, sending manual denial notices to approved households with an ineligible person.

       

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      22. How can my work history help qualify me so that I don’t have to wait the five years?

      Legal permanent residents (LPR) with 40 qualifying quarters (10 years) of work history meet immigrant eligibility without the five year waiting period. 106 C.M.R. 362.220(B)(7)(f) and (g). If you are an LPR adult who is not disabled and you are told you must wait five years for to qualify for SNAP, it is important to determine if you have countable work history. Establishing sufficient work history may also qualify you for TAFDC benefits, certain MassHealth benefits as well as federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits if you become severely disabled or reach age 65 or older.

      You can get work quarters credit for the following:

      • Work you have done - in the United States or a U.S. territory and, in some cases, work performed in selected foreign countries. Check with an advocate before claiming credit for work done when the wage earner did not have work authorization or a valid social security number. 
      • Work done by your spouse while married. This includes work done by a common law spouse even if you were not legally “married.” It also includes work done after separation but before divorce (though you lose your spouse’s quarters upon divorce). 
      • Work done by your parents before you were 18, including work done by your parents before you were conceived, born, or adopted.

      You can get credit for work history even if the work was not continuous or the wages not high. For example, for 2012 SSA counted pre-tax earnings of $4,520 as four (4) quarters of qualifying work history, regardless of whether the work was completed in one quarter or during the entire year (the minimum amounts are lower for years prior to 2012).

      When you cannot get work credit

      Under the federal rules, the LPR adult or child cannot get credit for work done after December 31, 1996, if the wage earner also received TAFDC, Medicaid or MassHealth, SCHIP (special Medicaid benefits for children), SNAP benefits while working. If the wage earner was not on the benefits but was simply the grantee for an eligible child, the wage earner should not lose the right to count the work quarters for his/her own benefit.

      Example: Clara has been in the United States for just three years but recently lost her job in a factory. Her husband Jose, from whom she is separated but not divorced, has been here eight years. They both have been working consistently, and paying taxes, since they arrived in the U.S.. Clara has 12 quarters of work (three years with four quarters in each year). Jose has 32 quarters of work (eight years with four quarters in each year). They have never received SNAP, Medicaid or other federal means-tested benefits. Clara can count her 12 quarters and her husband’s 32 quarters for a total of 42. She can apply for SNAP and is not required to wait five years.

      Even if Clara or Jose have a U.S. citizen or LPR child for whom they received SNAP or Medicaid while they were working, their child's benefits should not affect their right to claim the work quarters as long as they (the parents) were not on the benefits too. 

      Example: Siobhan is 25 years of age and finally got her LPR status.  Her mother and father both lived and worked (and paid taxes) in the U.S. for 6 years when Siobhan was 10 years old. She stayed in Ireland with her grandmother. Siobhan can count her parent’s work history before Siobhan turned age 18 (24 quarters/parent equals 48 quarters) before Siobhan turned age 18. Even though she is age 25 and just got her LPR status, she can qualify for SNAP.  

      How DTA confirms work history

      DTA can get information about work history through the SSA Quarters of Coverage History System (QCHS). DTA sends an inquiry to SSA to find out whether you have enough qualifying quarters. DTA can also request from SSA the work records of a spouse or parent if you are able to provide enough information on that person. If you think your spouse (or parent before you turned 18) may have work history, be sure to tell DTA so they can inquire about this person’s work history as well.

      Advocacy Reminder:

      • You can get SNAP benefits for up to six months while the work history investigation request is pending.
      • You can correct your earnings record with Social Security in some situations if the earnings report is not accurate. Contact an advocate for more information about work history.

      Additional Policy Guidance on Work History:

      • Detailed guidance (still in effect) on the process for calculating and verifying work history of immigrant, spouse of immigrant, parents through the SSA Quarters of Coverage History System. Field Operations (F.O.) Memo 1998-15 (Mar. 12, 1998).
      • For SSA chart on annual “Quarters of Coverage” from 1978 through 2011, go to http://www.ssa.gov/oact/COLA/QC.html.
      • See also the BEACON User's Guide, Ch. XII-E, pp. 8-9, on 40 quarters work history verification.
      • Receipt of Social Security survivor's benefits as a surviving spouse is sufficient proof of work quarters for SNAP purposes. Transitions, Quality Corner (July 2002).
      • Adults who entered the U.S. as children can use their parent's work history in the U.S., even if work was performed before the child arrived in the U.S. Transitions, Quality Corner (Feb. 2002).
      • LPR may receive benefits for six months pending verification of work quarters through SSA QCHS. No recoupment of SNAP benefits if work history ultimately not verified. Transitions FYI (June 2006).

       

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      23. If I am a legal immigrant adult, how do I prove disability so I do not have to wait five years?

      If you are a legal permanent resident adult, you are exempt from the five-year wait if you receive a disability benefit because of a severe disability. 106 C.M.R. § 362.220 (B)(7)(e). Unlike cash assistance and MassHealth, the SNAP program relies on a disability determination made by another benefit program.

      If you receive MassHealth benefits or EAEDC based on a disability, you may be eligible without the five-year wait. For both programs, your disability must be as severe as the SSI disability criteria. DTA is supposed to check with the UMass Disability Evaluation Service (DES) to find the severity of your disability. See Question 19 (Are there special rules for elders or persons with disabilities?) for an explanation of disability under the SNAP program.

      If you are age 65 or older and you receive EAEDC cash assistance, DTA will let you prove disability with a signed one-page statement from your doctor, nurse practitioner, physician assistant, or psychologist. The disability needs to meet the SSI severity levels that apply to seniors (which does take advanced age into account for SSI purposes).

      If you are an LPR who is elderly or has a disability, but you are not receiving EAEDC cash assistance, contact an advocate. Some persons who are LPR and are elderly or have a disability may not qualify for EAEDC for financial reasons (e.g., spousal income or assets above the low EAEDC limits, or they do not want/need EAEDC benefits.) 

      Additional Policy Guidance on Disability Verification:

      • Broader group of health care practitioners now allowed to sign Disability Certification, including doctors, osteopaths, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and psychologists. Transitions Hotline Q&A (July 2008).
      • Guidance to DTA workers on identifying both elderly and disabled EAEDC immigrants who may be eligible for SNAP without the five-year waiting period. Guidance includes Disability Verification Form for Elderly Non-Citizens. Field Operations (F.O.) Memo 2008-11 (Mar. 11, 2008) and F.O. Memo 2008-28 (May 29, 2008).
      • See also BEACON User's Guide, Ch. XIII-H, pp. 51-57, on how to determine severity of disability for SNAP/food stamp purposes.

       

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      24. What are the special immigrant eligibility rules for battered immigrants and their families?

      Immigrants abused by a spouse or parent (and the children or parents of abused immigrants) may be eligible for benefits even if their immigration status is pending. 106 C.M.R. § 362.220(B)(8).

      You may be eligible if you are no longer living with your abuser and you meet one of the following:

      • Your spouse or parent is a U.S. citizen or LPR and filed a relative petition (usually called a Form I-130) to get you LPR status. The petition can be approved or still pending with immigration officials.
      • You have a pending or approved self-petition for legal status as a victim of domestic violence. This is called a VAWA (Violence Against Women Act) petition or Form I-360. It is available to immigrants who are married to U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents but are no longer living with them.
      • You have an approved or pending application for cancellation of removal or suspension of deportation filed as a victim of domestic violence.
      • You now have LPR status and you got your status though a petition filed by your spouse or parent or because you self-petitioned as a victim of domestic violence.
      • You are the dependent child of a battered immigrant who has filed or been approved for one of the above, even if you are not listed on the petition.

      Five-year waiting period for battered immigrant adults

      Battered immigrant adults are, unfortunately, subject to the same five-year waiting period as LPRs and parolees. 106 C.M.R. § 362.220(B)(8). This rule does not apply to children under the age of 18, or immigrants who have a disability and who receive a disability-based benefit. 106 C.M.R. § 362.220(B)(8)(e).

      However, when calculating the five-year period for battered immigrant adults there are some important points to remember:  If you are a battered immigrant with a relative visa petition (Form I-130), the five year period starts the date it was filed (or the date the you entered the U.S. after filing, if later). If you are a battered immigrant who self-petitioned under VAWA, the start date for the five year period is the date that a “prima facie” determination was made by immigration officials for the VAWA petition (Form I-360).

      Children of battered immigrants

      There is no five year waiting period for children who are LPRs, have parole status, are children of immigrants who meet the battered immigrant rules, or are U.S. citizens. These children, like other qualified immigrant children, are eligible for benefits immediately. 106 C.M.R. § 362.220(B)(8)(e)(3). There is also no five-year waiting period in the TAFDC program for battered immigrants. 106 C.M.R. § 203.675(A)(8).

      Advocacy Reminders:

      • It is important to screen for the disability exemption. Many battered immigrants may be suffering from physical or emotional abuse as a result of the battering. If the immigrant is disabled and on a disability-based benefit such as EAEDC, consult an advocate.
      • DTA  will ask for proof of immigration status and copies of your petition for legal status. SAVE may not verify a pending or approved relative petition or VAWA petition. Some battered immigrants may also have fled without documents. DTA will accept a self-declaration from battered immigrants as proof of their filing for legal status if SAVE is unable to verify status.
      • If you filed a self-petition under VAWA, it is possible your children will not be listed on notices from the Department of Homeland Security. However, most immigrant children have legal protections under the special rules for battered immigrants based on “derived status” (see an immigration specialist if you have questions).
      Additional Policy Guidance on Battered Immigrants:
      • Extensive guidance on the eligibility of battered immigrants, including scope INS coding, acceptable documents, eligibility of other household members, verification if documents missing, etc. Field Operations (F.O.) Memo 2005-22 (June 1, 2005).
      • Immigrants are not required to self-petition under VAWA to be battered immigrants for benefits. Transitions Hotline Q&A (June, 2007).
      • Battered woman in DV shelter can get own SNAP benefits even if still on SNAP grant of abuser. Transitions FYI (May 2012).

       

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      25. Can my children get benefits if I am an ineligible immigrant?

      You have the right to apply for eligible household members, such as U.S. citizen children, and exclude from the application immigrant members who are not eligible or do not want to apply. When you apply, you still need to list all household members who purchase and prepare food together, as well as spouses and all children under age 22. However, you have the option to state which household members are not seeking SNAP benefits.

      DTA should not require information about or proof of immigration status if you or other household members do not wish to receive SNAP benefits. 106 C.M.R. § 362.220. If they take your photo for a photo EBT card, they cannot share that photo with immigration officials. See Question 14 (What are Photo EBT cards and who needs to have them?). However, even if you choose to not apply or are not eligible, as a person legally responsible for your children, you must still provide DTA with information on your income and expenses.

      Advocacy Reminders:

      • DTA should only ask for proof of the U.S. citizenship of your children or other eligible household members if their status is “questionable.” 106 C.M.R. § 362.210. The fact that you are an immigrant does not make the U.S. Citizenship of your children questionable. Contact an advocate if your case manager makes unreasonable demands for verification. 
      • The SNAP application has a section that allows applicants to identify immigrant household members not seeking benefits. If you file an on-line SNAP application, in the “personal information” section you are able to indicate programs that the individual is applying for. Here, you can select “none” to indicate household members that are not applying for benefits. You can also send a written statement with the other proofs sent in to clarify who is and is not applying for benefits. DTA should verbally ask this question during your interview or in-person application intake.
      • Although you are not required to give information on your own immigration status if you are not applying for benefits for yourself, your eligible children may get higher benefits if you provide proof of your legal status. DTA uses a favorable income calculation for households that include ineligible but legally-present immigrants. 106 C.M.R. §§ 362.220, 365.520(B). See also Question 27 (How does DTA count the income of an ineligible immigrant who lives with eligible persons?).
      • Federal guidance requires states to accept the best evidence available for verification of income and should accept a reasonable explanation from the household of discrepant information (in this case, the earnings of an immigrant where the name on pay stubs is different from the name of the wage earner).
      Additional Policy Guidance on mixed household eligibility:
      • Extensive guidance to DTA regarding right of non-citizen to not provide information on immigration status and opt out of SNAP application, and to apply for just eligible family members. Guidance includes opt-out form, client brochure and resource list of agencies. Field Operations (F.O.) Memo 2004-34 (Sept. 24, 2004).
      • Advisory to workers that HHS Office of Civil Rights is concerned about DTA local office practices discouraging non-citizens from applying for themselves and/or eligible children. Transitions FYI (Jan. 2004).
      • U.S. citizenship of children is not questionable solely because parents are immigrants. Transitions Hotline Q&A (March 2006).
      • DTA must use favorable financial calculation for mixed households where parents provide information on legal status. Transitions Hotline Q&A (April 2005).
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      26. Will receiving SNAP benefits hurt my immigration status or will DTA report me to immigration authorities?

      No. Getting SNAP will not hurt your immigration status or create a "public charge" problem. SNAP benefits are not considered cash assistance benefits. Receiving these benefits also has no impact on your ability to become a U.S. citizen if you are planning to naturalize. Free school breakfast or lunch, Women Infant and Children (WIC) benefits, MassHealth (other than long term care), housing subsidies, job training, child care, shelters, disaster relief, and health clinic services are other non-cash programs that do not raise the public charge issue.

      Further, DTA workers are not authorized to report you or share information with immigration authorities, including your photo, unless you give written permission. The information on your application is private. 106 C.M.R. § 360.400.

      In some cases, an immigrant may be in the United States "unlawfully"— but it is not up to DTA to make that determination. The only circumstance where DTA can determine that you are "known to be in the U.S. unlawfully" is when DTA has seen a copy of your final order of deportation or other formal document that proves you are not here legally. 106 C.M.R. § 362.240(B). In that limited situation DTA is authorized to report you to the Department of Homeland Security without your permission. 106 C.M.R. § 362.220 (first section).

      You cannot be reported just because you do not have any documents showing a status or because you chose to not provide information on your status. If you are not sure about your status or need legal advice, consult an immigration specialist.

      Additional Policy Guidance on Immigration Status and Public Charge:

      • DTA brochure, "What Non-Citizens Need to Know." Field Operations (F.O.) Memo 2004-34 (Sept. 20, 2004).
      • DTA policy confirming that DTA staff must not report any immigrant to USCIS except when immigrant provides DTA with a final order of deportation; reporting done through DTA Central. Transitions FYI (Jan. 2004).
      • "Unlawfully residing" involves a Final Order of Deportation or other formal USCIS document that shows a determination made of unlawful status. Transitions Hotline Q&A (Feb. 2002).
      Other Useful Resources on Immigrants and Public Benefits:

       

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      27. How does DTA count the income of an ineligible immigrant who lives with eligible persons?

      Some ineligible immigrants live with other people who are eligible for SNAP, such as an immigrant parent with U.S. citizen children. There are two different calculations depending on the immigration status:

      Calculation for households with legally present, ineligible immigrants

      If you are lawfully residing in the U.S. but are ineligible for benefits – or you  choose not to be part of the SNAP household – your SNAP benefits for the family members you live with are calculated using a special  calculation. 106 C.M.R. § 365.520(B)(2).

      The SNAP regulations define a broad group of immigrants who are considered “lawfully residing.” See 106 C.M.R. § 362.240(A). This list includes legal permanent resident adults (some of whom must wait five years from entry to be eligible) as well as immigrants with work authorization or other proof of pending status, such as asylum applicants. It also includes lawfully residing immigrants who choose for other reasons to not apply for SNAP benefits.

      The SNAP calculation for households with lawfully present immigrants involves three steps. DTA initially calculates benefits with the opting-out immigrant and their income as a household member, then calculates benefits for the household excluding the immigrant and his or her income, and finally selects the result with the lower amount of benefits. 106 C.M.R 364.600(C).

      Example: Juana is an applicant for asylum. She has official work authorization (I-688) but is not eligible for benefits until the asylum status is granted (which can take years). Juana has two young children born in the United States. She earns $1,250/month gross income and pays $700 rent plus heat and cooling costs. Her children have no income of their own. Here’s how DTA calculates her benefits:

      Step 1: DTA calculates the benefit amount the family would receive if the immigrant were included in the household. DTA uses the total household income (including the income of the ineligible immigrant and all allowable deductions).

      In Juana’s case, DTA first calculates the benefits for a household of three including Juana and her two children. DTA counts all of Juana’s income and allows all applicable deductions (in her case, the 20% earnings disregard, the $152 standard deduction and a shelter deduction maxed at $478).

      Juana has countable income of $370 a month. The maximum benefit for a household of three is $497 a month. After subtracting 30% of net income, her family will receive $386/month.

         
      Countable net income after deductions: $370
      Maximum benefits for household of 3 persons: $497
      Subtract 30% of countable net income: –111
      Benefit for this HH ($526 less 1/3 net income): $386

      Step 2: DTA then calculates the benefits for the eligible household members excluding the ineligible immigrant and his/her income. If the household members have countable income (for example, child support), that income is counted to determine the SNAP benefits.

      In Juana’s case, the children have no countable income, so the benefit for the children at Step 2 would be $347 a month.

         
      Countable income of children: $0
      Max benefits for household of 2 persons: $347

      Step 3: The two amounts are compared and the household is eligible for the amount in Step 1 or Step 2, whichever is lower.  In Juana’s case, the benefit for the children is the amount in Step 2 ($347) because that is lower than the amount in Step 1 ($386).

      The policy reason for granting the lower amount is one of fairness—an immigrant-headed household should get no more SNAP benefits than they would receive if all were eligible U.S. citizens.

      However, if Juana had no countable income, the family’s SNAP benefit would still be capped at the maximum amount for two persons, or $347 (as opposed to the higher amount of $386 for three persons), because Juana is not herself eligible.

      Calculation for households with undocumented or undetermined status members

      If you are an undocumented immigrant or are unwilling to provide immigration status information, the benefit calculation is even less favorable. DTA will count all of the ineligible immigrant's income toward the eligible members without considering the ineligible immigrant's needs. 106 C.M.R. § 365.520(A). This calculation is identical to the way that income is counted for sanctioned household members (individuals who have committed fraud or been sanctioned for work violations). See Question 50 (How does DTA count the income of someone who lives with me but is not part of my SNAP household?).

      DTA does one calculation counting the income of the ineligible individual but excludes him or her in determining the household size and benefit amount as follows:

      Example: In the case of Juana, above, it turns out she does not have any proof of legal status.

      Because Juana has “undetermined legal status,” DTA counts all of her income against a SNAP benefit level for the two children only. The children will receive only $236 in SNAP benefits, as this is the maximum monthly benefit level for a household of two with countable net income of $370. All of Jane’s countable income is subtracted against a household of two persons.

         
      Countable net income after deductions: $370
      Maximum benefits for household of 2 children: $347
      Subtract 30% of countable net income: –111
      Benefit for this HH ($347 less 1/3 net income): $236
      Additional Policy Guidance on Mixed Household Calculations:
      • BEACON User's Guide, Ch. XIII-E, pp. 28-30, detailed instructions on the three-step process to calculate SNAP for "combination FS AU" households, clarifies to whom income belongs in the calculation and when deductions apply.
      • Guidance confirming negative calculation used for undocumented non-citizen with income applying for benefits for eligible children. Transitions Hotline Q&A (June 2003).

       

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      28. Does the income of an immigrant’s sponsor count?

      If you receive financial support directly from the sponsor to pay for living expenses, then that money is counted by DTA and treated as unearned income in calculating your benefits. 106 C.M.R. § 363.220(B)(7). For example, if your sponsor provides you with $500 per month in income, DTA will calculate your SNAP benefits counting $500 of unearned income. See Question 46 (What is unearned income?).

      However, for SNAP there is no counting or “deeming” of a sponsor’s income if you are indigent (low-income). “Deeming” involves counting income from a source, such as a sponsor, that is not actually received by the LPR but is assumed to be available. There is also no deeming of sponsor income in the TAFDC, EAEDC or MassHealth programs.

      There is an exception to this sponsor deeming rule. DTA will count sponsor income when a household member is sanctioned for failure to comply with the SNAP work rules, the TAFDC monthly reporting rules, or has committed fraud (intentional program violation). 106 C.M.R. § 362.270.

      Additional Policy Guidance on Sponsor Income:

      • No sponsor deeming for EAEDC and TAFDC recipients, nor for indigent immigrants seeking SNAP unless household is under sanction for violation of work rules, intentional program violation or failure to comply with TAFDC monthly reporting rules.  Field Operations (F.O.) Memo 2008-65 (Dec. 9, 2008).
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      29. What if I am homeless or live in a shelter?

      You do not need to have a permanent address or a regular place to live to get SNAP. 106 C.M.R. § 362.100. You do not need to have cooking facilities. You can get benefits if you live on the street. You can also receive benefits if you are staying at a homeless shelter or a shelter for victims of domestic violence, even if you get free meals at the shelter on a regular basis. 106 C.M.R. § 361.240(B).

      You must provide something to prove your identity. 106 C.M.R. § 361.610(G). There are many different ways you can prove who you are, including a statement from someone who knows you, such as a staff person at a soup kitchen, food pantry, detox program, or shelter. 106 C.M.R. § 361.640(B). See Questions 7 (What proofs (verifications) do I need?) and 8 (What if I am having trouble getting all the proofs, or the proofs get to DTA late?).

      If you do not have an address where you can regularly pick up mail, you can choose to have mail about your SNAP benefits sent to the address of your local DTA local office, a local organization such as a shelter that accepts mail for clients, or a P.O. Box. 

      You may be entitled to emergency SNAP if you have less than $150 in gross income and less than $100 in cash or savings or meet other rules for "expedited" SNAP. See Question 9 (Can I get emergency SNAP benefits?).

      Advocacy Reminder:

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      30. Can I get benefits if I am disabled and live in a group home?

      If you live in a licensed group home for persons who are disabled or blind, you are eligible for SNAP benefits at the one-person benefit allotment, even if you share common meals at the home. 106 C.M.R. §§ 361.240(B), 365.620. The group home must be licensed by the state as a community-based residential facility and serve no more than 16 residents at a time. 106 C.M.R. § 365.640.

      You may be able to apply and manage your own SNAP benefits or the group home may decide to be your authorized representative. See Question 5 (Can someone else apply for me?). The group home must make this decision based on an individualized determination of your “physical and mental ability to handle your own affairs.” 106 C.M.R. § 365.620(A).

      You cannot be forced to automatically turn over your benefits or forced to appoint the group home as your authorized representative. You also have the right to challenge their determination if you want to keep your own SNAP benefits. However, if you get prepared meals at the group home, they may ask you to contribute some of your SNAP benefits toward the cost of these meals. 

      Since 2004, DTA has made a major effort to reach group home residents through the Department of Mental Health, Department of Developmental Services, and Mass. Commission for the Blind facilities. DTA has simplified the SNAP application and verification process. Group homes are also encouraged to identify a portion of the residential shelter costs for heating/cooling expenses in order to maximize benefits. If you are a residential facility provider, contact DTA about maximizing SNAP benefits for your residents.

      Advocacy Reminders:

      • If you leave the group home to live on your own in private or public housing, your SNAP benefits should still continue without interruption. Be sure to report the change in address, living situation and expenses. DTA should not require you to file a new application unless your certification period is ending.
      • If the group home insists that they become your authorized representative to receive your EBT card and purchase your food, and you do not agree to have the group home act as your SNAP representative, you have a right to challenge their decision. Contact an advocate.
      • “Sober houses” typically provide room and meals for adults who have substance abuse issues and may be homeless, transitioning from a treatment program and/or referred by a court or probation officer. Sober houses may be regulated at the local level but usually are not licensed or regulated by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health as drug or alcohol treatment programs. If you live in a “sober house” or other roomer/boarder situation that is not licensed by the Department of Public Health, you cannot be forced to turn over your EBT card or benefits without your written permission. If this has happened to you, contact an advocate. 
      Additional Policy Guidance on Residents of Group Homes:
      • When group home indicates resident pays for heating or cooling expenses, resident entitled to heating/cooling SUA. Transitions Quality Corner (January 2011).
      • Detailed guidance on eligibility of DMR and DMH/DDS group home residents including the process for applying, designating an authorized representative, level of authorized rep’s authority to transact benefits. Field Operations (F.O.) Memo 2009-10, Q. 4 (Feb. 20, 2009), F.O. Memo 2004-41 (Oct. 8, 2004) and F.O. Memo 2004-15 (April 2, 2004).
      • Interagency agreement with DMH, DMR to designate 10% of residents' shelter costs as a heating expense, to leverage heating/cooling SUA. Transitions FYI (Sept. 2007).
      • Representative payee administrative fees charged for SSI or RSDI recipients should be treated as dependent care expenses. Transitions FYI (Sept. 2006).
      • Group home facility makes determination of which residents require authorized reps vs. receive own benefits, but facility cannot impose one method for all residents, must do individualized determinations. F.O. Memo 97-17 (Mar. 14, 1997).
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      31. Can I get benefits if I live in a hospital, school, or other residential institution?

      Residents of institutions that provide residents with a majority of meals (e.g. more than half) do not qualify for SNAP benefits. Institutions include hospitals, boarding schools, nursing homes, mental health facilities, and prisons. 106 C.M.R. § 361.240(A) and (B). Children placed in foster care or youth services are also not SNAP eligible if their absence from the home will last more than 30 days.

      However, there are a number of exceptions that permit residents of certain institutions to receive SNAP. 106 C.M.R. § 361.240(B). You may still be eligible for SNAP if you live in the following settings:

      • federally subsidized housing for the elderly,
      • group homes that serve persons with disabilities and have less than 16 residents (see Question 30 (Can I get benefits if I am disabled and live in a group home?) above),
      • shelters for homeless individuals or families or a shelter for victims of domestic violence,
      • teen parent living programs. The teen program may act as your authorized representative and use your benefits for group meals or may let you use some or all of the benefits separately, see 106 C.M.R. § 365.620(B), or
      • drug or alcohol treatment centers (public or nonprofit). The center will require you to make it an authorized representative during your stay. 106 C.M.R. § 365.610.

      Advocacy Reminders:

      • Although individual residents of drug/alcohol treatment centers and teen living programs do not receive the SNAP benefits directly, the resident should receive the benefits directly once the individual moves into a permanent residence. Advocates should be sure that the residential program reports the change of address to DTA and ensures benefits continue if the individual meets the SNAP rules.
      • If you are sentenced to "home detention" (for example, you wear an electronic or prison bracelet at home), you should not be considered jailed or incarcerated.
      Additional Policy Guidance on Residents of Institutions:
      • DTA match with DYS to identify and terminate SNAP of youth removed from home in custody of the state.  Ops Memo 2013-36 (July 26, 2013).
      • Battered woman who moves to DV shelter can receive own SNAP benefits even if still on SNAP grant of abuser. Transitions Hotline Q&A (May 2012).
      • Children home on summer break are eligible for benefits, but not while at school. Transitions Hotline Q&A (July 2006).
      • Receipt of school meal plan at college does not disqualify student if meal plan does not provide majority of meals consumed. Transitions Hotline Q&A (Nov. 2006).
      • Home detention (electronic bracelet) does not render an applicant ineligible. Transitions Hotline Q&A (Aug. 2001).
      • Social Security or other income received for a child in an institution is not countable to rest of household. Transitions Hotline Q&A (June 2000).
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      32. What if I am a boarder or I live in someone else’s home?

      If you live in someone else's home and you pay that person for more than half your weekly meals, you are considered to be a boarder and not eligible for SNAP benefits as a separate household. 106 C.M.R. § 361.240 (D).

      If you pay a reasonable amount for meals, the household providing the meals can choose to include you and your income in their SNAP benefits or the household can choose to exclude you in calculating their benefit allotment. If excluded, DTA will then count your payments (after certain deductions) as income to the host household. A “reasonable” amount is an amount that equals or exceeds the SNAP benefit level for your household size (for example, $189/month for someone getting three meals per day). 106 C.M.R. § 361.240(D).

      If you do not pay a reasonable amount for meals, you must be included in the SNAP household of the person who provides the meals and your income and assets will be counted in figuring the eligibility of the whole household. 106 C.M.R. § 361.240(D).

      Example: Janet and Joe are 23 years old. They move into Janet's mother's house. Janet's mother receives SNAP benefits. Janet's mother does all of the shopping and makes all of the meals for Janet and Joe. Janet and Joe pay $150 a month towards food and $200 towards lodging. Because $150 is less than the benefit amount for a household of 2, Janet and Joe must be part of Janet's mother's SNAP household and their income and assets count. However, if Janet and Joe bought their food separately instead of giving Janet's mother money for food, they would not be required to be in her household.

      If you are elderly or have a disability and you live with others who provide meals for you, see Question 18 (What if I am elderly or disabled and live with other people but I cannot buy and cook my own food?).

      If you rent a room or space in someone else’s home and do not pay for meals, you are considered to be a roomer. As a roomer, you can apply for SNAP as a separate household, so long as you purchase and prepare the majority of your meals separately from the other people in the house. 106 C.M.R. § 361.230(A). See Questions 15 (What is a SNAP household or assistance unit?) and 16 (Can I get benefits separately from other people I live with?).

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      33. What if I am caring for a foster child or disabled foster adult?

      Foster Children:

      Unlike other situations where a child under 18 must be part of the household, a SNAP household can choose to include or exclude the foster child from the SNAP unit. 106 C.M.R. § 361.240(F). If the foster child is excluded, the foster care payments and any other income received for the child, such as child support, will not count as income to the household. For this reason, it is usually better to exclude the foster child to maximize the SNAP/food stamp benefits for the rest of the household. The foster child, however, cannot get benefits as a separate household.

      Example: Sam and Susan have two children of their own. They also care for a foster child, Jimmy, and get foster care payments of roughly $600 per month for him. They can apply for SNAP for themselves and their two children (family of four), excluding the monthly foster care payment from income. Alternatively, Sam and Susan can apply for SNAP for a family of five including their two children, and their foster child, Jimmy. In that case, their income, plus the foster care payments they receive for Jimmy will be used in the calculation of benefits for five people. Households usually get more SNAP/food stamp benefits excluding the foster child since the foster care payments are then excluded from countable income.

      Foster Adults:

      A SNAP household also has the choice to include or exclude adult foster care members, even if they share family meals with that person. 106 CMR 361.240(F). Adult Foster Care (AFC) is a program for frail elders and adults with disabilities who cannot live alone. 130 CMR 408.000. MassHealth pays qualified AFC caregivers up to $18,000 a year to provide in-home care to MassHealth recipients who are elder or have disabilities and who would otherwise be institutionalized. However, the caregiver and other family members may still be low income and qualify for SNAP benefits.

      If the foster adult is excluded from the SNAP household, none of the foster care payments paid to the caregiver nor does income of the fostered individual count for SNAP purposes. By excluding the adult foster care payment and other income received by the fostered adult, such as SSI or Social Security, the care giving household often qualifies for much higher monthly SNAP benefits based only on their income and portion of living expenses.

      Example: Frank and Emma are foster caregivers for an 88 year old woman, Margaret. Emma provides the daily foster care and Frank works part time earning $1,000/month. The Adult Foster Care Program pays the Wilsons $1,500 a month. Margaret also receives $800 in Social Security. Under the SNAP rules, Frank and Emma can apply for SNAP benefits for a 2 person household, excluding Margaret from the SNAP household. Only the $1,000 income earned by Frank is countable income for SNAP purposes. This is true even though the couple purchases and prepares the food jointly for themselves and Margaret.

      Advocacy Reminders:

      A foster family or adult foster caregiver can request that DTA remove a foster child or foster adult from the SNAP household at any time. In cases of adult foster care, if the head of the SNAP household is also the fostered adult, that person must put the request to be removed from the household in writing to the DTA and a new account should be opened with the caregiver as head of the SNAP household. Contact an advocate for assistance in making these changes.

      Additional Policy Guidance on Household Status:
      • DTA affirms option allowing households the choice of including or excluding foster care child or foster care adults in SNAP household. DTA Transitions Hotline Q&A (Oct. 1992).
      • Adopted children are required to be included in household with parents. DTA Transitions Hotline Q&A (Oct. 2001).
      • Foster grandparent income is not countable for SNAP. Transitions FYI (Jan. 2005).
      • DTA match with DYS to identify and terminate SNAP of youth removed from home in custody of the state.  Ops Memo 2013-36 (July 26, 2013).
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        34. What if I am a college student?

        Many low-income college students may be eligible for SNAP benefits but not realize it. The college student rules can be very confusing.

        Eligible college students

        If you are a low-income college student enrolled half-time or more, you may qualify for SNAP – on your own or part of your parent’s household – as long as you meet any one of the following conditions: 

        • you are younger than 18 or older than 49; 
        • you receive either federal or state work-study during the school year (for any amount of work-study hours); 
        • you work for pay for 20 hours or more per week; 
        • you have a child under age 6;
        • you have a child under age 12 and you are a single parent in school full time or you are a parent and do not have enough child care coverage to both attend school full time and work 20 hours;
        • you receive TAFDC cash benefits as a pregnant woman or for dependent children;   
        • you are disabled and receive disability-based benefits such as SSI, MassHealth as disabled or EAEDC, or your health care provider (nurse, doctor, psychologist, counselor, or social worker) signs a statement that you cannot work short term or longer because you are in a vocational, mental health or substance abuse rehabilitation program;
        • you are going to school under a DTA-approved SNAP education or training activity or another government-sponsored education and training program; or
        • you are attending a community college and pursuing a degree or certificate program that is in a career or technical education field or similar program that the college determines will increase your employability.

        106 C.M.R. §§ 362.400-362.420 lists all the conditions that qualify college students. Appendix C includes an FAQ and a form for community colleges to sign if you are in a career or technical education degree or certificate program, or if your course of study will lead to employment.

        Example 1: Jane is a single parent and a full-time college student with one child age 10. Jane qualifies for SNAP, even though a student, because she is a single parent with a child under age 12.

        Example 2: George is a full-time college student with no dependents. He has a work-study job on campus for 5 hours a week. George meets the SNAP rules for college students because he is doing work-study. He does not need to work 20 hours per week.

        Example 3: Suzy is majoring in communications at the local community college. Because she is in a public college and in a program that is expected to lead to employment, according to the college, she meets the student eligibility requirements.

        Note: College students enrolled less than half-time do not need to meet the conditions above to get SNAP benefits. 106 C.M.R. § 362.400(A). Depending on your situation, however, you may be required to do work search unless you meet the employment and training exceptions. See Question 36 (Who must register for work and do job search, and who's exempt?).

        Purchase and prepare rules for college students

        If you live on campus and get most of your meals through your meal plan, you do not qualify for SNAP.

        If you live with your parents and you are under age 22, you must be part of their SNAP household even if you meet the student eligibility rules, and even if you purchase and prepare food separately. See Question 17 (Who cannot be a separate SNAP household?).

        Treatment of college student loans and grants

        There are specific rules on what income is countable for eligible college students. It is important to remember the following:

        • Federal loans, grants and work-study are “excluded” or non-countable income for SNAP purposes. 106 C.M.R. § 363.230(D). This includes Pell Grants, FSEOG, federal college work study, Perkins Loans and other student financial aid from programs administered under Title IV of the federal Higher Education Act.
        • Private and state grants, private loans and state work-study monies do count—but only the amount that is designated for your living expenses counts in calculating SNAP benefits (e.g., the amount that the loan exceeds your tuition, fees, books, supplies, child care and other earmarked educational expenses). 106 C.M.R. § 363.230(D)(4).
        • If you do have countable income from loans or grants, DTA will average the amount of available income monthly over the course of the academic year or semester even if you receive it in a lump sum. 106 C.M.R. § 364.340(A)(2).

        For more information on the income counting rules and what is countable or non-countable, see Questions 44 (What income is not counted?) through 50 (How does DTA count the income of someone who lives with me but is not part of my SNAP household?). Non-countable income does not need to be verified. To help verify your countable school income, DTA uses an "Educational Income and Expense Form" (EDUC-1). By signing this form, you are giving permission for your college financial aid office to release information to DTA. Use of the form also makes it easier for the financial aid office to report non-federal financial aid you receive and indicate if any of it is designated for your living expenses. You are not required to use this form but it may help in getting the exact information DTA needs.

        Advocacy Reminder:

        • In June 2010, DTA issued guidance which expands the SNAP eligibility for low-income students attending community colleges. These students are SNAP eligible if enrolled in career or technical education degree or certificate programs, or enrolled in other programs that the college determines likely to enhance the student’s employability. This policy change is especially important for public college students who cannot get work study or meet the other student exemptions to qualify. Appendix C includes the DTA form for community colleges to sign, and an FAQ.
        Additional Policy Guidance on College Students:
        • VA educational benefits excluded as income if grant or scholarship precludes use for current living costs. Transitions Hotline Q#5 (May 2013).
        • Job Aid for workers “Everything you need to know about student eligibility for SNAP,” Transitions Training Corner (Sept 2012). 
        • DTA guidance extending SNAP eligibility to community college students enrolled in career and technical education programs (defined under the Perkins Act) or in degree or certificate programs likely to lead to employment. Field Operations (F.O.) Memo 2010-28 (June 1, 2010) and Transitions Hotline Q&A (July 2010), updated CCE-1 form issued, Transitions FYI pg 12 (January 2012). 
        • Guidance on eligibility of college students living with others; ineligible college student are non-household members and their income does not count in determining eligibility of SNAP household. Transitions Hotline Q&A (July 2009).
        • Work hours of employed students should be averaged over the month to get a weekly average (for students eligible claiming 20 hours/week average work). F.O. Memo 2007-44 (Aug. 30, 2007).
        • Federal work-study is never countable income even though receipt meets student requirements. Transitions FYI (Dec. 2006).
        • Once student turns 22, he/she can be own SNAP household even if living with parents (if purchases and prepares separately); participation in school meal plan does not disqualify student if meal plan does not provide majority of meals. Only one parent in a two-parent household can claim responsibility to care for a young child to meet student rules. Transitions Hotline Q&A (Nov. 2006).
        • Non-federal education loans and grants designated for living expenses are countable income; guidance includes EDUC-1 form and instructions. F.O. Memo 2004-9 (March 15, 2004).
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        35. What if I have a criminal record or DTA says I am a “fleeing felon”?

        A criminal record, including a drug felony conviction, does not bar you from receiving SNAP benefits in Massachusetts. However, you can be barred from SNAP benefits if you:

        • are "actively fleeing" prosecution or punishment for a felony, or
        • violate a condition of probation or parole.

        See 106 C.M.R. § 367.800(D).

        The 2008 Farm Bill, Section 4112 directs states not to disqualify individuals whose names happen to appear on a criminal database until the state has confirmed that the individual is actually “fleeing prosecution” and that they are being “actively pursued by law enforcement.” USDA has issued preliminary guidance that for a SNAP applicant to be considered “fleeing,” the applicant must be aware that a warrant has been issued for his or her arrest. If you see any households denied or terminated for SNAP benefits on this basis, contact an advocate.

        Advocacy Reminder:

        Additional USDA Policy Guidance on Fleeing Felons:

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        36. Who must register for work and do job search, and who’s exempt?

        Any member of your family who is age 16 to 60 and is not exempt must register, search for work, and accept any suitable job offer. This is called the SNAP Employment & Training (SNAP/ET) Program. 106 C.M.R. § 362.310. DTA will have you sign a work registration form where you agree to do certain activities and report your job search efforts.

        Job search activities and reporting

        After you register (by signing a DTA SNAP work registration form), you have two options:

        • You can make 18 job contacts within 60 days of signing the SNAP work registration form.  Job contacts can be done by phone, over the internet, or by mail; or
        • You can do a total of 24 hours of job search activities (which includes at least 5 job contacts) within 60 days. You can count as search activities the hours spent filling out applications, doing interviews, and/or going to a career center for job search. 106 C.M.R. §§ 362.310(D)(5), (E)(5).

        DTA will give you a “Job Search Activity Log” on which to list either 18 job contacts or the hours you spent (and types of activities) to add up to 24 hours. See Appendix C. You need to start your job search within 30 days of when you register and finish it by day 60. Completion of the job search paperwork satisfies program requirements for the next 12 months. 106 C.M.R. § 362.310(E).

        You also have the option of going to an employment and training program or career center to find out about other services. If DTA refers you to an SNAP/ET vendor for help with career or training skills, you have the choice whether or not you want to accept the referral. However, if you are offered a job during your job search or from a training program, you must take it unless you have a really good reason to refuse the job, and you cannot quit the job unless you have a really good reason. 106 C.M.R. § 362.310(D)(3), (6), (7) & (8)

        Exemptions from the work registration/job search rules

        The SNAP regulations provide for a wide range of exemptions from the job search and the SNAP/ET requirements. 106 C.M.R. § 362.310(B). You are exempt if you are:

        • physically or mentally "unfit" for work because you are receiving disability benefits such as SSI or EAEDC, or
        • physically or mentally "unfit" for work based on a statement from a nurse, doctor, psychologist, counselor, or social worker saying you cannot work on a short- or long-term basis or based on participation in vocational rehabilitation program, a mental health program, or a drug or alcohol treatment program, or
        • under 16 years old or over 59 years old, or
        • age 16 or 17 years old but not the head of household (whether or not going to school); or you are the head of household but are in a school or employment/training program at least half-time, or
        • more than three months pregnant, or
        • responsible for the care of a child under age six, even if that child is not part of your SNAP household, or
        • responsible for the care of an incapacitated person even if the incapacitated person does not live in your household, or
        • a TAFDC or EAEDC recipient complying with the cash assistance program work requirement, or
        • complying with SNAP/Work Program requirements for ABAWDs, or
        • receiving unemployment compensation or waiting for unemployment compensation and complying with the job search requirements of the unemployment office, or
        • participating in a drug or alcohol treatment program, or
        • working at least 30 hours a week or making at least $217.50 per week ($217.50 is 30 times the current federal minimum wage of $7.25/hour that went into effect July 24, 2009), or
        • a student enrolled in a program at least half-time. See Question 34 (What if I am a college student?) on which college students are considered eligible for SNAP.

        If you do not comply with SNAP/ET work registration or job search rules after you apply and do not have “good cause,” you may be “sanctioned” and ineligible for benefits. See Question 38.

        Work registration/job search sanctions

        If DTA determines that you did not meet a work requirement without good cause, you will be ineligible for three (3) months for the first finding, six (6) months for the second finding, and twelve (12) months for the third finding. 106 C.M.R. § 367.800(E)(1). For the first two offenses, only the household member who does not comply loses benefits.

        On the third offense, and if you are the "head of household," your whole household is ineligible for six months and you also lose your portion of benefits for 12 months. See 106 C.M.R. § 361.220 for a definition of who is the "head of household." Further, if you are sanctioned and have income, DTA will count all of your income to the rest of the household members while excluding you from the SNAP benefits paid to the household. See Question 49 (Do the SNAP rules count money I don't receive?).

        Advocacy Reminders:

        • Work search requires only 18 job contacts within a 60-day period, or 24 hours worth of job search activities—not both. DTA workers should provide each SNAP/ET client with a “Job Search Activity Log” and help on how to fill it out and do work search activity, See Appendix C.
        • DTA has a one-page form you can bring to a medical provider to sign if you have a mental or physical impairment that makes it difficult for you to work. It can be signed by a wide range of medical providers, licensed social workers, counselors or directors of substance abuse or mental health programs. See Appendix C.
        • A 16- or 17-year-old who is a dependent in a SNAP household does not need to be in school or register for work search. The teen is exempt until he or she turns 18. 106 C.M.R. § 362.310(B)(11). But if the teen is the head of his/her SNAP household, he/she would need to register.
        Additional Policy Guidance on Work Registration:
        • Employment and Training (E&T) are optional and SNAP clients cannot be sanctioned for failure to cooperate. Ops Memo 2012-12 (April 27, 2012).
        • Federal minimum wage increase effective July 24, 2009, impact on work rules. Field Operations (F.O.) Memo 2009-46 (Aug. 4, 2009).
        • ARRA rules suspend work/community service requirements for ABAWDs, but ABAWDs must still do job search activity. F.O. Memo 2009-33 (May 29, 2009).
        • Individuals residing in same household as child are exempt from work rules, even if child is not part of SNAP household. Transitions FYI (Apr. 2008).
        • Incapacitated person or child needing care does not need to live in same household for SNAP member to be exempt from work rules. F.O. Memo 2008-02 (Feb. 15, 2008).
        • Dependent less than 18 years old who drops out of school not required to do SNAP ET/job search. Rules only apply to head of household. Transitions Hotline Q&A (Aug. 2007).
        • DTA form to use for verification of medical "unfit" status. F.O. Memo 2004-22 (May 21, 2004).
        • Refugee attending training program exempt from work requirements. Transitions Hotline Q&A (Nov. 2001).
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        37. Are there work rules for childless adults ages 18 to 50 years?

        Childless adults ages 18 to 50 must register for work and cooperate with the work search SNAP ET requirements. There are no mandatory community service or “work for food” requirements for persons in the age group under current SNAP policy.

        Able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDS) have historically been required to a) register for work, b) do job search and c) work 20 hours a week or do unpaid community service hours based on the amount of SNAP benefits they received. Unpaid work was known as the “work rule” and was imposed on these able-bodied individuals after three months of benefits.

        The work requirements were suspended under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. These rules remain suspended as of the date of this Guide and likely through September 30, 2014. 

        If you are a member of ABAWD household, you cannot be denied or disqualified for failure to meet the work program rules, but you can be denied for failure to do register for work and do job search.

        SNAP/ET and Job Search

        Even though the work rules for able-bodied adults without dependents are suspended, you are still required to comply with the work registration and work search rules (sometimes called SNAP/ET rules). 106 C.M.R. § 362.310(D)(5), (E)(5). See Question 36 (Who must register for work and do job search, and who's exempt?).

        Semi-annual or interim reporting

        Because of the suspension of the ABAWD work rules, if you are an able-bodied individual, your SNAP benefits should be put on semi-annual (interim) reporting if you have any earned or unearned income, a history of income (within the past five months) or you are homeless. This means you have less reporting of changes during the six month period. If the work rule were in effect, ABAWDs would likely be on change reporting. 106 C.M.R. § 366.110(C)(1)(d). See Question 72 (What is semi-annual reporting?).

        Additional Policy Guidance on ABAWD Work Rules:

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        38. What if I have a “good cause” for not meeting the SNAP work registration or work search rules?

        You should not be sanctioned or lose SNAP if you had good cause for not complying with work registration or job search. See 106 C.M.R. § 362.330(A). Good cause reasons for failure to comply with the FS/ET and FS/Work Program rules include:

        • You lack state-standard child care during the hours of your work, including lack of special needs child care for a disabled child;
        • You have a family crisis or emergency that you have to deal with during your work hours;
        • You do not have transportation or you have to travel more than two hours/day or walk more than two miles round trip;
        • The employer makes unreasonable work demands, such as not paying you on schedule;
        • The employment is unsuitable because the pay is below the state minimum wage; the work or program discriminates against you on the basis of sex, race, religion, ethnic origin, or physical or mental handicap; there is a strike or lockout; the employment or training activity places unreasonable risks on your health or safety; or the hours interfere with your religious observances.

        These SNAP good cause rules also apply to the ABAWD Work Program rules for childless adults when the work rules are in effect. These rules are currently suspended. See Question 37.

        Advocacy Reminder:

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        39. Am I eligible for SNAP if I quit a job or am on strike?

        DTA can deny your SNAP benefits—or cut you off —if you are subject to the SNAP work requirements and you voluntarily quit a job without good cause.

        Here’s how the rules on voluntary quit work:

        • If you voluntarily quit a job without good cause and you apply for SNAP within 60 days of quitting, your whole household cannot get SNAP benefits for three months from the date you quit the job. This disqualification runs from the date you quit the job, not the date you apply for benefits. 106 C.M.R. § 362.340. This rule does not apply if the household member who quit leaves the household, gets a new job, or becomes exempt from work registration rules. The penalties increase the second and third times the applicant quits a job without good cause.
        • If you voluntarily quit a job without good cause after the date you applied for SNAP benefits or while you are on benefits, you are ineligible for three months. 106 C.M.R. § 367.800(E)(2) & (F). The other members in your household are still eligible. This rule does not apply if the household member who quit gets a new job or becomes exempt from work registration rules. Penalties increase for a second and third quit. On the third quit, if you are the "head of household," your whole household is ineligible for six months.

        DTA should only ask you to verify work you had within 60 days prior to application. DTA does not need to know about or verify jobs you had more than 60 days prior. If you need help getting information from a past employer, you can give DTA permission to make a "collateral contact" with the employer directly. See Question 8 (What if I am having trouble getting all the proofs, or the proofs get to DTA late?) and Appendix C106 C.M.R. § 361.640(B)

        Here’s how the rules on strikers work:

        If the reason you need SNAP benefits is because you are on a work strike, you and your household cannot get SNAP unless you were income-eligible for SNAP before you went on strike. If you were eligible before the strike, DTA will count either the value of your current income or your income before you went on strike, whichever is higher. 106 C.M.R § 361.240(E)(2)

        You are not considered on strike if:

        See 106 C.M.R. § 361.240(E)(1).

        Advocacy Reminder:

        • If you meet an exemption from the SNAP work registration/work search rules, the voluntary quit sanctions do not apply to you. 106 C.M.R. § 362.340(A)(1). Exemptions include incapacitation, going into a substance abuse treatment program, being more than three months pregnant, receiving UI benefits, attending an approved program of study, etc. See Question 36 (Who must register for work and do job search, and who's exempt?).
        • There are many exemptions from work registration. Many people who think they are on strike are not considered strikers for SNAP purposes.
        Additional Policy Guidance on Voluntary Quit Rules:
        • For participating employers, DTA can check the end date of employment through the Work Number. Ops Memo 2013-33 (July 9, 2013).
        • Start date of disqualification penalty begins with date of quit, not date of SNAP application. Transitions Hotline Q&A (July 2000).
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        40. What is “good cause” for quitting a job?

        There may be many good reasons why you had to leave a job. You need to tell your DTA worker why you left when you apply for or receive SNAP. "Good cause" for quitting a job includes:

        • You lack state-standard child care during the hours of your work, including when you lack special needs child care for a disabled child.
        • You have a family crisis or emergency that you have to deal with during your work hours.
        • The employer makes unreasonable work demands, such as not paying you on schedule.
        • Employment becomes unsuitable because it is below the federal or state minimum wage; the work activity discriminates against you on the basis of sex, race, religion, ethnic origin, or physical or mental handicap; there is a strike or lockout; the employment places unreasonable risks on your health or safety; the hours interfere with your religious observances; you are required to travel more than two hours/day or, if walking, to walk more than two miles round-trip.
        • If you were working over 20 hours a week or you are earning at least 20 times the federal minimum wage and, for reasons beyond your control, the employment stops or wages decrease.
        • You left employment because it was seasonal or migratory, or you are between temporary jobs.
        • Acceptance of another job or enrollment in a school or training program requires you to move away or to leave your job.
        • You are under age 60 and resigned from your job but your employer considers it retirement.

        See 106 C.M.R. § 362.340 and the additional good cause provisions in 106 C.M.R. § 362.330(A).

        You are not subject to the voluntary quit rules if you are exempt from the FS/ET requirements. 106 C.M.R. § 362.340. See Question 36 (Who must register for work and do job search, and who's exempt?). You also should not be disqualified from benefits under the voluntary quit rules— and do not need to prove "good cause"— if you left employment because the employer fired you or asked you to quit, if you reduced your hours of work but did not leave your work, if you stopped a self-employment business or if you quit a job for a new job that fell through. 106 C.M.R. § 362.340(D).

        Advocacy Reminders:

        • DTA hearing officers have issued favorable decisions overturning DTA denials for voluntary quit including where the employer misled the worker about the wage rate, failed to honor a reasonable request about working conditions, failed to pay the legal overtime rate, failed to guarantee the work hours that were promised, failed to pay promised health insurance, failed to reimburse for on-the-job travel, and where good cause involved domestic violence, family emergencies, lack of transportation or child care. Contact Mass. Law Reform Institute (MLRI) for sample appeal decisions.
        • Advocates may also find helpful arguments and case law on "voluntary quit" in MLRI's 2011-2012 Unemployment Advocacy Guide.
        • It is DTA's obligation to inform you about your rights and responsibilities when you apply for benefits. 106 C.M.R. § 361.550. This includes telling you at application and each recertification which household members are subject to the work requirements, and the penalties for voluntarily quitting a job after you apply for benefits and/or refusing to comply with the work requirements.
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        SNAP Part III -- Financial eligibility

        Financial eligiblity rules.
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        41. What is financial eligibility?

        You must be financially eligible to get SNAP benefits. That means your countable gross income must be within the program limits for your family size. After certain allowable deductions, a portion of your countable net income is compared to the maximum SNAP allotment for your household. Your monthly benefits are determined based on subtracting a portion of your net countable income (30%) from the maximum monthly allotment. Since June 2008, there is no asset test for most Massachusetts households. There is no asset test for most Massachusetts households. See Question 42 (When do assets count?).

        The financial eligibility rules are confusing. The goal is to determine how much money your household has for food compared with how much the federal government feels you should be spending to eat. SNAP benefits are designed to make up the difference between your “net income” and what you need to buy food. It’s important to understand these rules if you need to advocate for yourself or help others get nutrition benefits.

        The following questions walk you through the financial rules step-by-step.

        Financial Calculation Tools:

        • Project Bread’s SNAP calculator walks you through a series of SNAP questions to determine whether you are likely to qualify for benefits, available at Project Bread's website.
        • A different type of calculator using an Excel spreadsheet is available at the Massachusetts Legal Services website. This spreadsheet is useful for quick calculations if you already know the basic SNAP financial eligibility rules.
        • For a simple one-page SNAP Worksheet, go to Appendix A.
        These tools may be helpful but they do not address many eligibility issues so it is still important for advocates to know the rules!
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        42. When do assets count?

        There is no asset requirement for most SNAP households. In 2008, Massachusetts elected a federal option, known as "categorical eligibility", to eliminate the asset test for most households. 106 C.M.R. §§ 363.110 and 365.180.

        However, there are four situations when DTA may ask about your assets:

        • Expedited benefits: If you need SNAP benefits quickly, you qualify only if you have less than $150 in countable income and less than $100 in liquid assets, or your shelter costs exceed your income and liquid assets. "Liquid assets" means cash on hand or money in the bank. 106 C.M.R. § 363.100. So, if you have more than $100 in the bank or in cash, you can probably still get SNAP benefits, but not right away. See Question 9 (Can I get emergency SNAP benefits?) for more information about expedited SNAP.
        • Elder/disabled households with gross income above 200% federal poverty level: If you are age 60 or older or have a disability and your gross income exceeds this level, DTA will ask about your assets before determining your eligibility. To qualify in this situation, your assets must be below $3,250. Assets include bank accounts, stocks, bonds, real estate other than your home, etc. It does not include tax-deferred retirement accounts, your home or land it sits upon, a car or other excluded items. See 106 C.M.R. § 363.130 for a full list of which assets are counted and 106 C.M.R. § 363.140 for a list of non-countable assets.
        • Income you earn from your assets, like interest payments: Even though there is no asset rule in the SNAP program, any income you receive from an asset does count as income. Just like for federal and state taxes, interest earned on savings and dividends you receive both count as income for SNAP benefits. 106 C.M.R. § 363.220(B)(5). If interest is paid quarterly or annually, DTA will average it out over the three, or twelve, months. 106 C.M.R. § 364.340. DTA may ask for bank statements, tax filings or other proof of the amount of interest or dividends you receive.
        • If you are disqualified due to a sanction: Your assets count if your SNAP household includes a member disqualified for one of the following reasons:

        If your household includes a disqualified household member, you are also subject to the $2,000 asset limit. The asset limit is $3,250 if your household has a member who is elderly or has disabilities. Once the household member is back in compliance with the work or reporting rules (or the IPV sanction period has ended), the regular financial rules apply.

        Advocacy Reminder:

        If you are one of the few SNAP applicants subject to the asset limit, vehicles are no longer a countable asset. This includes licensed and unlicensed vehicles such as cars, trucks, vans, motorcycles, and boats. 106 C.M.R.§ 363.140(D).

        If you own a car – and you have child care or medical expenses – you can claim the mileage expenses for transporting your children for care or trips to medical appointments or the pharmacy. See Questions 53 and 55.

        Additional Policy Guidance on Assets:
        • DOR bank match increased from quarterly to monthly match. Once fraud unit receives information about SNAP clients subject to asset limit, verification request will be sent to client. Ops Memo 2013-31 (July 19, 2013).
        • Asset limit (for households subject to it) increased from $3,000 to $3,250, retroactive to October 1, 2011. Ops Memo 2012-6 (January 23, 2012).
        • Instructions on how to explain to elders and other households why interest income and other income from assets counts (e.g., annuities, dividends, pension payments); verification of dividend payment or assets can include tax returns; requirement to assist with verifications. DTA Transitions Hotline Q&A (May 2009).
        • DTA policy guidance on expanded categorical eligibility rules and treatment of sanctioned household members; once household complies with sanction or violation, categorical eligibility rules apply. DTA F. O. Memo 2008-27 (May 30, 2008).
        • Cash-in of life insurance policy treated as asset to the extent household subject to asset test (not cat el). Transitions Hotline Q&A #2 (Feb. 2013).
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        43. What income is not counted?

        DTA looks at total monthly income to decide if you are eligible for SNAP benefits and how much you will get— but not all income counts. DTA is supposed to calculate your income based on what you anticipate receiving in the future.

        The following items are examples of income that do not count:

        • Certain VISTA, Youthbuild, and AmeriCorps allowances, earnings, or payments for persons otherwise eligible.
        • Earnings of a child under age 18 who is attending secondary school at least part time.
        • Lump sum payments— such as inheritances, tax credits, damage awards, one time severance pay, or other one-time payments.
        • Reimbursements— money you get to pay you back for expenses, including training-related expenses.
        • Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) stipends paid to older workers doing part time community service work.
        • Anything you do not get as cash— such as free housing or food, or money that is paid directly to a landlord or utility company made by a relative, friend or agency that has no legal obligation to do so.
        • Cash contributions given to you that provide for part of your housing, food or other needs that are paid by a person or agency that has no legal obligation to do so.
        • Veterans Services (M.G.L. c 115) payments made by vendor payment directly to your landlord or utility company.
        • Money earned by a child under age 18 who is attending high school or elementary school at least half-time, provided the child lives with a parent or other responsible adult.
        • Up to $30 per household member in a three-month period that is not regular (such as money from odd jobs).
        • Up to $300 in a three-month period from private charities.
        • Federal educational assistance including grants, loans, and work-study, and including Montgomery Bill payments to veterans. See Question 34 (What if I am a college student?).
        • Other educational grants and scholarships that are for education costs and not earmarked or intended for current living expenses.
        • Loans from private individuals and financial institutions, including loans on the equity of a home (reverse mortgages).
        • The first $130 per month in training stipends.
        • One-time payments, such as tax refunds, state and federal earned income tax credits (EITC), insurance settlements, and back benefits from other programs.
        • Additional pay received by the household for a family member who is in the United States Armed forces and deployed in a combat zone.
        • Legally obligated child support payments that you pay for a child who is living outside the home and not part of your SNAP household (these payments are not counted for the gross income test or for calculating the benefit level).

        These are just examples. Check the regulations for a complete list. 106 C.M.R. §§ 363.220(C), 363.230.

        Advocacy Reminders

        • The SNAP regulations state that you do not need to verify income that is considered non-countable or excluded - unless the information you provide is inconsistent or questionable. 106 C.M.R. §§ 361.610(A), 363.210(D).
        • Carefully check any overpayment allegations that involve unreported income that turns out to be non-countable or "excluded" income. Wage match hits with the Department of Revenue do not always sift out wages or other income that is in fact non-countable for SNAP purposes. For example, SCSEP or AmeriCorps stipends may appear on a wage match but are non-countable income for SNAP purposes.
        • Federal and state tax refunds (excluding earned income tax credits) and other lump sums of money such as lottery winnings, insurance settlements, and back benefits from other programs do not count as income. 106 C.M.R. §§ 363.130(E), 363.230(I), 363.140(G)(6).
        • Unlike TAFDC and EAEDC, the SNAP program does not count lump sum payments as income. For the very few SNAP households subject to the asset limits, some lump sum payments count as assets in the month received and are considered countable assets in later months if you still have the money. 106 C.M.R. § 363.230(I).
        • Remember: Some employers don't pay for benefits such as medical coverage or child care assistance directly. Instead, they give employees "credits" or "flex credits" that can be used to pay for these types of benefits. Although these "credits" may appear on pay stubs as income, they should be treated as non-countable income so long as you do not have the option of taking the credits as cash.
        Additional Policy Guidance on Non-countable Income
        • State and federal income tax refunds are nonrecurring lump sums and are non-countable. Transitions Hotline Q&A (June 2013).
        • State Veterans Services payments made as vendor payment for rent or utilities are non-countable income. Transitions Hotline Q&A #3, #4 (May 2013).
        • VA educational benefits excluded if grant or scholarship precludes use for current living costs. Transitions Hotline Q#5 (May 2013).
        • Once a high school student reaches his or her 18th birthday, any earnings previously excluded now count as income. Transitions Hotline Q#1. (June 2013).
        • Income tax refunds from 2010-2012 are non-countable assets for 12 months from date of receipt (only affecting SNAP households subject to asset test). Ops Memo 2011-15 (May 3, 2011).
        • Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) earnings non-countable. Transitions Hotline Q&A, #4 (March 2013), and Transitions Hotline, (April 2010).
        • Montgomery GI Bill payments used for educational purposes non-countable income. Transitions Hotline Q&A (Feb. 2011).
        • ARRA-funded and WIA-funded earnings are non-countable. Transitions Hotline Q&A (Mar. 2010).
        • Section 8 Homeownership Program vouchers are not countable as income nor claimed as shelter costs. Transitions FYI (Mar. 2010).
        • State Veterans Services payments (M.G.L. Ch. 115 benefits) paid directly to a landlord or utility company is a non-countable vendor payment. Field Ops Memo 2009-13 (Feb. 27, 2009).
        • One-time severance payment is non-recurring lump sum and does not count for SNAP purposes, but recurring severance payments are countable.  Transitions Hotline Q&A (Aug. 2009).
        • Non-recurring lump sums are non-countable income for SNAP purposes. Transitions Hotline Q&A (May 2010) and Hotline Q&A (Feb. 2008).
        • Earnings or other income of ineligible college student (who is considered a non-household member) does not count in determining income of rest of household, but does count if student ends up meeting student eligibility rules. Transitions Hotline Q&A (July 2009).
        • Interest on assets and dividends is countable income. Transitions Hotline Q&A (May 2009).
        • Flexible credits provided by employers that are used for benefits such as health insurance and cannot be taken as cash are non-countable as income; DTA workers instructed to check pay stubs to identify non-countable flex-credits. Transitions Hotline Q&A (Feb. 2006) and Transitions FYI (Jan. 2006).
        • Payments from reverse mortgage is a loan and not countable income. Transitions Hotline Q&A (Apr. 2007).
        • Tax deduction on Unemployment Insurance payment is not excluded under SNAP rules. Transitions Hotline Q&A (Dec. 2008).
        • Foster grandparent income not countable for SNAP. Transitions FYI (Jan. 2005).
        • Payments by relative directly to landlord for rent are not countable income. Transitions Hotline Q&A (May 2004).
        • Social Security received by household for child residing in institution is not countable if money is used for the care and maintenance of the institutionalized child. Transitions Hotline Q&A (June 2000).

         

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        44. What is earned income?

        The SNAP rules treat income as either earned or unearned and most sources of earned income is counted for SNAP purposes. 106 C.M.R. § 363.220(A)

        Earned income includes

        The earnings of a dependent child under age 18 who is in school at least part time is not countable income. 106 C.M.R. § 363.230 (H). Nor do the stipends paid to otherwise eligible AmeriCorps, VISTA, Youthbuild, SCSEP and others doing service work. See Question 43 (What income is not counted?).

        Note: Gross income is your earnings before taxes, FICA or other mandatory payroll deductions. Gross income does not include the value of employee "credits" for employee benefits such as health insurance that cannot be taken as cash by the employee. See Question 44 (What income is not counted?). Special rules apply to individuals who pay child support. 106 C.M.R § 363.230(O). See Question 54 (What is the child support deduction?).

        Additional Tips and Policy Guidance on Earned Income
        • Missing wage information and date of termination from work can sometimes be verified by DTA through an internet-based employee verification system, called "The Work Number." Ops Memo 2013-33 (July 9, 2013).
        • Earnings of a student who turns age18 is countable for SNAP, even if still finishing school. Transitions Hotline Q&A #1 (June 2013).
        • School employees who receive salaries over a ten-month period have income averaged over 12-month period if employee works under a renewable annual contract. Transitions Hotline Q&A (May 2002).
        • Short-term disability payments are treated as earned income (20% earnings deduction applies) if the payee is still considered an employee, intends to return to work, and the payments are made out of company funds versus an insurance company. Transitions Hotline Q&A (Sept. 1998).
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        45. How is self-employment income counted?

        Self-employment income is calculated by subtracting the cost of doing business from the gross income or "profit" from the business, but before subtracting FICA or income taxes. Self-employment income can come from a private enterprise as well as private contracting or sub-contracting work where you provide services for a government or private agency, such as a home-based day care. Identifying all your business expenses can make a big difference in lowering your countable income for SNAP purposes.

        Examples of self-employment business expenses include

        • rent and utilities you pay for your business space (including a portion of the costs of your home if you have an at-home business);
        • rental of equipment (such as a taxi, tractor, boat, beauty salon equipment);
        • costs of supplies, such as food, diapers or toys provided in a day care setting, housekeeping equipment, products for a beauty salon, etc.;
        • wages you pay to other employees;
        • stock or inventory;
        • raw materials used to make a product, including seed, fertilizer, supplies for crafts or furniture building;
        • mortgage (including the principal), interest, and taxes paid on income-producing property;
        • advertisement costs;
        • repairs and replacement of equipment;
        • legal and accounting fees, licenses (such as a day care license) and permits to operate the business;
        • telephone and internet expenses, computers, postage, paper and other business supplies.

        See 106 C.M.R. § 365.940. If these expenses are verified, DTA will allow them as part of the costs of doing business in calculating your countable gross income before the 20% earned income deduction.

        Example: June sells cosmetics from her home. She buys the product from the manufacturer and then sells it to her customers. She can deduct the amount that she paid for the cosmetics and her costs of reaching customers (phone, mailing costs, website) from any income that she earns from selling the cosmetics.
        Example: Sarah provides day care in her own home. Because she has young children inside most of the day, she pays more for oil and electricity to heat her home than she would otherwise use. Sarah also buys food for snacks and diapers, and pays a day care license. A portion of her heat/utility costs can be claimed as a business expense, as well as the cost of snacks, license and other supplies for her business.

        You can also claim business expenses incurred setting up your business before you applied for SNAP benefits. 106 C.M.R. § 365.030(B). However, you cannot claim net losses on your business or the money you set aside for income tax or retirement funds (which expenses are considered part of the 20% earnings disregard). 106 C.M.R. § 365.950.

        Rental income is treated as unearned income unless you spend least 20 hours a week managing the property. 106 C.M.R. §§ 363.220(B)(5), 365.930(A). See Question 47 (What is unearned income?) on how to calculate net rental income.

        Averaging self-employment income

        Self-employment is usually averaged over a 12-month period unless the income is intended for a shorter period (e.g., summer income). Tell your SNAP worker you wish to have it cover a shorter period of time because of anticipated changes. 106 C.M.R. §§ 364.340(B), 365.960. If you report that there has been a major change in your self-employment for the current year, DTA should not use the prior year tax returns.

        After DTA determines your pre-tax "gross" monthly self-employment income, after business expenses, DTA deducts 20% of that gross as an earnings disregard— just like if you had regular wages or employment. 106 C.M.R. § 364.400(B).

        Example: Millie netted $10,000 last year from her taxi service, after expenses. Millie does not expect this income to change this year. DTA will average this $10,000 over 12 months to get a monthly figure of $833 per month "gross" income. DTA then subtracts 20% earnings disregard from this gross figure, which reduces her earned income to $667 per month (and then other deductions apply).

        Reporting changes for self-employment households

        Self-employed households are usually put on "change reporting" because the income is often unsteady and fluctuates. 106 C.M.R § 366.110(C)(1)(e). See also Question 75: When do I have to report changes if I am on change reporting?. Change reporting does not require you to report every change, but you must report changes that will affect the amount DTA has averaged as income for your certification period.  So, if you experience an unusual or unanticipated change in business net income or expenses, you need to report this change within 10 days to DTA.

        Advocacy Reminder

        • If you are self-employed or have an income source that is difficult to verify, DTA must assist you with getting verification. If usual verification is not available, you can verify your income "based on the best information available," such as a self-declaration of your income. 106 C.M.R. § 363.210(G).
        • If your current self-employment income is less than what you made during the most recent period you filed taxes, you have the right to submit more recent information on your business income and expenses.
        Additional Policy Guidance on Self-Employment Income
        • Self-employment income households must be assigned change reporting, not semiannual/interim reporting. Transitions Quality Corner (January 2011).
        • If the most recent tax return is not available or does not reflect current or accurate picture of anticipated income, other proof of business income and expenses is acceptable. Transitions Hotline Q&A (Nov. 2010).
        • Self-employed households can be certified for 12 months but are on “change reporting” versus semi-annual; proof of self-employment income can include most recent federal tax return (Schedule C) or a copy of business records for past three months.DTA Field Operations Memo 2009-31 (May 27, 2009) and DTA Field Operations Memo 2008-14 (Mar. 19, 2008). See also DTA Transitions, Quality Corner (Jan 2011) re “change reporting.”
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        46. What is unearned income?

        Most sources of unearned income are counted in calculating your SNAP benefits. 106 C.M.R. § 363.220(B). Unearned income does not receive the 20% earned income disregard. 

        Unearned income includes

        • Cash assistance from TAFDC, EAEDC (Emergency Aid for Elders, Disabled and Children), Social Security and SSI (Supplemental Security Income). 106 C.M.R. § 363.220(B)(1).
        • Cash benefits based on past earnings or service, including Unemployment Insurance, Workers Compensation, state and federal Veteran's benefits, and other pension benefits. 106 C.M.R. § 363.220(B)(2). Even though some income sources are based on your past earnings record, they are treated as unearned income because you are not working at the time you receive them.
        • Cash entitled benefits diverted to a landlord or other third party for vendor payments. 106 C.M.R. § 363.220(C)(2), (C)(3).
        • Foster care payments received for a child or disabled adult who is included in the SNAP household. These payments are not countable if you opt out this individual from the household. 106 C.M.R. §§ 361.240(F), 363.220(B)(2). See Question 17 (Who cannot be a separate SNAP household?).
        • Income from trusts, alimony and child support payments paid directly to you. Child support payments made to TAFDC recipients that must be assigned to the Department of Revenue (DOR) are not countable, even if erroneously received by the TAFDC household. 106 C.M.R. § 363.220(B)(3), (C)(6).
        • Interest payments, dividends, royalties paid from your assets, or other direct money payments. 106 C.M.R. § 363.220(B)(4). These monies still count as income, even though the assets themselves do not count.
        • State and private post-secondary educational loans, grants, scholarships that can be used for current living expenses (all federal educational monies are non-countable). 106 C.M.R. § 363.230(D). See Question 44 (What income is not counted?). State or private funded work-study is countable earned income (to the extent it is available for living expenses). 106 C.M.R. § 363.220(A)(3).
        • Cash assistance income deducted from the grant of a TAFDC, EAEDC or SSI household member who has been sanctioned or has an overpayment because of an intentional failure to comply with requirements of these programs. See Question 49 (Do the food stamp/SNAP rules count money I don't receive?).

        Advocacy Reminders

        • DTA can use government data bases to verify a number of income sources including Social Security, Supplemental Security Income, Unemployment Insurance and child support that is collected and paid to a family through the Department of Revenue (DOR). Where DTA can use these databases to verify unearned income, you need not produce a written statement about the benefit amount.
        • Anything that is not expressly excluded as "non-countable" under the SNAP rules is usually considered countable earned or unearned income. Always be sure to report to DTA any source of income, even if you think it is non-countable.
        Additional Policy Guidance on Unearned Income
        • State Veterans’ Services Benefits (VSB) considered countable unearned income but certain portions may be excluded—if vender payments are made by VSO, etc. Transitions Hotline Q&A (May 2013).
        • Payments from a "reverse mortgage" (where homeowner draws money out of equity from home) is a loan and non-countable as income for SNAP. Transitions Hotline Q&A (Apr. 2007).
        • Social Security received by household for child residing in institution is not countable if money is used for the care and maintenance of the institutionalized child. Transitions Hotline Q&A (June 2000).
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        47. How is Rental Income Treated?

        The net amount of income you receive after the costs of home ownership or lease of a building is countable unearned income. It is earned income only if you spend more than 20 hours a week managing and maintaining property. 106 C.M.R. § 365.930(A), 106 C.M.R. § 363.220(B)(5).

        Home ownership costs include what you pay on a mortgage (principal and interest), home owner insurance, property taxes, water and sewer charges, repairs, trash collection, utilities shared by the entire home, etc. 106 C.M.R. 365.930(A)(1), 106 C.M.R. 365.940.

        If you own your home and rent out a room or apartment, you can deduct a pro rata, or proportional share of the mortgage and home ownership costs from the rental income. The rest will be counted as unearned income.

        Example: Verdina rents out two units in her triple-decker house, and each tenant pays for their own utilities. Verdina lives in the third unit. She receives $500 a month for each unit. She pays $1,200 a month to the bank for mortgage, interest and insurance on the entire building. Verdina also pays an average of $90 a month for water/sewer and trash collection for a total of $1,290 in monthly expenses.  She can deduct two-thirds (or $860) of the monthly expenses from her rental income (for the two units she rents) to determine the countable rental income for SNAP purposes. She has only $140 in countable rental income and not $1,000.

        Income (rent paid) from Verdina’s two rental units  =

        $1,000

        2/3 of  Verdina’s home ownership costs (2/3 of $1,290)  =

         
        $   860

        Countable rental income for Verdina ($1000 less $860) =

        $   140


        Note:  In this example, when Verdina applies for SNAP benefits, she has only $140 in rental income. She can claim her one-third of mortgage related costs for her shelter expenses (1/3 of $1,200, or $400) and not the full amount of the total homeownership costs. Her portion of the water/sewer and the trash collection are covered by standard utility allowance (SUA, $608), which is added to her third of the mortgage/insurance costs ($400).

        Advocacy Reminders:

        • If you are the primary tenant of an apartment and receive rental income from other tenants that live with you, you can deduct part of the rental costs from the rental income you receive. However, sometimes it is better and easier for each tenant to pay the landlord directly. This can avoid errors in SNAP calculations and erroneous counting of income when you are merely passing through rental income to the landowner.
        • Current DTA regulations, 106 C.M.R. § 365.950(A), state that the principal paid on a real estate mortgage is not an allowable business expense. This regulation conflicts with the federal SNAP regulations, 7 C.F.R. § 273.11(b)(1). Business expenses include the mortgage, principal, taxes, insurance and other carrying charges.
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        48. How does DTA calculate my income for each month?

        Your SNAP monthly benefit is based on how much income you and the worker are "reasonably certain" you will receive for the period you are on benefits (your certification period). 106 C.M.R. § 364.310.

        If you have earned income, DTA will ask you for proof of income from the four-week period prior to your application. If you cannot get this information from your employer, or you are missing a wage stub, tell your worker. Your worker may be able to help you get the information by calling the employer with your permission ("collateral contact") or by helping you access online payroll information such as The Work Number. See Question 7 (What proofs (verifications) do I need?).

        Terminated source of income

        If you are no longer working at your old job when you apply for SNAP benefits, the income from the terminated source (a lost job, or cash benefits or child support payments that have stopped) should not be counted in calculating your benefits. DTA should calculate your financial eligibility prospectively, which means looking at what your anticipated income will be in the coming months. 106 C.M.R. § 364.310. Income from a terminated source sometimes counts in the month of application.

        For example, for expedited service any income from a terminated source would count where you receive a final paycheck after you apply for benefits but within the month of application. 106 C.M.R. § 365.840. Generally, if you have income within the cyclical month of your application DTA will count that for the first month of your certification period. However, once that first month passes it should no longer count as part of the SNAP calculation for your household. Make sure that DTA is not counting income you are no longer receiving.

        Anticipated income

        Income from a new job, from Unemployment Insurance or other income source should also not be counted until you are certain when you will get paid and how much. 106 C.M.R. §§ 364.310, 364.320. This is especially important if you are eligible for "interim" or semi-annual reporting and it is not clear either when or how much income you will receive. See Question 72 (What is semi-annual reporting?). If you do not anticipate receipt of the income in the first 30 days of your certification period, it should not count until the next interim reporting period (or unless your total household income exceeds the gross income test during the six-month period).

        Calculating your monthly income

        DTA calculates your monthly income by multiplying the average weekly income by 4.333 to get a monthly amount (or 2.167 for bi-weekly amounts). 106 C.M.R. § 364.340.

        Example: Judy received gross pay of $152, $125, $145, and $150 for the past four weeks. The average of these weeks is $143 per week. DTA then multiplies this average amount of $143 by 4.333 to get a monthly gross income of $619.62.
        Additional Policy Guidance on Counting Income
        • Income from annual contract (i.e. income for school employees) should be averaged over a 12 month period. Transitions Hotline Q&A (Sept. 2010).
        • Anticipated UI should not be counted as income if it is not certain the UI family will actually receive the UI benefit by Day 30. Transitions Hotline Q&A (April 2004).
        • Only income which DTA is "reasonably certain" the household will receive within the month of application or within the first 30 days of the semi-annual reporting period can be counted. UI benefits not actually received within first 30 days of semi-annual reporting period should not be counted for the entire 6-month USR period. See BEACON User's Guide, Ch. IV-C, p. 23, Q.7.

         

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        49. Do the SNAP rules count money I don’t receive?

        Yes. The SNAP rules sometimes count money you do not get as income when it is:

        • Money taken out of your TAFDC or EAEDC because of an intentional failure on your part to comply with the rules of the cash assistance program, such as:
          • money taken out for failure to comply with the TAFDC work rule, teen parent school attendance rule, Learnfare rule, child support requirements, etc., or
          • money taken out to repay DTA for an overpayment caused by fraud or willful withholding of information (such as failure to report a job when the earnings would have counted); or if you were found guilty of an intentional program violation by a court or by a DTA hearing officer or you waived your right to a hearing. 106 C.M.R. § 363.220(C)(4) and (5). If the money is being taken out to repay a non-fraud overpayment, it is not countable income. 106 C.M.R. § 363.220(C)(6).

          The money taken out of your cash grant for a program sanction is counted as if it were still paid in calculating your SNAP benefits.

        • Money taken out of your SSI benefits or other means-tested benefit program to recover an overpayment that was caused by fraud or willful withholding of information. 106 C.M.R. § 363.220(C)(4).
        • Money owed to you (wages, support or alimony, public assistance) that you do not get because you asked your employer, spouse or government agency to use the money to pay your bills instead. For example, if you ask your boss to pay your rent instead of giving you a paycheck, the money would still count. But if your boss pays you a regular paycheck and also pays your rent, the rent payment does not count as income. 106 C.M.R. § 363.220(C)(3).
        • Part of your TAFDC or EAEDC grant that is sent to your landlord or utility company (sometimes called vendor or protective payments). 106 C.M.R. § 363.220 (C)(2), (C)(3).

        Advocacy Reminders

        • Money that is taken out of your EAEDC, TAFDC, SSI or other needs-based benefit to recover an overpayment should not be counted as income in calculating your SNAP benefits unless you were found guilty of an intentional program violation (IPV) by a court of law or hearing officer, or you waived your right to a hearing. See Question 87 (What must DTA do to establish an intentional program violation or SNAP fraud?). If the hearing officer decides that you owe the money but the overpayment was not intentional, the money that is taken out should not be counted.
        • Money that is being recovered from a non-means-tested benefit program, such as Unemployment Compensation or Social Security Disability, should not be counted as income for SNAP purposes. The SNAP regulations only permit counting of income recouped due to an IPV from means-tested programs, as defined in 106 C.M.R. § 360.030. Contact an advocate if you have questions.
        • Money paid to a third party that is not legally owed to you does not count. For example, if a person or organization pays your landlord part of your rent, the payment is not countable. 106 C.M.R. § 363.230(B). But you can only claim a shelter deduction for the amount you pay the landlord.
        • Money that is paid to others on your behalf does not count where the payments are a result of a court order or other legally binding agreement directing that this money be paid to the third party instead of you. 106 C.M.R. § 363.230(B)(4)(b). For example, if the court orders an absent parent to pay $400 per month to the household, and an additional $200 per month to a bank towards repayment of a household's loan, only the $400 is counted as income.
        Additional Policy Guidance on Counting Income
        • See BEACON User's Guide, Ch. XIV-D, pp. 4-7, defining scope of sanction cases where income of a sanctioned member is attributed to the household and process for removing the sanctioned income.
        • Recouped SSI benefits should not count in calculating SNAP benefits. Transitions Hotline Q&A (June 1999).
        • Monies paid to a third party that are not legally owed to you do not count. Transitions Hotline Q&A (May 2004).

         

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        50. How does DTA count the income of someone who lives with me but is not part of my SNAP household?

        In general, none of the income of non-household members counts, even if they live with you. 106 C.M.R. § 363.230(L). So, if you live with friends and you purchase and prepare your meals separately, these friends are not household members and their income does not count.

        However, the SNAP program fully counts all of the income of a person who is otherwise required to be part of the SNAP household (e.g., a spouse, parent, child under 22, or someone who purchases and prepares meals with you) but is disqualified because of one of the following:

        See 106 C.M.R. § 361.230(D).

        The rules require DTA to count the disqualified person's income in figuring whether your household meets the lower (130% of federal poverty level) gross income eligibility test and in figuring the amount of household benefits. Even if the household includes children, an elder, or a member with disability, the SNAP rules require DTA to use the lower 130% gross income test. See Question 51 (Are there gross and net income tests I must pass before I can get SNAP benefits?). Further, the rules require DTA to exclude the disqualified person in the household size. 106 C.M.R. § 365.520(A)(4). The earned income, child support, dependent care or medical costs do apply.

        Example: Mark, his wife and two children reapplied for SNAP recently, but Mark was disqualified for benefits for 12 months after a hearings officer ruled that he had committed an intentional program violation (IPV). Mark is now working 20 hours a week. He understands that he is not eligible for SNAP benefits for himself until the period of disqualification expires. However, all of his income along with the rest of the household must fall under the lower 130% FPL gross income limit for three people (his wife and two children). 100% of Mark’s income after deductions is counted but the benefit amount is calculated for a household of three (not four). Mark is excluded in the household size.

        Advocacy Reminders

        • Live-in attendants and ineligible students are not part of the SNAP household and their income and assets are not countable, unless they are required to be part of the household due to age or marital status. 106 C.M.R. § 361.230(B) and (C).
        • As soon as the sanction period ends, DTA should use the higher (200% FPL) gross income test for the household (if family with children, pregnant woman or elder/disabled member). DTA should also increase the household size to include the formerly disqualified household member. Be sure to check the accuracy and duration of any sanction on a household subject to the lower benefits.
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        51. Are there gross and net income tests I must pass before I can get SNAP benefits?

        Yes. Most SNAP applicants only need to pass a gross income test. Some households need to also pass a net income test. And some of these households, in limited circumstances, also need to pass the asset test.

        The gross income tests

        Gross income is your monthly income before any deductions for taxes, or any of the allowable deductions. There are currently TWO gross income tests that affect most households:

        • 200% federal poverty level test, which applies to:
          • families with children or pregnant women, and
          • households with an elder (age 60+) or person with disabilities.
        • 130% federal poverty level test, which applies to:

        See 106 C.M.R. §§ 365.180, 364.976, 364.950.

        These are the monthly gross income levels (as of January 1, 2014) by household size, also included in Appendix B, Charts 2 and 3.

         
        Gross Income Test
        200% FPL*
        Gross Income Test
        130% FPL**

         

        1
        $1,945 $1,245
        2
        $2,622 $1,681
        3
        $3,298 $2,116
        4
        $3,975 $ 2,552
        5
        $4,652 $ 2,987
        6
        $5,328 $3,423

        *Effective February 2014.  ** Effective until October 2014, then increases.

        If an elder/disabled household has income above the 200% gross income test, the household must meet the net income test and asset test. All other households above 200% gross income (or 130% gross income if no children and not pregnant) are simply ineligible.

        If a member of a household pays legally obligated child support, the child support is not counted in the gross income test for the household. 106 C.M.R. § 363.230(O). See Question 54 (What is the child support deduction?).

        Net income test

        Net income is what's left after all the allowable deductions under the SNAP rules, including the 20% earnings deduction, standard household deduction, dependent care expenses, and medical expenses for elder/disabled persons, child support paid out, and the shelter deduction. See Question 52 (What deductions are allowed against my income?).

        The net income test applies to the following households:

        • Households with persons ages 18 to 60, not disabled and not living with minor children.
        • Households with elders or persons with disabilities whose gross income is above 200% of poverty level, but who meet the asset test.
        • Households with a sanctioned member (work sanction, IPV, TAFDC monthly reporting failure) are also subject to the SNAP asset test (for the whole household). The sanctioned member is not included in the household size to determine net income. 106 C.M.R. § 363.110. See Question 42 (When do assets count?).

        Summary of the gross and net income tests, and the asset test rules:

         
        Assets
        Test
        Gross Income
        Test
        Net (100% FPL)
        Income Test
        Family with children,
        pregnant woman
        NO 200% FPL NO
        Elder/disabled household NO 200% FPL NO*
        Elder/disabled household—
        gross income > 200% FPL
        YES None YES
        Persons age 18-60,
        no kids, no disabilities
        NO 130% FPL YES
        Household under sanction
        (work, IPV, sanctioned member)
        YES 130% FPL YES


        * See Advocacy Reminder below. Application of the net income test to these households may violate federal categorical eligibility requirements.

        Advocacy Reminders:

        • The 200% gross income test, elimination of the net income test for some households, and elimination of the asset test are part of the "categorical eligibility" options that states are allowed to use in order to reach more low-income households.
        • Households with elders or persons with disabilities which are under 200% FPL, even if income is above the net income test, can receive at least the minimum $15 SNAP benefit, in accordance with 106 C.M.R. § 364.600(A).
        • In special situations, an individual who is both elderly and has a disability but lives with others can get her or his own SNAP even if she cannot purchase or prepare food separately. To be eligible for this special status, the gross income of the rest of the household, excluding the elder or person with a disability (and his or her spouse, children age 21 or younger, and certain minors), must be less than 165% of the poverty level. 106 C.M.R. §§ 361.200(B), 364.975. See Question 18 (What if I am elderly or disabled and live with other people but I cannot buy and cook my own food?) for more details on these special situations.
        Additional Policy Guidance on Financial Eligibility Tests:
        • Correction of SNAP policy so that 1 and 2 person households of elders or persons with disabilities which have gross income below 200% FPL receive the “minimum benefit.” These households were erroneously excluded from the minimum SNAP benefit. Ops Memo 2011-36 (July 21, 2011).
        • DTA guidance on the implementation of expanded categorical eligibility rules which eliminated the asset test and clarified the gross income tests. F.O. Memo 2008-27 (May 30, 2008).
        • Elders who receive disability-based benefits (SSI, RSDI, VA disability) do not need to meet the gross income test. Transitions Hotline Q&A (Sept. 2008).
        • USDA Guidance re "Categorical Eligibility Questions and Answers," December 15, 2009.
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        52. What deductions are allowed against my income?

        Five deductions are available to all household types. 106 C.M.R. § 364.400. Households with an elder or person with a disability can seek the medical deduction and higher shelter deductions. See Question 53 (What medical expenses can I claim if I am elderly (60+) or disabled?).

        The following deductions are allowed for all household types:

        The result is your monthly net income. Your benefits are based on this amount. The following questions include examples of how the deductions work to reach net income.

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        53. What medical expenses can I claim if I am elderly (60+) or disabled?

        Any member of your household who is elder (age 60+) or disabled is allowed to claim un-reimbursed medical and health-related expenses as an income deduction. This applies to disabled children as well as adults. The more expenses you can claim, the lower the household’s countable income will be. The lower your countable income, the higher the SNAP benefits your household will receive.

        Remember—under the SNAP rules, someone is “elderly” at age 60. To be considered “disabled,” the adult or child must receive a disability-based benefit. 106 C.M.R. § 361.210. See Question 19 (Are there special rules for elders and persons with disabilities?).

        There are two ways un-reimbursed medical expenses can be claimed. 106 C.M.R. § 364.400(C),

        • The standard medical deduction: As this book goes to print, the current standard medical deduction is $90/month. A standard medical deduction means that if your medical expenses over $35 a month, you will receive a standard monthly deduction of $90 from your income, regardless of the actual expenses unless they are much higher.  

          In March 2014, the standard medical deduction in Massachusetts will increase from $90 to $155/month. Starting  March 1st,  if you have at least $35 in medical expenses ($35 plus $155), DTA will calculate your SNAP using the higher deduction.  If you have over $190/mo. in medical expenses, you can claim actual expenses.

        • The regular medical deduction: If you incur more than $125 per month in medical expenses (that’s the $35 threshold plus the current $90 value standard deduction for January 2014), you can claim the actual expenses (minus the $35 threshold). You will need to give DTA proof of your actual medical/health expenses above $125 to claim a higher deduction. When the new standard deduction of $155 is implemented in 2014, you can claim actual expenses that exceed $190/month (that’s $35 plus $155).
        For example: Esther is 78 years old. She has MassHealth coverage, but the combination of small co-pays plus her over-the-counter pain relief and skin treatments add up to $36 per month. In calculating Esther’s SNAP benefits in January 2014, DTA will allow the $90 standard medical deduction. In March, her SNAP benefits will be calculated using a $155 medical expense deduction. If Esther was billed substantially higher out-of-pocket expenses—more than $190/month—she should claim actual, verifiable expenses that exceed the standard.

        If you have a large, one-time medical expense during your certification period, you have the option of claiming the expense as a one-time deduction or having it averaged over the remaining months in your certification period. 106 C.M.R. § 364.440(C). The most advantageous option depends on the circumstances.

        For example: Suppose Esther also reports a one-time unpaid hospital bill of $960 and she just applied for SNAP benefits. Because she is elderly, she will be certified for 24 months. The amount of the bill averaged over 24 months would be $40. Esther also reports she now has only $15/month in other health care expenses each month because MassHealth now covers some of her over-the-counter medications. The $15/month alone would not get her a standard deduction, but if DTA averages out and includes the value of the unpaid hospital bill), her medical expenses exceed $35 and she gets the standard medical expense deduction.

        Scope of allowable health care expenses

        • co-pays or premiums for Medicare, Medicare Part D, Medex or other health insurance, and your deductible for Medicare Part D;
        • any medical services from doctors, clinics, hospitals, laboratories or other facilities not reimbursed by a third party;
        • any custodial or attendant care services you need (even if the caregiver is a relative), as well as housekeeping services you pay for;
        • dental care, dentures, dental adhesives;
        • health treatments by a licensed practitioner, including chiropractic, acupuncture, physical or other therapy;
        • prescription drugs, including postage costs and any transportation costs to pick them up;
        • over-the-counter vitamins or drugs prescribed by any licensed health care provider (for example, aspirin, laxatives, insulin, herbal and homeopathic remedies);
        • eyeglasses, contact lenses, hearing aids, batteries, communication equipment for the hearing or visually impaired;
        • health-related supplies prescribed by a health care provider including incontinent supplies, creams and ointments, commodes and walkers;
        • private transportation costs at the current federal mileage rate  (as of January 2013 it is 56.5 cents/mile), as well as out-of-pocket parking and tolls, or the monthly cost of taxis, vans, or public transportation needed to get to medical appointments;
        • veterinary bills, dog food, and other needs for trained service animals; and
        • any other un-reimbursed medical expenses prescribed or recommended by your health care providers. 106 C.M.R. § 364.400(C).

        Proof of medical/health care expenses

        You are only required to provide proof of the amount of your medical expenses. You are not required to prove that your health care provider is licensed, or that your medical supplies or treatments were prescribed or recommended by your provider. 106 C.M.R. § 364.450(A). The following are examples of proofs you can submit for medical expenses, but you can also submit other items:

        • Billing statements, canceled checks or other proof of your insurance premium, and any health care bills you paid or owe.
        • A Medicare or other insurance "Claim Summary" that shows what services you received, how much your insurance paid, and how much you are personally responsible to pay. The Claim Summary is also useful in showing the dates of visits to your doctor and laboratory visits that you can use to claim transportation costs.
        • Print-out from your pharmacy showing your co-pays and out-of-pocket payments for drugs, also useful in showing all your visits to the pharmacy for claiming transportation. You need not show DTA exactly which drugs you take— you can white-out the names of the medications from the pharmacy print-out.
        • Copies of receipts for things you bought at a pharmacy or health supply store, like incontinence supplies, aspirins, vitamins, skin ointments, hearing aid batteries. You should not need a statement from your health care provider about these items as DTA should accept that you bought these items because you and your doctor agreed you needed them.
        • A signed and dated statement from you of the dates and mileage when you used your car to go to your doctor, physical therapy, pharmacy, other providers. DTA can help you figure out the mileage using MapQuest. If you have a T-pass that you use for medical expenses, show DTA the T-pass.

        These are just examples! Appendix C contains an FAQ and Medical Expense screening form.

        Advocacy Reminders

        • Medical expenses are one of the most under-claimed deductions. DTA workers are supposed to ask about your medical expenses and help you get verifications, but workers are overburdened with hundreds of cases and may not get to this. Be sure to tell DTA about all health and medical-related expenses of any household member who is elder or disabled, including over-the-counter medications, travel to doctors and pharmacies, service animal care, dental or vision care.
        • Try to save your pharmacy, co-payment and travel receipts for a couple of months, just to keep track. If your monthly medical expenses are the same at recertification, you do not need to re-verify. You can self-declare on your recertification form that the medical expenses are on-going and have not changed.
        • DTA should make "a reasonable prediction" of the amount you "expect to be billed" during the certification period based on your medical condition and past expenses. You do not need to verify your bills each month, and you do not have to have paid your bills to claim the deduction. You just need to "incur" a medical expense by showing proof you received a bill. However, you cannot claim a bill that an insurance company or other third party is going to pay. 106 C.M.R. §§ 364.410(B)(3), 364.420, 364.430.
        • If you are an SSI recipient getting Bay State CAP benefits, you can always opt out of the Bay State CAP and get regular SNAP if your benefits would be higher due to medical expenses, higher shelter costs or dependent care expenses. See Question 3 (Can I apply for SNAP benefits at the local Social Security office?).
        • Once you submit your medical expense proofs to DTA, your case manager should adjust your SNAP accordingly. If you do not receive a timely response from DTA regarding submitted medical expense information, contact your case manager and/or and advocate.
        Additional Policy Guidance on Medical Expenses
        • USDA approval of Massachusetts waiver renewal to increase in standard medical expense from $90 to $155/month. December 27, 2013. Ops Memo 2014-16 (Feb. 20, 2014).
        • Household has option to average large one-time (non-recurring) bills over 12 months or 24 month cert period for higher deduction, or deduct bill for one month; workers should explain advantages and disadvantages for clients to make informed choice. DTA Transitions Hotline Q &A (August 2012) and Transitions FYI (June 2007). 
        • Detailed policy guidance on the new $90 standard medical deduction, including a DTA brochure and medical expense screening form and case examples. DTA Field Operations Memo 2008-15 (Mar. 21, 2008).
        • Medical expenses that have not changed do not need to be re-verified at recertification; recertification form lists household member claiming medical expenses, type of expense and amount previously claimed. DTA Field Operations Memo 2010-03 (Jan. 22, 2010).
        • Workers instructed to not burden elder/disabled households with excessive verifications; receipts of over-the-counter purchases for drugs and health supplies are sufficient without requiring statement from health care provider that they are prescribed. DTA Transitions FYI (Jan. 2010).
        • Full amount of health insurance for single person can be claimed as medical expenses for a disabled household member (e.g., more than just the incremental amount of the insurance). DTA Transitions Hotline Q&A (Mar. 2008).
        • Medical bills need only be "incurred"— not necessarily paid— to claim for medical deduction (as long as not reimbursable by third party); DTA worker should advise household if more beneficial to average one-time medical bill over remaining certification period or claim for one month; self-declaration of transportation expenses acceptable, worker can use MapQuest to determine the door-to-door mileage. DTA Transitions Hotline Q&A (Aug. 2008).
        • Current federal mileage rate is 55.5 cents per mile. DTA Transitions FYI (July 2011).
        • Issuance of DTA "Job Aid" and instructions to workers to make every effort to explore medical expenses and assist clients with securing verifications. DTA Transitions FYI (Apr. 2007).
        • Disabled recipients entitled to claim medical expense deduction whether individual is an adult or child; household need not pay bill to claim deduction. DTA Transitions FYI (Sept. 2006).
        • Allowable medical expenses further clarified: Maintenance costs of trained service animals allowed, but not therapeutic pets (e.g., cats); nutrition supplements prescribed by M.D. cannot be claimed, nor can other special diets. DTA Field Operations Memo 2009-10 (Feb. 20, 2009).
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        54. What is the child support deduction?

        Child support that you are legally required to pay to children who do not live in your home is non-countable under the gross income test, and is a deduction in determining net income. 106 C.M.R. § 363.230(O). Payments you make for child support are non-countable only if you have a court order, administrative order, or legally enforceable separation agreement that says you must pay this amount. 106 C.M.R. §§ 361.610(J), 364.400(E). Unfortunately, you cannot claim payments you voluntarily make without a court order or legal agreement. And you cannot claim any alimony payments even if court ordered or in divorce agreement.

        Scope of allowable child support payments for deduction

        You can claim direct money payments you make to the custodial parent, court, or Department of Revenue (DOR) as well as child support paid directly from your Unemployment Insurance, Workers Comp, or other income source. You can also claim legally required payments for health insurance, past child support (arrearages), and any third party payments, such as to a landlord, utility company, or tuition payments to a school for the needs of the child. 106 C.M.R. § 364.400(E).

        Legally obligated child support you pay through earned or unearned income does not count for the gross earnings test. 106 C.M.R. §§ 363.230(O). If you pass the gross earnings test, and you pay child support from earned income, the amount you pay for child support is added back into your gross income in order to increase the allowed 20% income disregard.

        For Example: John Doe earns $1,400/month gross and pays $300/month child support. He has applied for SNAP benefits as a single person. In measuring his income against the 130% gross income test, DTA should ignore the $300 child support— so that John has a "gross income" of $1,100 (which is below the 130% gross income test for an individual). DTA should then take the 20% earnings deduction off of $1,400 gross (or a $280) versus 20% off his gross income after the child support, which would have been $220. DTA should then deduct the full amount of the child support ($300) to calculate the remaining net income before the shelter deduction.

        Proof of child support payments

        You can verify the amount you pay with documents such as cancelled checks, pay stubs, UI withholding statements, or a statement from the custodial parent proving that you make payments. If you pay child support directly to the Department of Revenue, DTA should verify with DOR. If a portion of your unemployment compensation is withheld, you will need a statement explaining why from the Department of Unemployment Assistance.

        To verify your legal obligation to pay the child support, you need to show a court or administrative order or other legal document showing you have this obligation. 106 C.M.R. §§ 361.610(J), 364.400(E).

        The amount of child support you pay will be averaged over a three month period to determine the average monthly deduction, unless you have been paying support less than three months. 106 C.M.R. § 364.410(D).

        Additional Policy Guidance on Child Support Deduction
        • Verification options for showing amount and legal obligation of child support described, including self-declaration by custodial parent acceptable to confirm payments received; court documents showing obligation not sufficient to show amount actually paid. Transitions Hotline Q&A (Mar. 2009).
        • Payments for health insurance, third parties are allowable expenses; verification of child support payments includes cancelled checks, proof of wage withholding, deductions from UI benefits, or DTA can contact the Department of Revenue for proofs. Transitions Hotline Q&A (May 2008).
        • Payments from UI benefits for child support are not countable as income to UI claimant as long as claimant has legal obligation to support established. Transitions Hotline Q&A (Dec. 2005).
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        55. What is the child care/dependent care deduction?

        Families can claim the cost of care for either minor children or a disabled adult member while the household member is working, attending education or training programs, or looking for work. 106 C.M.R. § 364.400(D). The 2008 federal Farm Bill eliminated the cap on dependent care expenses.

        Dependent care includes the cost for supervision of teenage children (under 18), as well as for the care of a child or disabled adult that is not part of your SNAP household (for example, a foster child or non-citizen child).

        Scope of allowable dependent care expenses

        • private day care arrangements made with persons not in your SNAP household;
        • payments for child and adult care, including co-payments for subsidized care;
        • payments for attendant care for a disabled adult;
        • fees for after-school and before-school care (extended day programs), including adult supervised after-school activities for teenagers;
        • fees for YMCA and YWCA camps, Boys and Girls Clubs;
        • summer camp fees; and
        • transportation to and from the program sites at the federal mileage rate (56 cents per mile as of January 2014) or the cost of public transportation. Use MapQuest to help determine your mileage.

        Proof of dependent care expenses

        You can self-declare your dependent care expenses by writing the expenses on your signed SNAP application or recertification form. You can also send DTA a separate signed statement. See the FAQ and sample self-declaration form in Appendix C: Child Care Flier and Self-Declaration Form. You do not need a statement from the child care provider.

        DTA can ask for more verification if the information you provide about your dependent care costs is determined "questionable"— meaning inconsistent with other statements on your application or in the interview, or information known to DTA. 106 C.M.R. § 361.620. For example, it might be questionable if you claim child care costs significantly higher than the going rate, or the hours of care claimed are significantly greater than your work and commuting hours. In such circumstances, DTA may request more verification.

        If you need to pay for care for an adult who has a disability so you can work or attend training, you can claim this as a dependent care cost. If a member of your household with a disability pays for adult care for any reason unrelated to your needing to work, DTA will likely treat these costs as medical expenses, not dependent care expenses, assuming the household is eligible to claim medical expenses. 106 C.M.R. § 364.400(C)(12). See Question 52 (What deductions are allowed against my income?). Either way, adult dependent care of a person with disabilities is a deductible expense.

        Advocacy Reminder

        • You do not need to wait until your next recertification to claim additional dependent care expenses. If you incur any child care expenses you did not previously report to DTA—or additional expenses above the long-standing cap on the deduction—notify your worker immediately.
        Additional Policy Guidance on Dependent Care Deduction
        • Self-declaration for dependent care expenses is acceptable at both application and recertification unless questionable. Transitions Hotline Q&A (July 2011) and DTA Field Operations Memo 2007-19 (Mar. 15, 2007).
        • Child care for job search purposes allowable. Transitions Hotline Q&A (Sept. 2011).
        • Guidance on implementation of 2008 Farm Bill including broad scope of uncapped child care deductions and use of federal mileage rate. DTA Field Operations Memo 2008-49 (Sept. 22, 2008)
        • Dependent care needed to do job search is allowable, not limited to working adults. Transitions Hotline Q&A (Mar. 2010).
        • Dependent care costs for an ineligible non-citizen child can still be claimed by working adult. Transitions Hotline Q&A (Feb. 2009).
        • Rep payee administrative fees for SSI /RSDI recipients living in group homes should be treated as dependent care expenses. Transitions FYI (Sept. 2006).
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        56. What is the standard utility allowance (SUA) and what is H-EAT?

        The standard utility allowance (SUA) is a fixed dollar amount for a household's heating and utility expenses used in the calculation of shelter expenses for SNAP benefits. 106 C.M.R. §§ 364.400(G)(2), 364.945. The dollar value of the SUA applies statewide and is not tied to what you actually pay in monthly oil, gas, electricity or other utilities. It is an annualized amount to help simplify the calculations.

        There are three different SUA amounts and the amounts are periodically adjusted by DTA with USDA approval:

        • Heating (or air conditioning) SUA— currently $608, for households that incur heating or air conditioning costs separately from their rent. This includes public or subsidized housing tenants if your housing authority bills you for heat or for use of your air conditioner. You also get this SUA if you receive or anticipate receiving Fuel Assistance (also called Low Income Home Energy Assistance Act or LIHEAP payments) even if your heat is included with your rent. You also get this SUA if you have received the new Fuel Assistance benefit called H-EAT (Heating and Eating). See below. If you incur any heating costs in the winter or air conditioning costs in the summer or get any LIHEAP or H-EAT benefits, you get this SUA all year round, including months when you don't have to pay for heat or air conditioning.
        • Non-heating SUA— currently $374, for households that incur utility expenses but not heating or air conditioning costs. Utility expenses can include electricity (non-heating), cooking gas, garbage collection, water and sewer fees passed onto tenants.
        • Telephone-only SUA— currently $43, for households that incur only telephone costs (cell phone or landline, but not phone cards) and do not pay any of the other utilities listed above.

        You do not have to prove your actual costs to get the SUA. You get the full SUA even if you live with another household and pay only part of the utilities. Except for Fuel Assistance payments, you cannot claim the SUA for utility costs paid by a third party. 106 C.M.R. § 364.410(B)(2).

        The Heat and EAT (H-EAT) Program

        In 2007, DTA and the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) established a program called H-EAT (Heating and Eating Fuel Assistance program). This program has helped thousands of SNAP households, mostly elder and disabled households, qualify for higher monthly SNAP benefits and access to fuel assistance.  Many of these households have high shelter costs with heat included, incur cooling expenses separate from rent and/or qualify for regular Fuel Assistance.  Many clients underreport this information to DTA because the questions are confusing.  Unfortunately, as this book goes to print at the end of January 2014, Congress is on the verge of significant changes to the H-EAT option.  

        H-EAT currently works as follows: Twice a year (usually April and October) DTA scans the SNAP caseload and determines which households are eligible for the H-EAT benefit. They identify current SNAP recipients who are not already getting the higher heating/cooling SUA, not on Bay State CAP benefits, and not homeless. SNAP recipients who are found eligible are sent $1 of H-EAT benefits and information on regular Fuel Assistance, weatherization and other important benefits. Providing this H-EAT benefit has simplified the process of DTA determining utility costs and removed confusion for SNAP households.

        Assuming the 2014 Farm Bill passes (changing the H-EAT option), there are some things you can do. First, states will still be able to continue with the H-EAT program if they fund a higher ($20) fuel assistance payment.  States can also implement any changes at the next recertification, instead of right away.  You can contact the Governor to urge him to fund additional Fuel Assistance and proceed slowly in implementation.

        In addition, if you are a SNAP applicant or recipient, be sure DTA knows if you incur heating costs, AC costs during the summer (even if your heat is included) or you get regular Fuel Assistance benefits for either utilities or toward part of high rental costs.  MLRI and the Food SNAP Coalition will work closely with the Governor and DTA to urge changes in SNAP policy to protect as many SNAP households as possible.   Keep in contact with MLRI as this unfolds.

        Advocacy Reminders

        • If a shelter or other expense is paid for fully by someone outside the household, it cannot be claimed as a shelter deduction. 106 C.M.R. § 364.410(B)(1).
        • If you have zero rental expenses (for example, you are caretaking a house or living rent free off-season) but you are responsible for heat or other utilities, you should get the standard utility deduction (SUA) even if zero rent. Contact an advocate if denied a SUA.
        • Depending on the outcome of the 2013 Farm Bill reauthorization, as well as federal funding for Fuel Assistance and the H-EAT benefit, it is not clear how long SNAP households will qualify. Therefore, it is important to be sure DTA knows if you pay for any heating or cooling (air conditioning) costs separate from your rent or if you qualify for regular LiHEAA fuel assistance to pay for a portion of your rent when heat is included. This way, your benefits will not be impacted if there is a cut to H-EAT.
        Additional Policy Guidance on SUA and H-EAT
        • Guidance describing how DTA identified eligible SNAP households in Fall of 2013 for H-EAT benefit and SUA adjustment. Ops Memo 2013-53 (Oct. 17, 2013).
        • H-EAT tracked separately from annual recertification periods and must be manually updated if household circumstances result in a change. DTA Transitions Hotline Q&A (December 2011).
        • DTA guidance on creation of H-EAT program in 2007 with sample household notices, instructions on semi-annual caseload sweeps, caseload match with DHCD. DTA Field Operations Memo 2007-31 (June 28, 2007).
        • Bay State CAP household eligible for heating/cooling SUA in calculating benefits. F.O. Memo 2012-44 (Sept. 24, 2012).
        • A household that has a change of address or becomes homeless during the certification period is still eligible for the heating/cooling SUA if the household received H-EAT or regular Fuel Assistance. Transitions Hotline Q&A (June 2008).
        • If household "reasonably anticipates" receipt of Fuel Assistance in upcoming year, household eligible for heating/cooling SUA. Transitions Hotline Q&A (Dec. 2004).
        • Public and subsidized housing tenants charged seasonal electricity charges for AC are eligible for heating/cooling SUA for full certification period. Transitions Hotline Q&A (Dec. 2003).
        • DTA should presume single-family residence homeowners have separate heating/cooling costs without additional verification; lease stating heat not included in rent is sufficient verification without fuel bills. Transitions Hotline Q&A (May 2003).
        • Cost of a cell phone is allowed for the phone SUA. Transitions Hotline Q&A (Sept. 2010).
        • Pre-paid phone calling card is not allowed for phone SUA because no regular due date or billing for service. Transitions Hotline Q&A (June 2003).

         

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        57. What is the shelter deduction and how does DTA calculate it?

        The SNAP rules allow you to deduct shelter expenses that exceed half of your net income. This is called the "shelter deduction." 106 C.M.R. § 364.400(G). For example, if your allowable shelter expenses are $700 per month, but your net income after other deductions is $1,500 per month, you will get no shelter deduction. That's because half of your net income ($750) is more than your shelter expenses of $700.

        Shelter costs may be self-declared by the household unless questionable. This includes shelter information on the application form, recertification form or a signed and dated statement by the household. See Question 7 (What proofs (verifications) do I need?). Questionable information is that which is inconsistent with other statements on your application, in the interview, or information known to DTA.

        The SNAP shelter deduction is complicated because Congress wanted to target SNAP benefits towards households that have the highest shelter costs in relation to their incomes and therefore have the hardest time paying for food. After Section 8 and public housing, it is the biggest source of federal assistance to low-income households based on their housing needs.

        Two types of shelter deduction:

        • Regular shelter deduction: The shelter deduction is currently capped at $478 per month for households that do not include an elder, disabled adult or disabled child. 

        • Elder/disabled shelter deduction: If the household includes at least one person who is elderly (age 60+) or is disabled, there is no limit or cap on the shelter deduction.

        Allowable shelter expenses

        • monthly rent paid (or owed) if you are a tenant, or the amount you are responsible for if you sublet or share an apartment;
        • mortgage, including payments on the principal, interest, legal fees, home improvement loans (even if you are behind in your payments);
        • real estate taxes and homeowner insurance (even if you have no mortgage);
        • the cost of any repairs to your property (a new boiler, new roof, replacement of windows, etc.);
        • trailer payments and parking fees; and/or
        • shelter expenses for a home not occupied by you if you are planning to return to it and are not otherwise renting it, and charges for repair of a home damaged by natural disaster, provided you will not be reimbursed for these repairs, 106 C.M.R. § 364.400(G)(1); plus
        • the appropriate standard utility allowance (SUA) for your household. See Question 56 (What is the standard utility allowance (SUA) and what is H-EAT?). Actual utility costs and heating costs are not allowed as they are covered under the SUA.

        How DTA calculates the shelter deduction - four steps

        There are four steps to calculate your shelter deduction:

        • Step 1: Calculate your preliminary net income - gross monthly income after subtracting the earned income deduction, standard deduction, any dependent care costs, child support payments, and the medical costs (for an elderly or disabled member of your household).
        • Step 2: Calculate the shelter deduction by adding your non-utility shelter costs (rent, mortgage) to your standard utility allowance (SUA).
        • Step 3: Divide your preliminary net income in half.
        • Step 4: Subtract the result in Step 3 from the result in Step 2. The result is your excess shelter cost. If the answer is zero or less, you do not get a shelter deduction. 106 C.M.R. § 364.400(G)If the answer is more than $478, you can deduct only $478 unless the household includes an elderly or disabled person. 

        In other words, allowable Shelter Costs (Step 2) minus half of Preliminary Net Income (Step 3) equals Shelter Deduction (up to the cap if applicable).

        Example: Carl earns $1,500 per month. He lives with his wife Cindy and their child. He pays $100 per month in child support for a child who does not live with him. The family pays $500 per month in rent, and pays for heat and utilities.
        $1500 Gross earned income of Carl (including child support paid to a child outside the household (HH))
        - $300 20% earnings deduction from gross
        - $152 Standard deduction for HH of 3
        - $100 Child support deduction
        $948 Preliminary net income
        Shelter deduction calculation  
        $500 Rent
        + $608 SUA
        = $1,108 Shelter expenses
        - $474 One-half preliminary net income
        = $634 Shelter expenses
        $948 Preliminary net income
        - $478 Maximum shelter deduction (capped)
        = $470 NET INCOME for Carl's family
        Additional Policy Guidance on Shelter Costs:
        • Mortgage or rent payments are still included as shelter costs even if household is in arrear and cannot make payments, but household cannot claim arrearage payment for back rent/mortgage if previously deducted while getting SNAP/food stamps. Transitions Hotline Q&A (Feb. 2010).
        • Shelter expenses may be self-declared unless questionable. DTA Field Operations Memo 2010-29 (June 16, 2010).
        • Mortgage payments made when not living in the home are allowed as a deduction if household is temporarily absent for employment, training, illness, or an emergency— as long as no one else is renting dwelling and household plans to return. Transitions Hotline Q&A (Apr. 2007).
        • Shelter costs paid by others (e.g., relatives, friends) are not deductible shelter expenses. Transitions Hotline Q&A (May 2004).
        • Condominium fees are allowable shelter costs. Transitions Hotline Q&A (Jan. 2000).
        • Rent or utilities paid in advance may be deducted in the month when they would have been due. USDA Food Stamp Program Regional 04-05 (Northeast Region).
        • Only the amount of mortgage billed is allowed, even if household pays more than monthly mortgage. Transitions Hotline Q&A (Oct. 2000).
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        58. What is the homeless shelter/utility deduction and who gets it?

        SNAP households who live in homeless shelters, temporarily in the home of another, or on the street are entitled to a standard homeless deduction of $143 per month in recognition of expenses for laundry, phone calls, locker fees, and other items. 106 C.M.R. § 364.400(F). This deduction is taken from net income, just like the standard deduction, and is not considered a shelter expense. The $143 amount is allowed even if your actual shelter or utility expenses are very small.

        It is important that your DTA worker code your case as "homeless" so you get this deduction. DTA considers you homeless if you lack a fixed or regular nighttime residence including if you are staying in a shelter or accommodations are temporary for less than 90 days. See 106 C.M.R. § 360.030 for the definition of homeless.

        Example: Paul is a homeless individual who receives $400 per month in Veterans’ benefits. Sometimes he stays at a shelter for adult individuals, and sometimes he is on the street. Paul gets the $152 standard deduction and the $143 homeless deduction. His net monthly income for SNAP is $105 per month.

        Advocacy Reminders

        • If you are homeless and temporarily staying in a house or apartment where you pay for rent or utilities, you can get either the $143 homeless shelter deduction or the excess shelter deduction (based on your rent plus the applicable Standard Utility Allowance (SUA)), whichever is higher. See Question 29 (What if I am homeless or live in a shelter?).
        • A DTA hearing officer has ruled that residents of domestic violence shelters qualify for the $143 a month homeless shelter deduction. Consult an advocate if this question comes up.
        Additional Policy Guidance on Homeless Deduction
        • DTA will assume homeless household has expenses and will not require any verification of expenses for $143 deduction. Household gets full $143 regardless of its expenses. DTA Field Operations Memo 2001-18 (Mar. 30, 2001).
        • Household can claim either actual shelter expenses or the $143 homeless deduction, whichever is higher. Transitions Hotline Q&A (Dec. 2003).
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        59. What proofs do I need to claim deductions?

        You cannot be denied SNAP benefits for lack of proof of deductions, but your benefits may be higher if you provide proofs. 106 C.M.R. § 364.450(B). Question 7 (What proofs (verifications) do I need?) and Question 8 (What if I am having trouble getting all the proofs, or the proofs get to DTA late?) have detailed information on verifications, self-declarations, worker assistance and more. As a reminder:

        • Dependent/child care deduction: You can self-declare the cost of child or adult care, including transportation, unless questionable.
        • Child support deduction: You can verify the legal obligation to pay support with any document that describes your obligation, such as a court or administrative order or legally enforceable separation agreement. You can verify the amount you pay with documents such as canceled checks or wage withholding statements. 106 C.M.R. §§ 361.610(J), 364.400(E). See also Question 54 (What is the child support deduction?).
        • Medical/health related expenses: For the standard $90 medical deduction you need to verify that you incur at least $36 a month in expenses. To claim higher deductions, you need to verify that you have over $125/month in medical expenses. Proofs can include a medical bill, a print-out from the pharmacy of your last month’s co-payments and medical purchases, copies of receipts for over-the-counter medications and supplies, and self-declaration of transportation costs. See Question 53 (What medical expenses can I claim if I am elderly (60+) or disabled?).

        Advocacy Reminders

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        60. How much will I get in SNAP benefits each month?

        To get your SNAP benefit amount, multiply your net monthly income by 0.3 (30 percent). Round up this amount to the nearest dollar.

        Take this amount and subtract it from the maximum benefit level for a household of your size. The result is the amount of your monthly benefits. 106 C.M.R. §§ 364.600, 364.980. See "Maximum SNAP Allotments," Appendix B: Income and Benefits Standards, Chart 1.

        Example: Carl and his family in Question 57 (What is the shelter deduction and how does DTA calculate it?) have $500 in net income after allowable deductions. To determine the family’s SNAP benefits, take 30% of the “net income” (30% of $500) and subtract it from the maximum benefit, as follows:
         
        $500 Net Income for Carl's family
        x .30 (Multiply by 30%)
        $150 Countable Income
        $497 Maximum SNAP for 3 persons
        - 150 Countable income (round up)
        $347 Monthly SNAP benefits for Carl's family

        Your first month of SNAP benefits

        For the first month you apply, you will get benefits only for the days left in the SNAP month from the date you apply. This is called prorating of benefits. 106 C.M.R. § 364.650. For example, if you apply halfway through your SNAP month, you will get only 50 percent of the monthly benefit. See Question 64 (When will I get my SNAP benefits?) for an explanation of "SNAP month."

        $15 minimum benefit for one- and two-person households

        If you are a household of one or two and your gross income is below the gross income test for your situation, you should receive a minimum of $15 a month in SNAP benefits. 106 C.M.R. § 364.600(A).

        Households with zero benefits

        Strange as it may seem, a household of three or more persons can get "approved" for zero SNAP benefits even though gross income is below the 200% gross income test. This happens when thirty percent of your net income is greater than the maximum benefit amounts. 106 C.M.R. §§ 364.600(A), 365.100. DTA will put your case in "suspended" status.

        The reason you are "approved" for zero benefit is so you can quickly get benefits without reapplying if you have a decrease in your income, increase in expenses, or change in household size that makes you eligible for benefits. DTA will send you a notice stating that your SNAP case is "open" in the system, but you will not receive any benefits. If you report any changes during the certification period that make you eligible, you do not need to go through a whole reapplication with verifications and an interview. You only have to verify the change (drop in income, increased expenses, a new household member).

        Additional Policy Guidance on Zero Benefit Households
        • Revised notice to categorically eligible zero income households with information on changes to report to get SNAP benefits without reapplication. DTA Field Operations Memo 2007-50 (Sept. 28, 2007).
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        61. What happens to my SNAP benefits if my cash benefits are reduced because of a DTA sanction?

         Under the SNAP rules, DTA can counts as available income money that is being taken out of your TAFDC, EAEDC, SSI or other needs-based benefits. This rule applies if you were sanctioned under that cash assistance program for an intentional program violation (fraud) or because you intentionally failed to comply with a TAFDC program requirement, such as the child support or TAFDC work rules. 106 C.M.R. § 363.220(C)(5). See Question 49 (Do the SNAP/food stamp rules count money I don't receive?). DTA will calculate your SNAP benefits as if your household is still getting the full amount of the cash benefit grant amount.

        Example: Vicky lives in private housing and receives $418 in TAFDC for her child. Vicky was getting $518 but DTA reduced the benefits due to a sanction for her failure to comply with the child support rules without good cause. DTA will calculate the SNAP benefits as if Vicky receives the TAFDC of $518 per month.

        This rule does not apply if your cash benefits are reduced for other reasons, or if the entire cash grant case for you and your dependents closes due to a sanction. In these situations, the SNAP should be calculated using the household’s actual income. 106 C.M.R. § 363.220(C)(5).

        Advocacy Reminder

        • Federal SNAP regulations are clear that DTA cannot count needs-based benefits you do not receive because of a sanction unless there is a finding that you intentionally failed to comply with program requirements resulting in the benefit reduction. 7 C.F.R. § 273.11(j).
        Additional Policy Guidance
        • BEACON User's Guide, Ch. XIV-D-4, contains a full list of situations where DTA attributes cash assistance not actually received by the household. Rule does not apply if you are sanctioned for failure to comply with an administrative requirement, such as Learnfare, or not cooperating with direct deposit requirements. DTA Field Operations Memo 2006-06 (Jan. 13, 2006).
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        SNAP Part IV -- Getting and Using SNAP Benefits

        Getting and using SNAP Benefits.

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        62. How do I use SNAP benefits?

        SNAP benefits are no longer “stamps” or coupons used to buy food. This is one of the reasons Congress changed the name to SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) in the 2008 Farm Bill. SNAP benefits are kept in an electronic account for you to use at a store. You use your benefits with your EBT (electronic benefits transfer) card, at any grocery or convenience store that has the Quest logo. 106 C.M.R. §§ 364.900, 364.910.

        How to get your EBT card and PIN

        Unless you apply in person, DTA usually has an  EBT card mailed to you after DTA verifies your identity (sometimes after you have a phone interview). There will not be any benefits on your EBT card until your case is approved.

        If you are required to have an EBT photo card, see Question 14 (What are Photo EBT Cards?), DTA may first issue you a card without a photo so you have timely access to your benefits. If the RMV does not have your photo file, then DTA will ask you to come into a local office at some point to have your photo taken.

        The card and PIN are mailed by the EBT vendor, currently Xerox, and sent to you  in two separate envelopes. DTA will automatically assign you a PIN. But you can change your PIN any time by calling the Massachusetts EBT Customer Service number: 1-800-997-2555.

        You also have the option to pick up the EBT card at your local DTA office. Going to the local DTA office can sometimes be the fastest way to get the EBT card, especially if you may qualify for expedited benefits and need the benefits sooner. If you are told you need to get a photo EBT card to replace your current EBT card, it may be faster if you go pick it up in a local office. If you have problems with your EBT card and cannot get to a local DTA office, call an advocate.

        If you pick up the card in person, you can select a Personal Identification Number (PIN). The PIN is the key that unlocks your account.

        Choose a PIN that is easy for you to remember but hard for other people to guess. Keep your PIN a secret and never write your PIN on your card.

        How to use your EBT card

        • Before you shop, check your last receipt to find out how much SNAP benefits are in your account, or call 800-997-2555 for your balance.
        • Look for the Quest mark on the door or window of the store, or a sign that says the store accepts EBT.
        • At check-out, swipe your card (or ask the clerk to swipe it for you) and enter your secret PIN on the number pad and then press enter. Tell the clerk how much money to enter, or enter the amount yourself.
        • Always check your receipt to be sure that the amount on the EBT receipt is the same as the grocery receipt. Save your receipts.
        • If the check-out system is not working or the store does not have a card reader, the clerk should complete a manual voucher. Make sure the amount on the voucher is correct before you sign it, and keep a copy.
        • Your EBT card does not expire, even if your SNAP case closes because you are ineligible. You can still use the SNAP benefits that remain on the card, and if your SNAP case is reopened, DTA will put your benefits on the same card unless the card is defective. 

        Call customer service at 1-800-997-2555

        • If you have questions or problems using your card or secret PIN.
        • If your card is lost or stolen or does not work. Report this right away. DTA will replace the card.
        • To find out your SNAP account balance.
        • To find out where you can use your card.

        There is no limit on the number of times per month you can use your EBT card to buy food. There is no charge or fee when you use your EBT card to buy food. If you lose your card, see Question 66 (What if my EBT card is lost or stolen?).

        Advocacy Reminders:

        • Federal SNAP rules require stores to allow all household members to use the EBT card, even if you are not the head of household. In addition, grocers and retailers cannot ask to see the EBT photo card unless they ask everyone using a credit or debit card to provide identification. Contact an advocate if you or anyone in your SNAP household has any issues using your photo EBT card. For more on photo EBT cards, please see Question 14 (What are Photo EBT Cards?).
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        63. If I forget to use my EBT card for a while, does my case close?

        You do not need to continuously use your SNAP benefits to qualify. Also, your SNAP benefits do not expire at the end of each month. They roll-over to the next month if you do not use them all. And if your SNAP case is closed for some reason, you still have the right to use any remaining benefits in your EBT account before the case closed.

        However, DTA will remove all benefits from your EBT account if they have not been accessed for a total of 365 days. 106 C.M.R. § 364.900(E).  

        DTA has protocol to identify cases where the EBT benefits have not been active for 90 days and contact you. DTA must send you a letter before they take action. If the EBT account is idle for 365 days, DTA will “purge” your account and prevent you from getting those benefits.

        DTA will also contact you if your SNAP balance seems too high (generally more than $2,500), to see if you are still alive and living in Massachusetts. Sometimes SNAP balances are high if DTA made an error and issued you a retroactive payment or you won an appeal. Sometimes frail seniors or persons with disabilities also have high balances which may be an indication they may have lost their EBT card or need assistance with shopping and preparing food. A high EBT balance is not a sign of fraud!

        Advocacy Reminders

        • If you wish, you can pick someone else to buy food for you with your EBT card, either on a regular basis or in an emergency. This person is called an “authorized representative.” DTA can also issue two EBT cards—one for you and one for your authorized representative. An authorized representative has access to all your SNAP benefits, so be sure you trust the person you pick. 106 C.M.R. §§ 361.300-361.370.
        • If you have problems with accessing your SNAP benefits— for example, if the store's machine tells you the wrong amount of benefits available— call EBT Customer Service at 1-800-997-2555. Contact an advocate if your problems are not fixed.

        You can use your EBT card at stores in most other states, if you are visiting out of state or if you move out of MA and there are benefits left in the EBT account. If you use your benefits out of state, DTA will ask you to verify that you are still a resident of the state. If you do not provide proof of Massachusetts residency your case will be closed. You cannot get benefits in two states at once.

        Additional Policy Guidance on EBT Accounts
        • DTA will contact SNAP households with a high SNAP balance by phone to determine if the client is aware of the balance, has access barriers or has had a change in circumstances affecting eligibility. Ops Memo 2013-32 (July 18, 2013).
        • DTA procedures for replacing a card within 5 days of request, or re-pinning an EBT card by mail. Ops Memo 2011-09 (Feb. 25, 2011).
        • DTA client pamphlet on how to use EBT card and fix problems.
        • Information on how DTA tracks EBT accounts not active for 90 days. Workers should contact client to find out why EBT account inactive. Transitions FYI (Aug. 2007); Beacon User's Guide, Ch. XVI-C, pp. 25-26
        • USDA Guidance (8/22/2007) that states may not terminate benefits just because an EBT account is inactive for 90 days. State must allow household to continue through certification period, household entitled to benefits for up to a year (9 months in some states).
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        64. When will I get my SNAP benefits?

        Your SNAP benefits are put in your Bay State Access account on the same day each month based on the last digit of your Social Security Number.

         

        Last Digit of SSN

         

        Benefit Deposit Date

         

        -0

         

        1

         

        -1

         

        2

         

        -2

         

        3

         

        -3

         

        5

         

        -4

         

        7

         

        -5

         

        8

         

        -6

         

        10

         

        -7

         

        11

         

        -8

         

        13

         

        -9

         

        14



        Your “SNAP month” runs from the day your benefits are deposited to the day before the deposit would be due in the next month. For example, if your SSN ends in 5, your benefits are deposited on the 8th of the month, and your SNAP month for March is from March 8 through April 7.

        If you have just applied, the first amount of benefits will be retroactive to your date of application.

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        65. What can I buy with SNAP benefits and where can I shop?

        You can buy any edible food except hot foods prepared for eating immediately. You cannot use SNAP in restaurants. You can also buy seeds and plants to grow food. You cannot buy non-food items such as alcohol, pet food, vitamins, or grooming products. 106 C.M.R. § 360.100. You do not need to have a stove or other cooking facilities to get SNAP benefits.

        You may be able to use your SNAP benefits to make a voluntary payment for prepared meals at certain locations like domestic violence shelters and homeless shelters, congregate meal sites for elders or home-delivered meals for seniors. These donations are voluntary and may depends on whether the agency serving the meals is an approved EBT vendor. 106 C.M.R. § 360.120.

        SNAP is a federal program that operates in every state. You are allowed to use your EBT card to purchase food out-of-state at grocers and farmers markets that participate in the SNAP EBT program. And out of state SNAP participants can shop in Massachusetts. However, if you move out of Massachusetts, you must advise DTA that you have moved. Your SNAP case will be closed, but you can reapply in the new state and qualify if you are eligible. See Question 63 (If I forget to use my EBT card for a while, does my case close?) for more details about DTA policy and using your EBT card when you are out of state.

        See DTA information on how to use your EBT Card. And USDA has helpful information on what you can buy with SNAP benefits.

        Advocacy Reminder

        Additional Policy Guidance on EBT Accounts:

        • DTA announces policy to track out-of-state usage of EBT benefits. Use of EBT benefits “out of region” (outside New England states and NY, which are considered “in region” states) for 75 days or more  may trigger request for verification of residence. DTA says they will close the case  if proof not received by day 90. (This may not be authorized).  If recipient makes EBT purchase inside MA, Ops Memo says monitoring will stop until next out-of-state purchase. Fraud unit can request verification of address for in-region cases. Ops Memo 2013-34 (July 26, 2013).
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        66. What if I do not receive my EBT card or if my EBT card is lost or stolen?

        To report a lost or stolen Bay State Access EBT card, call EBT Customer Service at 800-997-2555. DTA will replace your card, but DTA will not replace any SNAP benefits that are stolen from your account. 106 C.M.R. § 364.900 (D). Once you report a lost or stolen card you can get a new PIN (Personal Identification Number) so benefits cannot be stolen from your account.

        You can wait for a card in the mail, or you can go directly to your local DTA office to pick up a new card. Any DTA office can issue you a replacement EBT card.  Your old card will become deactivated and the value of your SNAP benefits will be transferred to the new EBT card.

        $5 EBT replacement fee with exceptions:

        If you receive cash or SNAP benefits and you lose your EBT card, DTA may also charge $5.00 for replacement of a replacement EBT card. You do not pay this in cash but DTA will deduct the $5.00 from your cash or SNAP benefits in your EBT account.  This policy started in April of 2013.

        DTA should not charge the $5 fee if you need a replacement EBT card if:

        • the EBT card was lost in the mail and you never transacted the EBT card that was sent to you,
        • the EBT card did not work correctly,
        • you are a victim of domestic violence,
        • your SNAP/cash case was closed for more than 30 days and you reapplied, and
        •  other good cause exceptions.

        Multiple EBT replacement policy:

        Under DTA procedures, SNAP and cash (TAFDC or EAEDC) recipients that have received more than four replacement EBT cards within twelve months are now required to  contact the DTA case manager to talk about the reasons for multiple requests and how use of the EBT cards.

        No request for a replacement EBT card can be denied if the person is otherwise eligible. Some EBT recipients may be confused about the hard works due to a disability, or an abusive partner or third party is taking the EBT card. If you are in this situation, contact a legal advocate.

        Additional Policy Guidance:
        • $5 replacement charge for SNAP only recipients. Ops Memo 2013-16 (April 10, 2013) and 2013-18 (April 24, 2013).
        • Notice sent to clients receiving more than 4 replacement EBT cards in the past year regarding possible fraudulent use and explaining continuous nature of EBT card. Ops Memo 2012-50 (Oct. 16, 2012). Also see Ops Memo 2012-54. DTA imposes $5 fee for replacement of EBT cards for recipients who get both cash and SNAP. Ops Memo 2012-56 (Dec. 6, 2012). 
        • DTA procedures for replacing an EBT card within 5 days of request, or re-pinning an EBT card by mail. Ops Memo 2011-09 (Feb. 25, 2011).
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        67. What if I lose food due to a disaster or to a power outage, fire or flood in my home?

        Disaster SNAP Benefits:

        When the President of the United States or the Food and Nutrition Service declares a major disaster, families and individuals who live in the disaster area may be eligible for SNAP benefits as long as they meet special (higher) income limits. 106 C.M.R. §§ 366.600-366.620. These emergency SNAP benefits are called Disaster SNAP, or D-SNAP and are provided to families who are not SNAP recipients at the time.

        To receive D-SNAP, the only proof required is proof of your identity (who you are). Other proofs may be requested, but are not mandatory. You do not need to be eligible for or receiving SNAP already to qualify.

        If you are already getting benefits and you lose food due to a federally declared disaster, you may also be eligible to receive additional SNAP benefits. Normally the federal government will provide second SNAP payment of benefits because of the disaster. 106 C.M.R. § 366.620.

        Replacement SNAP Benefits:

        You can also get SNAP to replace food lost due to a fire, flood or power outage in your home or neighborhood. DTA will replace food  you bought with your SNAP benefits if it is destroyed or unsafe to eat. You can get replacement benefits up to the amount of one month’s SNAP benefits. 106 C.M.R. § 364.900(C). This can includes local emergencies where you lose electrical power (generally for four hours or more) and the food in your refrigerator or freezer has spoiled.

        You must report the misfortune to  DTA within 10 days of when you lost the food. In the next 10 days, you need to sign a sworn statement about the destruction of the food purchased. See DTA “Statement of Loss/Request for Replacement due to Food/Household Misfortune” in Appendix C. See also MLRI FAQ on SNAP and household misfortune.

        DTA will make a collateral contact to verify the power loss, appliance malfunction or misfortune that caused the loss of food, such as contacting the Red Cross, fire department, power company, landlord or doing a home visit.  If you have documentation of the power outage or other problem that triggered the food loss, send it to DTA with your statement. You do not need to bring your spoiled food to DTA as evidence of your loss.

        Advocacy Reminders:

        Additional Policy Guidance:

        • Overview of DTA protocol regarding procedure for replacement SNAP and regarding third party verification. Ops Memo 2013-30 (Oct 24, 2013).
        • DTA protocol on household misfortune benefits for victims of Hurricane Irene; 10 day time frame for requesting, additional 10 days for verification (same protocol for individual disasters). Ops Memo 2011-44 (Sept 1, 2011). See also Ops Memos 2011-20AF.O. Memo 2008-73.
        • Detailed DTA guidance regarding the local office protocol for the June 1, 2011 Western Mass tornado. Ops Memo 2011-23 (June 17, 2011), 2011-23, 2011-27 regarding issuance of Disaster SNAP (D-SNAP) benefits.
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        68. What if DTA makes a mistake and owes me money?

        If DTA gives you less SNAP benefits than you are supposed to get, the mistake is called an underpayment or "under-issuance." For example, you might get underpaid because DTA fails to act on information you gave them, such as:

        • you report a drop in your income, the addition of a new member to your household, or higher shelter costs that reduce your countable income, or
        • you are entitled to higher deductions because you report a disability or turn age 60, or
        • the Social Security Administration took your application and made an error in the information it gave DTA.

        DTA must correct any under-issuance that happened during the 12 months before DTA first discovered or was told about the mistake. 106 C.M.R. § 366.520.

        You can get back SNAP benefits even if you are not on benefits anymore. 106 C.M.R. §§ 366.500, 366.570. For example, if you or an advocate discover a mistake after your benefits have ended, you can still ask DTA for the underpaid benefits.

        If you are owed back SNAP benefits, send a letter to DTA requesting the underpayment correction (keep a copy of this letter for yourself). DTA must send you a notice about your request, the amount it will give you back if DTA agrees, how it calculated the amount (including any amounts DTA keeps to offset benefits you may owe), and your right to appeal. 106 C.M.R. § 366.530. You have a right to appeal any denial of a correction of an underpayment as well as appeal the amount DTA offers to pay you. You need to do this within 90 days of the date of notice from DTA. See Question 79 (How much time do you have to ask for a hearing?).

        Sometimes the store will make a mistake by taking money out of your EBT account even though you did not get your groceries. If this happens, the store must file a "merchant mis-dispense claim" with DTA. It may take several days or weeks for you to get your SNAP benefits credited back to your account. You may be able to get your benefits back sooner if you can get the store to contact DTA directly to verify the mistake. Call the EBT Customer Service line for immediate help: 800-997-2555.

        Additional Policy Guidance on under/overpayments:

        • Overpayments can be offset by established underpayments (e.g. where DTA owes SNAP benefits to a SNAP household which has been overpaid). Ops Memo 2011-54 (Nov. 17, 2011).
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        SNAP Part V -- Proving Continuing Eligibility

        Proving continuing eligibility.
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        69. How long will I get benefits before I have to reapply (recertify)?

        Once DTA decides you are eligible for SNAP benefits, it will approve or "certify" you for a certain number of months. This is called your "certification period." You need to reapply or "recertify" at the end of this time frame to continue getting benefits.

        The length of your certification period

        Certification periods are based on your household situation:

        The rules vary on when you need to report changes that occur during your certification period. Questions 71 (When do I have to report changes during a certification period?) through 75 (When do I have to report changes if I am on change reporting?) discuss when you need to report changes to DTA.

        What happens at the end of your recertification period

        When your certification period ends, your SNAP will stop unless you reapply or "recertify" for benefits. About 45 days before the end of your certification period, DTA will send you a notice and a recertification form to fill out. 106 C.M.R. § 366.310. The form will be pre-filled with the information DTA has about your household including the names, SSN, citizenship and date of birth of all members, your address, your shelter costs and medical expenses. You need to tell DTA if you have moved, if there are new household members who share food with you or other members have left. You also need to tell DTA about your current income and changes in any shelter, dependent care or medical expenses.

        When it is time to recertify, you need to take three steps:

        DTA should give you enough time (usually 20 days) to complete and return the recertification paperwork to continue getting SNAP benefits. 106 C.M.R. § 366.320(A). If you do not return the form, your benefits will end. There are no additional notices from DTA. If you get the form back but after the DTA deadline, you may have an interruption in benefits.

        Continued benefits

        If you complete the recertification process on time, DTA must make sure your benefits continue on the usual schedule without interruption. 106 C.M.R. § 366.330 (B).

        Getting a closed case reopened

        Suppose you completed your recertification form and had an interview, but you did not get all of your proofs in before your recertification deadline (for example, a missing wage stub). If your case closes because of the missing proofs, you can ask DTA to reopen your case as long as:

        • you sent in the recertification form before the deadline, and 
        • you get your proofs in within 30 days of the date your case closed. 

        You do not have to start a new application. 106 C.M.R. § 361.700(B)(2). This reopening rule applies to both applications and recertifications since a recertification is, in fact, a new SNAP application. If more than 30 days has elapsed since the end of your certification period, you should reapply.

        Additional Policy Guidance on Certification Periods:
        • Re-certification forms pre-filled with household member information, address, shelter costs, child care, medical expenses; no need for household to re-verify most eligibility factors or expenses that have not changed. Ops Memo 2012-55 (Dec 2012) and Field Operations Memo 2010-03 (Jan. 19, 2010).
        • If household files late recertification form, benefits reinstated but prorated for the month as of the date received. Transitions Quality Corner (October 2011).
        • Policy reconfirms one-year certification period (“annual reporting”) with a semi-annual or “interim” reporting obligation for SNAP households with earned and unearned income. Ops Memo 2011-31 (July 6, 2011) and Ops Memo 2011-43 (Sept. 12, 2011).
        • DTA required to close SNAP case if recert process not complete prior to closing date, even if household sends in timely recert form. Ops Memo 2011-55A (Dec. 14, 2011).
        • No termination of benefits at end of certification period if DTA receives a "completed" recertification form, even if interview and mandatory verifications not received. F.O. Memo 2009-29 (May 20, 2009).
        • Households where all adult members are elder (60+) or have disabilities assigned 24-month certification periods, even if household includes children. F.O. Memo 2009-38 (June 25, 2009).
        • DTA will send an "interim contact" notice to elder/disabled households on 24-month certification periods and self-employed households on 12-month cert periods to remind them to report changes. F.O. Memo 2009-31 (May 27, 2009).
        • DTA guidance instructing workers to extend certification periods as long as possible; adds self-employed, FS/ET and FS/WP and "unstable" households to the 12-month certification periods. F.O. Memo 2008-14 (Mar. 19, 2008).
        • Closed SNAP/food stamp case must be reopened if missing verifications received within 30 days of termination, no need for household to file a new SNAP/food stamp application. F.O. Memo 2006-20 (Apr. 21, 2006).
        • Recipient who reports no changes in semi-annual report is not required to re-verify eligibility factors that have not changed. F.O. Memo 2007-39 (July 13, 2007), Transitions Hotline Q&A (Nov. 2005).
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        70. Do I need to have an interview to continue benefits?

        Most households are required to be interviewed – by phone - by a SNAP worker when the benefits are recertified. 106 C.M.R. §§ 366.320(B), 366.330(A). DTA should send you a letter scheduling the phone interview. If they cannot reach you on the interview date, they should send a notice of missed interview (NOMI). This is the same interview process done for initial application. See Question 6 (Does DTA have to interview me and what happens if I miss the interview?).

        No interview for certain elder/disabled households

        DTA can waive (skip) your recertification interview if you meet the following conditions: r elder or disabled and meet the following conditions: 

        • All adults in your SNAP household are elderly or disabled.
        • Your household has no earned income;
        • DTA received your recertification form  timely and  complete; and
        • DTA has the verifications they need for anything that has changed, such as income, immigration status, residence. Some of the information on changed income, like an Social Security COLA, DTA can get directly from SSA.

        DTA may send out a verification checklist for any optional verifications missing (e.g. changes in shelter costs or medical expenses) and should call you to see if you need help. DTA will not conduct a regular interview unless you request an interview or unless the information you provided in the recertification form is questionable.

        Additional Policy Guidance on Certification Interviews:
        • Reinstatement of DTA policy waiving the phone or in-person interview at recertification for elder/disabled households with no earnings who submit completed recertification forms. Ops Memo 2011-29 (June 20, 2011); F.O. Memo 2009-64A (Nov. 23, 2009).
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        71. When do I have to report changes during a certification period?

        There are four different reporting rules, depending on your situation:

        Sending recertification proofs to DTA: 

        In February of 2014, DTA started a special electronic documents management (EDM) project asking SNAP and cash households to mail document to a Taunton central EDM. See Question 7 (What proofs do I need?) about the EDM project. If you are running up against a DTA deadline for documents, it may be best to fax or hand deliver documents directly to the local office.

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        72. What is interim or semi-annual reporting?

        “Interim reporting” or “semi-annual reporting” are basically the same thing: SNAP recipients approved for a one-year certification period with semi-annual or interim reporting period need only report changes to DTA twice a year, or semi-annually.

        There is one very important exception to this 6 month rule: You must report during the six-month period if your income—including income of anyone who moves into your household—goes over the gross income limit for your household. 106 C.M.R. § 366.110(C)(3). See Appendix B, Charts 2 and 3.  So, if your gross income before taxes goes above the gross income limits, you must report this change right away—within ten (10) days after the change occurs. When you are approved for interim reporting, DTA will send you a notice explaining the rules and level of income you must report.

        The households with interim reporting are households that have earned or unearned  income or a history of income and homeless households. 106 C.M.R. § 366.110(C). This does not apply to households that receive TAFDC or EAEDC cash assistance, even if working, or are self-employed.

        Reporting changes even if not required

        Even though you are not required to report changes (as long as your income stays below the gross income limit), it may help to do so. If your income goes down or expenses go up, DTA is required to act on the information you report and increase your SNAP benefits. 106 C.M.R. § 366.110(C)(5)(a)(2)

        On the other hand, if you report an increase in income or decrease in rent or other expenses, under current rules, DTA will not reduce your benefits during the interim reporting period unless your income exceeds the gross income level. Otherwise, your benefits will continue at the initial amount for the reporting period. 106 C.M.R. § 366.110(C)(5)(a)(1). Again, the only time you are required to report changes is when your gross income goes above the gross income test for your household size (including new household members with income or a smaller household if someone left).

        Example: Suzyn and her 3 kids are on “interim reporting.”  She is not required to report any changes on her SNAP case for the next five months. The first month of her semi-annual period, she was working 30 hours a week at a local day care center. The second month, her employer reduced her time to 20 hours a week. If Suzyn reports the drop in earnings, DTA will recalculate her SNAP benefits using her lower wages. Suzyn will get more benefits because she reported the change in income. Her benefits will stay at the higher level, even if her employer increases her hours next month.
        Example: Suzyn (above) is still working 30 hours a week but takes on another job for an additional 10 hours a week. Her total gross earnings are still below the gross income test (200% FPL) for her family of four. She calls her SNAP worker to report the increased income but DTA will not reduce her SNAP benefits until the start of the next interim reporting period. DTA will then recalculate her benefits at the next reporting period using the income and expenses she reports at that time.

        Can DTA act on other information they get to change my SNAP benefits?

        Under certain situations, DTA can make changes to your SNAP benefits during the middle of your 6 month interim reporting period, even if you did not report a change.  DTA may adjust your benefits if they receive information from a reliable primary source that impacts your eligibility.

        For example, DTA can adjust your SNAP benefits if they get confirmed information about the death of a family member through the Dept. of Public Health Vital Records, the removal of a child by  the Dept. of Children or the incarceration of a family member from Dept. of Corrections.  DTA can also act on information from SSA about a change in SSI or Social Security benefits. This information, from the primary source, is considered “verified upon receipt.”

        Sometimes there are errors with these data matches. If your SNAP benefits decrease and nothing in your household has changed, contact an Advocate.

        What happens at the end of the semi-annual/interim period

        Before the end of your six-month semi-annual/interim period, DTA will send you an interim reporting from to update your case. This form will be preprinted with the information about your household that DTA has in its records. You should update the information in the form, fill in any blanks and send it back to DTA with required proofs (including your most recent pay stubs). You do not need any interview during the interim reporting unless DTA decides something is questionable.

        If you do not send this form back or your benefits may stop. If you send in the interim report form late, DTA will treat it as a new application and can reopen your SNAP case - but the benefits will be prorated as of the date they received the report.  However, if you got the interim report in on time, but you don't get the proofs in on time - you can still get your SNAP case reopened back to the date it was closed as long as you get the proofs in within 30 days.  Bottom line: send in the report even if you don't have all of the proofs.

        About a year after your SNAP case is approved (6 months after your interim report) you will need to complete a recertification form, have an interview with your case manager and send in updated verifications. See Question 69 (How long will I get benefits before I have to reapply?).

        Which households do not have semi-annual/interim reporting

        • Households where all members are elderly or have disabilities and have no earned income, or households which have never had any income source;
        • Households where one or more members get TAFDC and must submit monthly income reports, or get TAFDC under a time-limit extension;
        • Households with self-employment income; and
        • Households getting five months of Transitional Benefits Alternative (TBA), after which they should then go on semi-annual reporting.

        See 106 C.M.R. § 366.110(C)(1).

        Advocacy Reminders:

        • It is a good idea for a household to report changes in income or expenses even if on semi-annual/interim reporting. If household income goes down or expenses go up, DTA will increase the benefits. However, if the income is higher or expenses lower, DTA generally will not lower the SNAP benefit amount. DTA will lower or terminate your SNAP benefits if your income exceeds the gross income limit, you report a change in who lives in your household or if they have received information from a data source that is “verified upon receipt”.
        • For any households subject to an overpayment for failure to report a change in income or household status, be sure to check if the household was on or should have been on semi-annual/interim reporting. There is no overpayment for failure to report changes during the semi-annual period, unless the income exceeded the gross income limit.
        Additional Policy Guidance on Semi-Annual or Interim Reporting:
        • When DTA receives returned mail for semi-annual reporting households, address is updated and household will need to verify at interim report or recertification. Case should not be closed. Ops Memo 2013-13A (March 28, 2013).
        • DTA will recalculate and possibly decrease of SNAP benefits when DTA obtains information considered “verified upon receipt” or when client reports household composition change. Ops Memo 2013-41 (July 26, 2013).
        • DTA automated matching with Mass Lottery Commission, county prisons, Mass Dept. of Corrections and DPH/SSA/US Dept. of Commerce for death matches. Ops Memo 2013-27 (June 14, 2013).
        • DTA will reopen SNAP benefits if missing verifications received within 30 day period after case closed as long as interim report received timely; if interim report was late, interim report becomes new SNAP application and benefits prorated. Transitions Hotline Q &A (March 2012)  
        • Self-employed households and households with no current earned or unearned income cannot be put on interim reporting. Transitions Hotline Q&A (Dec. 2011).
        • Policy reconfirms one-year certification period (“annual reporting”) with interim (semiannual) reporting obligation for SNAP households with earned and unearned income. Ops Memo 2011-31 (July 6, 2011) and Ops Memo 2011-43 (Sept. 12, 2011). 
        • If household reports loss of income or increased expenses during semi-annual period, DTA must act to increase SNAP even before report due. Transitions Hotline Q&A (Aug. 2011).
        • Re-certification forms pre-filled with household member information, address, shelter costs, child care, medical expenses; no need to re-verify most eligibility factors or expenses that have not changed. Ops Memo 2012-55 (Dec. 2012) and  Field Operations Memo 2010-03 (Jan. 19, 2010).
        • New verifications are not required if no changes reported in household expenses at USR time. If a change in expenses (shelter, medical) is reported without documentation, the expense will be zeroed out in the calculations.  F.O. Memo 2010-55 (Nov. 23, 2010), Transitions Hotline Q&A (Nov. 2005).
        • Applicant awaiting decision on Unemployment Insurance claim should still be put on semi-annual reporting; worker should open the case without counting the UI income if decision on UI claim not made by day 29. Transitions Hotline Q&A (Apr. 2004).
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        73. What is monthly reporting?

        If you are a TAFDC recipient and someone in your household has income from a job or worked in the past two months, you may have to turn in a report form every month to keep getting cash and SNAP benefits. 106 C.M.R. §§ 366.110(D), 702.900-702.980. Your monthly SNAP and TAFDC benefits are then calculated based on the income reported on these forms. There is no monthly reporting in SNAP if you are not getting TAFDC.

        DTA mails these forms directly to you. They have to be filled out completely and turned in with pay stubs within 20 days of when they were mailed to you for you to keep getting your benefits on time. Be sure to ask for help from DTA if you do not understand the forms. See also MLRI's 2014 TAFDC Advocacy Guide on monthly reporting.

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        74. What are “TBA” benefits and reporting rules for former TAFDC recipients?

        If your family was receiving TAFDC and your benefits end—due to earnings, voluntary case closing, or most reasons other than a TAFDC program sanction—you will automatically get five months of SNAP benefits. The amount of SNAP you get will be calculated using only the income you had in the month your TAFDC benefits stopped, excluding your TAFDC cash grant. DTA will also not count new income you receive after your TAFDC case closes, such as new earnings or child support. This special benefit is called the Transitional Benefits Alternative or “TBA.” See 106 C.M.R. § 365.190.

        Example: Aisha receives $433 monthly in TAFDC for herself and her two children, plus $300 in Social Security Survivors Benefits. They have no deductions other than the standard deduction. Their SNAP benefits are $352 a month. Aisha starts working at a job that pays $800 a month and asks DTA to close her TAFDC case. Under TBA, DTA recalculates Aisha's benefits counting only the $300/month in Social Security Survivors Benefits. DTA excludes the terminated TAFDC income and excludes the new income from her new job. Their benefits will be $482 a month for five months.

        During the five-month TBA period, you are not required to report any changes in your household. However, you have the option to report changes and if you report a change that could increase your benefits (such as loss of income or the addition of a household member), DTA is required to act on that change and recertify your benefits to the higher amount. You will no longer be a TBA household. See 106 C.M.R. § 366.110(B).

        Once the five-month TBA period ends, DTA should switch your household to semi-annual reporting.

        Additional Policy Guidance on TBA:
        • For a list of the TAFDC case closing reasons which result in TBA benefits, see BEACON User's Guide Appendix B and Transitions Hotline Q&A (June 2006).
        • Households that report a change during the TBA period that triggers an increase in benefits will be approved for the higher amount and put on a regular certification period. The household is no longer a TBA household. Transitions Hotline Q&A (Mar. 2005).
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        75. When do I have to report changes if I am on change reporting?

        “Change reporting” means you are required to report any changes within ten (10) days of when you learn of the change. 106 C.M.R. § 366.110(A). Most households with elder or disabled members are certified for 24 months of SNAP benefits with change reporting requirements.

        Change reporting means you must report changes in any earned income of more than $100 per month, or changes in any unearned income of more than $50 per month. You can also report change in household composition (who lives and shares food with you), shelter costs, medical expenses and any child support payments you make. Be sure to report these changes that might affect your eligibility for, or the amount of, your benefits (if you are not sure, it is safer to report).

        You can report changes by mailing or faxing a change report form or a letter back to DTA, or you can go to DTA person. Be sure to keep a copy of what you send and make a note about any telephone calls or in-office meetings. If you fail to report a change that would result in a decrease in benefits, you may face over-issuance and a fraud sanction. See Part VII: Overissuances and Fraud.

        In some cases, DTA receives information about a change in your household due to returned mail, information from the Department of Revenue regarding income or a new job, unreported unearned interest income through the Internal Revenue Service, a Registry of Motor Vehicle check, or through other sources. As a condition of receiving benefits, DTA checks your information with other government sources available to them. Your case may also be subject to random quality control reviews by USDA. 106 C.M.R. § 360.600. If DTA receives information that you did not already report, you should be contacted before DTA makes a change to your benefits.

        Advocacy Reminders:

        • Make sure that you promptly report to DTA any change in mailing address. If DTA receives returned mail from the US Post Office, they may ask you to verify your new address. If you have not moved and the Post Office made a mistake, be sure to call your SNPA worker. DTA cannot close your SNAP case for lack of verification when you have not moved. If you did move, send your case manager proof of your new address.  
        Additional Policy Guidance on Reporting Changes:
        • DTA will send households with returned mail a verification form (to forwarding address if one is provided). If verification is not received in 10 days, case will be closed for failure to provide verification. Ops Memo 2013-13A (March 28, 2013).
        • DTA data match with US Postal Service National Change of Address database to update mailing addresses in BEACON, in order to reduce returned mail. Just as with returned mail, clients with updated match will receive a verification of address form. Ops Memo 2013-50 (Oct 24, 2013).
        • Instructions on IRA matches for unearned interest income done through the IRS data match and handling of discrepancies centrally. DTA must contact the household for discrepancies, request verifications and reopen a closed case if verification is received after date of closing. DTA Field Operations Memo 2008-21 (July 18, 2008); F.O. Memo 2007-37 (Aug. 1, 2008).

        Will my SNAP benefits continue if I stop getting cash welfare or SSI?           

        Your SNAP benefits should not stop just because your cash assistance stops.  If everyone in your household was receiving TAFDC, and the TAFDC stops, you may qualify for Transitional Benefits Alternative. See Question 74 (What are “TBA” benefits and reporting rules for former TAFDC recipients?).

        If you were getting other cash assistance that stops – like EAEDC or SSI – DTA should recertify your SNAP based on the new circumstances, if DTA has enough information and you are financially still eligible for benefits.

        If DTA does not have enough information to recertify you after your cash assistance stops, they should send you a notice closing your SNAP case the month after the month they send the notice, and will tell you that you need to recertify (reapply) for benefits. 106 C.M.R. § 365.170(B). The notice DTA sends you must also say that if you recertify (reapply) 15 days before your benefits stop, your benefits will continue without interruption. You may be able to recertify by mail. You may be subject to different work rules if you are no longer receiving cash assistance. See Questions 36-38.

        Advocacy Reminder:

        • If your SNAP benefits stop for some reason (maybe you did not recertify on time), you can reapply at any time.
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        76. How soon should DTA increase my benefits if my income drops, expenses go up, or a person joins my household?

        DTA must increase your benefits by the next month after the date you report and verify the change to the Department. 106 C.M.R. § 366.120(B).

        You will need to give DTA proofs of your new income, higher medical expenses or child support paid out, information on the new member (a spouse, new baby, etc).  You may be eligible for supplemental SNAP benefits in addition to increasing your ongoing benefit amount in the future. If your net countable income after deductions drops to zero, you are eligible for supplemental SNAP in the same month you report the change. 106 C.M.R. § 366.120(A)(1).

        If you report a new household member or a change in income of $50 or more, DTA must adjust your SNAP benefits effective with the first payment you are due ten days after you reported the change. If you report the change after the 20th of the month and it is too late in that month to increase the next month’s payment, DTA must authorize supplemental SNAP so that you get the increase by the tenth day of the following month or on your normal issuance date, whichever is later. 106 C.M.R. § 366.120(A)(2).

        If you receive TAFDC and are on monthly reporting and your income from any source other than TAFDC stops, the income from the terminated source should not be counted in figuring your SNAP. If you report the change fewer than ten days before you are supposed to get your next benefit payment, DTA may count the income in figuring your regular payment that month, but must issue you extra SNAP for that month. 106 C.M.R. § 366.120(D).

        Advocacy Reminder:

        • Even if you are on semi-annual reporting or the Transitional Benefits Alternative (TBA) and do not have to report, you should report changes that might increase your benefits.
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        77. How soon will my benefits go down due to changes in my income, expenses, or household size?

        If your SNAP benefits will go down or end because of a change in your circumstances, DTA usually sends you a written notice within ten days of the date that you reported the change. 106 C.M.R. § 366.120(C). If the change occurs within the middle of your certification period, DTA must give you at least ten (10) days notice that your benefits will change. Your benefits will not be decreased or stopped until after this ten day period. 106 C.M.R. § 366.200.

        Example: Mary usually receives her SNAP on the 2nd of the month. On November 15, she reports an increase in income. By November 25, DTA must send her a written notice that her benefits will go down. DTA cannot reduce her benefits until December 5, ten days after that notice. Since Mary will already have received her December SNAP on December 2, her benefits will not be decreased until January.


        Sometimes, DTA does not have to give you a 10 day notice of a change, such as when DTA has confirmed information that a household member has died, or when there is a mass change and other situations. See 106 C.M.R. §§ 366.210, 106 C.M.R. § 366.215. In some situations, your benefits can be reduced or ended right away. 106 C.M.R. § 366.120(C). You still have the right to appeal. See Part 6 (Appeal Rights).

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        SNAP Part VI -- Appeal Rights

        Appeal rights.
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        78. What are your rights if DTA will not give you benefits or reduces or stops your benefits?

        If DTA denies your SNAP benefits or stops or lowers your benefits, you can ask for a “fair hearing.” A fair hearing is a formal meeting at the local DTA office or a formal telephone or video conference. A hearing officer (referee) runs the hearing and decides who is right. 106 C.M.R. §§ 367.375, 343.110. You can ask for a fair hearing to challenge any DTA decision or action you disagree with. 106 C.M.R. §§ 367.125, 343.230.

        Denial of benefits

        You can ask for a fair hearing if your application is denied, or if any other request is denied, such as a request to correct a SNAP under-issuance, or a request for an increase because your income has gone down or someone else has moved into your household. You can ask for a hearing if DTA denies your request to accommodate a disability. See Questions 12 (What if a disability makes it hard for me to apply, get proofs, or comply with the SNAP rules?) and 13 (Is there a quick way to check the status of my application or my benefits?). You can ask for a hearing if the worker says you have been denied but never sends you written notice. You can also ask for a hearing if the worker just ignores your request. 106 C.M.R. § 343.230.

        Cuts or termination of benefits

        DTA must give you at least 10 days advance notice before your benefits are stopped or reduced. You can ask for a hearing if your benefits are stopped or reduced. See Question 79 (How much time do you have to ask for a fair hearing?) on how to keep your benefits while you are waiting for a hearing decision. 106 C.M.R. §§ 343.230, 367.300.

        You can also reapply while you are waiting for a hearing.

        DTA Worker Misconduct

        You can ask for a hearing if your worker threatens you, makes unreasonable demands that do not follow the rules, violates your privacy, or does not treat you with dignity and respect. 106 C.M.R. § 343.235.

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        79. How much time do you have to ask for a fair hearing?

        You usually have 90 days to get your fair hearing request to the Division of Hearings. You have 120 days in worker mis conduct cases and cases where DTA fails to act on a request. 106 C.M.R. § 343.140. You also can ask for a hearing to challenge the amount of any time during your certification period or whenever you discover an error. 106 C.M.R. § 367.100. See Question 68 (What if DTA makes a mistake and owes me money?).

        What happens to your benefits while you are waiting for a decision on your appeal?

        If your benefits are being cut off or reduced, you can keep your benefits while you are waiting for a hearing decision by making sure that the Division of Hearings gets your fair hearing request no later than 10 days after it sent you notice of the cut-off or reduction, or before the effective date of the action, whichever is later. 106 C.M.R. § 343.250.

        DTA must give you at least ten days of notice before the date of the reduction or termination, with the exception of termination at the end of a certification period. 106 C.M.R. § 366.200.

        If you appeal timely, your SNAP benefits will continue until the fair hearing referee makes a decision or until your certification period ends, whichever is first. 106 C.M.R. §§ 366.220, 367.275. DTA can recover benefits you got while you were waiting for a hearing if you lose. 106 C.M.R. § 706.260. See Questions 91 (How can DTA collect an overpayment?) and 92 (When can DTA cut your benefits to pay itself back?) for limits on recovering overpayments.

        Example: Judy's SNAP benefits are usually deposited to her Bay State Access account on the 11th of each month. She is certified for one year but receives a notice dated January 25 which tells her that her SNAP benefits will be terminated on February 10 (the day before her next benefits are due). Judy disagrees with this decision and decides to appeal. The Division of Hearings must receive her fair hearing request by February 9, the day before the termination is to take place, for Judy to continue to receive benefits while waiting for the hearing decision or for her certification period to end. She can still request a hearing after February 9 (until April 25) but her benefits will not continue while she is waiting for the hearing decision.
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        80. How do you ask for a fair hearing?

        You can ask for a hearing by

        • sending a fax to the DTA Division of Hearings, FAX 617-348-5311, or
        • writing to

          Division of Hearings
          P.O. Box 120167
          Boston, MA 02112.

        Fax is better because then you can get a fax receipt showing the Division of Hearings got the appeal.

        Call 617-348-5321 or 800-882-2017 to see if DTA got your hearing request.

        DTA has forms you can use to ask for a hearing. If you got written notice of DTA’s decision, you can ask for a hearing by filling out the back of one copy of the notice. You can also just write your own letter. 106 C.M.R. § 343.240.

        You must write the reason why you want a fair hearing. It is best to give a general reason, such as “I disagree with DTA’s decision.” You can also ask on your appeal form for:

        • the hearing to be held in your home if you are disabled and homebound. 106 C.M.R. §§ 343.310,
        • an interpreter (sign language or foreign language) if you need one. 106 C.M.R. §§ 343.450 and
        • an “expedited” (quickly scheduled) appeal, if your family does not have benefits. 106 C.M.R. §§ 343.310, 343.450, 343.300(A). If you are appealing a termination or a reduction in benefits, it is usually better not to ask for an expedited appeal.

        Be sure to send your hearing request to the Division of Hearings, not your local DTA office.

        Advocacy Reminder:

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        81. If you have the proof your worker wanted, should you still ask for a hearing?

        You should always ask for a hearing, even if you now have the proof your worker wanted. If your worker approves your case while you are waiting for the hearing, you can withdraw (cancel) your fair hearing request so you do not have to go to the hearing. Do this in writing, explaining that your worker has agreed to approve your case. You can also withdraw your appeal request orally by calling the Division of Hearings at 617-348-5321. You will get a letter from DTA confirming that your fair hearing request was withdrawn. 106 CMR 343.240 and 106 CMR 367.150.

        If you can bring in the missing proofs within 60 days of the date you applied for SNAP benefits, or supply the proof within 30 days of the date your certification period ended, and DTA accepts the proof, your benefits should be approved or reinstated. 106 C.M.R. § 361.700(B). You may also be able to get your worker or supervisor to approve your case if you supply the proof after this time. 106 C.M.R. § 367.225(A).

        Also, if your SNAP benefits were denied, stopped or reduced because of a missing proof, and you bring this proof to the hearing, the hearing officer should consider it and make any adjustments to your benefits back to the date that the proof shows you were eligible for the right amount of benefits. This is called the “de novo rule.” 106 C.M.R. § 343.500(A).

        Additional Policy Guidance on Reopening Case:
        • Policy changed to allow oral or written withdrawal of appeal request. Ops Memo 2013-60 (Dec 5 2013).
        • Case denied for failure to provide verification must be reopened if verification received within 60 days of date of initial application. Second application is not required. DTA Field Operations Memo 2006-20 (Apr. 21, 2006).
        • If mandatory verifications received, worker cannot deny benefits for lack of proof of deductions (but household may get lower benefit). Reopen case if missing proofs brought in. F.O. Memo 2007-39 (July 7, 2007); F.O. Memo 2008-59 (Nov. 12, 2008).
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        82. How should you present your case at the hearing?

        The hearing is your last chance to make sure DTA has the facts supporting your position, including any documents.

        • Try to get a legal advocate to represent you at the hearing or give you advice about representing yourself. 106 C.M.R. § 343.150. See Appendix F for a list of legal services offices. You can also bring a friend or relative for support. 106 C.M.R. §§ 701.350, 367.350.
        • DTA should schedule you for a face-to-face hearing unless you ask for a video or telephone hearing. For most people, a face-to-face hearing is better. It is easier to understand what is happening at a face-to-face hearing, easier to handle documents, and easier for the hearing officer to determine who is telling the truth.
        • If you need an interpreter, you should ask for one when you write your hearing request and at the hearing. 106 C.M.R. § 343.410.
        • You should bring any proof you have. This includes proof you did not have before. 106 C.M.R. §§ 343.410, 343.500(A), 367.400(F). You or your advocate can look at your file (including the BEACON computer file) before the hearing (you need to make an appointment) and can use any papers or other information from your file as proof. 106 C.M.R. § 343.340. If your hearing is being conducted by telephone or video, you should insist on an opportunity to fax documents to the hearing officer.
        • You can bring witnesses. You can also get a paper ordering a witness to come to your hearing; this paper is called a “subpoena.” 106 C.M.R. § 343.360. Talk with a legal advocate about how to do this.

        Face-to face hearings and most telephone and video hearings take place at your local DTA office in a separate room. Only the people who need to be there are allowed in—the DTA worker(s), you, your representative (if any), any witnesses, and the hearing officer. Everyone must testify under “oath or affirmation.” The hearing is tape-recorded. 106 C.M.R. §§ 343.450, 343.500, 343.550.

        If you believe that DTA is using evidence that is unfair or unreliable—for example, an accusation from an unidentified person—tell the hearing officer that you “object.” Objecting may make the hearing officer think twice about relying on this information. Also, if you lose the hearing and appeal to court, the court can consider whether the hearing officer made a mistake by admitting the evidence you objected to.

        If you are not receiving benefits, you can ask the hearing officer to decide your case right away with an “interim” (not final) decision.

        Advocacy Reminders:

        • DTA regulations allow DTA to schedule your hearing by telephone or video. This may make it hard to understand what is being said, to see the evidence, and to object., 106 C.M.R. § 343.120, but it is current DTA policy not to schedule a telephone hearing unless you ask for one, and DTA does not currently schedule video hearings. If DTA schedules you for a telephone or video hearing and you want a face-to-face hearing, call the Division of Hearings right away (617-348-5321 or 800-882-2017) and say you want a face-to-face hearing. If DTA won’t give you a face-to-face hearing, be sure to say on the record at the hearing that you want a face-to-face hearing.
        • The hearing officer must take evidence and decide the issues “de novo” (anew) based on what is presented at the hearing. The eligibility date is the date all eligibility conditions were met regardless of when the evidence was submitted.
        • If you think the interpreter is not interpreting correctly, object to the hearing and ask for a different interpreter. See Question 11 (What if I do not speak English or I am deaf?).
        Additional Policy Guidance on Case Record:
        • You have the right to see your full case record at DTA, including electronic information about you that is included in BEACON, as well as the physical case record. Transitions FYI (January 2007).
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        83. When will you get a decision and what should you do if you lose?

        The hearing officer must decide your case within 60 days after you appeal. 106 C.M.R. § 367.450.

        If you win, you should get any benefits DTA owes you. DTA must include the increase in your next regular payment, if the payment is due within 60 days of when you first requested a hearing. If your next payment is due more than 60 days after the date you asked for a hearing, DTA must get you your increase within ten days of the decision.106 C.M.R. § 367.450(A). DTA must also give you any SNAP benefits you missed while you were waiting for your hearing decision because your SNAP case was denied or your SNAP amount was too low. 106 C.M.R. § 366.500.

        If you lose your fair hearing, don’t give up! Reapply for benefits. Also get in touch with your local legal services office right away. See Appendix F. You have 14 days from the date of the decision to ask for a remand and 30 days after receipt of the decision to file in court to challenge the hearing officer’s decision. 106 C.M.R. §§ 343.710, 343.720, 367.475. You may be able to get help from your local Legal Services office. See Appendix F. 106 C.M.R. §§ 343.710, 343.720. Be sure to allow time to get the remand or court papers ready.

        If you lose the fair hearing, DTA may ask you to repay SNAP benefits you got while you were waiting for a hearing decision. See Question 86 (What if you are overpaid SNAP benefits?). If you are no longer receiving benefits, DTA cannot recover SNAP benefits by reducing your cash assistance benefits, but DTA may be able to pay itself back by attaching your wages or other income. See Questions 91 (How can DTA collect an overpayment?) and 92 (When can DTA cut your benefits to pay itself back?).

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        84. Can you fix problems without going to a hearing?

        You can try to fix problems by talking with your worker Start by trying to figure out what happened in your case, when your benefits started or stopped, and what notices you were sent. Question 13 (What is the My Account Page and how do I check the status of my benefits?) tells you about the My Account Page (“MAP”) to get information on your benefits.

        You can also call DTA Recipient Services for help. DTA Recipient Services can answer questions and can put you in touch with your case manager or supervisor. DTA Recipient Services can be reached at 1-800-445-6604. If you want to try to fix your benefits, you also have the right to speak to the Supervisor of your SNAP worker, or the local office management Director or Assistant Director. You can also file a complaint with the Department.

        You can also ask DTA Recipient Services to explain the reasons for DTA action and who to contact to fix mistakes made by DTA When the issue is missing verification and the verification has been provided, DTA is required to take action to adjust the benefits. 106 C.M.R. §§ 702.240, 343.350(B).

        Even if you are trying to fix the problem, you should be sure to ask for a hearing right away. You can always cancel the hearing if you settle your case. 106 C.M.R. § 343.350. See Question 81 (If you have the proof your worker wanted, should you still ask for a hearing?). DTA staff may be willing to fix your case without going to a hearing (since it uses up their time as well as yours and the hearing officer’s). If they do not fix the problem, you can still go ahead with the fair hearing. If you were denied benefits for lack of proofs but bring them in within 30 days of the notice of denial or termination, DTA should reopen your case. See Question 81 (If you have the proof your worker wanted, should you still ask for a hearing?).

        If you believe you have been discriminated against based on your race, gender, national origin, disability, age, religious creed, national origin, or political beliefs, you have a right to file a complaint with either the Secretary of Agriculture (Administration of Food and Nutrition Service, Washington, DC 20250) or the DTA Director of Equal Opportunity (DTA, 600 Washington Street, Boston, MA 02111). 106 C.M.R. §§ 360.200-360.220. You need to include your name, address, and phone number as well as information on what happened (date, office, name of person you interacted with, whatever you know). You need to file this complaint within 180 days of the incident.

        For legal help, call the nearest Legal Services office. See Appendix F for a list of Legal Services offices.

        Advocacy Reminders:

        • Advocates may need a release by the client to discuss a client’s case with a DTA worker, supervisor or Recipient Services. You can fax the release to Recipient Services, FAX 617-348-5668 or to the client’s local DTA office. A worker is authorized to discuss the case with you if you have sent a release to DTA.
        • An advocate may be able to talk to Recipient Services or the worker or supervisor without a release by setting up a three-way call with the client, DTA and the advocate.
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        SNAP Part VII -- Overissuances and Fraud

        Overissuances and fraud.
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        85. What if you are overpaid SNAP benefits?

        If you get more SNAP benefits than you are eligible for DTA can recover the “overissuance”, or overpayment. 106 C.M.R. § 367.490. An overpayment can happen because of a DTA mistake, your mistake, or because you got SNAP benefits while you were waiting for a hearing and you then lost the hearing. These mistakes are considered unintentional program violations (UPVs). 106 C.M.R. § 367.495. If DTA thinks the overpayment happened because of your mistake or because you committed fraud, it may refer your case to the Bureau of Special Investigations (BSI). 106 C.M.R. § 706.240.

        What is an intentional program violation? What is welfare fraud?

        An intentional program violation (IPV) or SNAP “fraud,” is purposely giving false or misleading information, hiding information in order to get benefits you are not eligible for, or not reporting a change that would reduce your benefits. See Question 87 (What must DTA do to establish an intentional program violation or SNAP fraud?). Other IPVs include selling your SNAP benefits for cash or selling your card on E-Bay or Craigslist, trading your card for  alcohol, tobacco, or other non-food items, using someone else’s EBT card for yourself and are not a member of their SNAP household. 106 C.M.R. § 367.525. These acts are also considered fraud. DTA has the authority to recover incorrectly issued SNAP as a result of an IPV and can impose penalties or sanctions on the household.

        How does DTA double check the information in my SNAP case?

        It is important to remember that DTA receives information through data matches, about SNAP recipients from a number of sources, including the Department of Revenue regarding income or a new job, the Internal Revenue Service about unreported unearned interest income, the Department of Social Services and Department of Youth Services regarding a child in custody, the Veterans Administration regarding receipt of federal veterans benefits, the Department of Corrections regarding incarcerated persons, etc. As a condition of receiving benefits, you are required to give DTA permission to check information about you.

        However, sometimes the information from these data matches is not up-to-date or accurate. Or, you appropriately reported the change when it happened (for example, you reported to DTA you got a job) but your DTA worker did not properly record it in the case record. Be sure to find out the source of information when DTA claims you are no longer eligible or have been overpaid. Also, remember to always report changes timely. See Question 71 (When do I have to report changes during a certification period?) for information about reporting changes.

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        86. How does DTA figure the amount of overpayment?

        For an overpayment that happened by mistake (unintentional program violation), DTA calculates the difference between what you got and what you should have gotten after allowing all applicable deductions and exclusions. 106 C.M.R. § 367.495(D). If you are no longer receiving benefits, DTA will not try to recover a UPV overpayment unless it is $125 or more. 106 C.M.R. § 364.870.

        For an overpayment that was due to purposely misleading DTA  (intentional program violation), DTA calculates the difference between what you got and what you should have gotten after allowing all applicable deductions and exclusions except for the earned income (20 percent) deduction. 106 C.M.R. § 367.500(A).

        For both intentional and unintentional program violations, the first month of an overpayment is the month the change would have been effective if it had been reported on time. 106 C.M.R. §§ 367.495(D), 367.500(A).

        DTA cannot claim any benefits issued more than six years before it became aware of the overpayment. 106 C.M.R. §§ 367.495, 367.500(A). DTA is supposed to establish the claim no later than the quarter after the quarter it discovered the overpayment. 7 C.F.R. § 273.18(d)(1).

        Example: Jane Smith is self-employed as a tax-preparer and is subject to change reporting. She gets her SNAP on the 8th of the month because her SSN ends in “5.” On March 7 she gets an unusually large payment from a client. She loses track of time and doesn’t report the change until March 20, more than ten days after the change. However, even if Jane had reported on or before March 17th, Jane was not overpaid in benefits for March because DTA would not have reduced her March benefits. Her April benefits would have been adjusted instead.

        Advocacy Reminders:

        • If you failed to report a change, but it would not have affected your SNAP benefits, then there is no overpayment (for example, if you failed to report a marriage to someone already in your household, or failed to report income considered non-countable).
        • There is no overpayment if you did not report a change that you were not required to report. For example, there is no overpayment if you were on semi-annual reporting and you did not report an increase in income, unless the increase put your household over the gross income limit. See Question 72 (What is interim or semi-annual reporting?).
        • Be sure to ask DTA for detailed information on how it calculated the amount of the overpayment. For example, DTA should not count cash assistance that was overpaid during the same period as the benefits and is subject to recovery by DTA or a court agreement. See an advocate if you disagree with DTA’s calculations.
        • If you will be unable to repay the overpayment within three years without financial hardship, DTA can “compromise” the claim and reduce it to an amount that you can pay off within three years. Although DTA’s regulations say that only unintentional program violations can be compromised, 106 C.M.R. § 367.495(F), federal regulations say that all overpayments, including intentional program violations, can be compromised. 7 C.F.R. § 273.18(3)(iv)(M). You should ask DTA to compromise your claim if you cannot pay it in full.
        Additional Policy Guidance on Overpayments:
        • Guidance permitting DTA to offset an underpayment (benefits owed to a household) by an established overpayment. Ops Memo 2011-54 (Nov 17, 2011).
        • No overpayment for changes not reported during semi-annual reporting period unless household exceeded gross income test. Transitions Hotline Q&A, p.4 (June 2006).
        • DTA guidance on overpayment referrals and recoveries. F.O. Memo 2006-24 (May 19, 2006).
        • No referral if failure to report a change is unintentional or agency error. Transitions Hotline Q&A (October 2005).
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        87. What must DTA do to establish an intentional program violation or SNAP fraud?

        DTA must give you written notice of the SNAP intentional program violation (IPV) penalties each time you apply. The notice must be in English, Spanish or other languages spoken by 100 or more households in the area served by the DTA office. 106 C.M.R. § 367.550. See Question 11 (What if I do not speak English or I am deaf?).

        To establish an IPV, DTA has to prove that you knew the SNAP rules and your responsibilities and that you purposely violated the rules. DTA must prove with “clear and convincing evidence” that you “willfully, knowingly and with deceitful intent committed an IPV.” 106 C.M.R. § 367.750. Simple mistakes and misunderstandings between you and your worker that result in an overpayment are not IPVs. In calculating the amount of the overpayment, DTA must give you all the deductions you would otherwise receive, with the exception of the 20% earned income deduction. 106 C.M.R. § 367.500(A).

        Be sure to contact an advocate if you are notified of an IPV or administrative disqualification hearing. An advocate can help you prepare your argument against the DTA’s finding of an IPV.

        You might consider arguing any of the following, if they are relevant to your situation, to help show that DTA did not meet its burden of proving that the household committed an IPV:

        • DTA failed to give written notice about reporting requirements in the household’s own language as required under DTA’s obligations to serve limited English proficient households;
        • the household tried to report a change to the DTA office but the DTA office failed to record the change or lost the documents;
        • DTA relied on information from its computer system and did not produce actual evidence of the overpayment;
        • the household shows a mental impairment which prevented them from willfully and knowingly acting to defraud DTA. A statement from a health provider, such as a psychologist, may be useful in showing that the individual did not act knowingly or willfully.
        Additional Policy Guidance on Intentional Violations:
        • Workers are instructed that a fraud referral is made only when a household "intentionally" fails to report a change and not when the household or DTA made an unintentional error causing the overpayment. Transitions Hotline Q&A (Oct. 2005).
        • DTA guidance on overpayment referrals and recoveries. F.O. Memo 2006-24 (May 19, 2006).
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        88. When can your benefits be stopped for an intentional program violation?

        If you are found guilty of an IPV by a court of law or by a welfare hearing officer or you waived your right to an IPV hearing or signed a consent agreement in court, you will not be eligible for benefits for yourself for

        • one year for the first violation,
        • two years for the second violation, and
        • permanently for the third violation. 106 C.M.R. § 367.800(A).

        The disqualification period starts the month following the date that the household received written notification of a hearing decision where the hearings officer made an IPV determination. 106 C.M.R. § 367.625. Even if the SNAP household is no longer in receipt of benefits at the point of the notification or during the disqualification, that is the start date of the 1 year disqualification (or 2 year for a second IPV). DTA cannot initiate a 12 month disqualification at some later date or suspend the disqualification until the household reapplies.

        The disqualification penalties are more severe for people found guilty, in  court, of trading SNAP benefits for drugs or firearms, trading more than $500 in benefits, or getting multiple benefits with a fake identity or address. 106 C.M.R. § 367.800(B), (C).

        DTA has to follow special notice and hearing rules if it has charged you with an IPV. Be sure to check the rules. 106 C.M.R. §§ 367.600-367.750.

        Advocacy Reminders:

        • DTA can stop SNAP benefits only for the person who committed the intentional program violation. The IPV disqualification does not affect children or other people who are in the same household with the person who committed the IPV. 106 C.M.R. § 367.800(F).
        • If you received SNAP in another state and you were found to have committed an IPV in that state, DTA can continue that disqualification in Massachusetts.  The length of the disqualification period starts with the date you were notified of the original IPV. DTA cannot start or extend a disqualification period in Massachusetts any longer than the original start date of disqualification based on the notice of IPV in the original state.  For example, of you were disqualified in Montana starting on January 2013, for 1 year, your disqualification ends January 2014 regardless of whether you stayed in Montana or moved.   
        Additional Policy Guidance on Sanctions
        • DTA issues guidance that it will access the USDA “e-DRS” or electronic disqualified recipient system to track individuals under IPV sanction in other states. Operations Memo 2013-39A (August 26, 2013). Households have the right to dispute the e-DRS finding and it should not affect other households members not disqualified (e.g. children).
        • Individuals in SNAP households subject to an IPV or other sanction should receive notice from DTA of when the sanction period ends and be re-evaluated for benefits with the rest of the household. Transitions FYI (Sept. 2005).
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        89. What should you do if you are told to go to a Bureau of Special Investigations (BSI) interview?

        If DTA thinks you were overpaid because of your mistake or because you committed fraud, it may refer your case to the Bureau of Special Investigations (BSI). 106 C.M.R. § 706.240. DTA may also refer applications to BSI if the worker thinks you are lying about something.

        BSI may tell you to come in for an interview. You do not have to go to the interview. Your benefits won’t stop just because you do not go to the interview. But if you don’t go, BSI may decide to send the case back to DTA to collect the overpayment or to prosecute you for welfare fraud.

        If you do go to a BSI interview, you have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can be used against you. Try to consult with an advocate before you say anything. It may be best to remain silent even if you have not done anything wrong. You do not have to give BSI names of people to talk to.

        Do not sign anything unless BSI has shown you how it figured the overpayment, you are sure that all the calculations are correct, and you agree with everything in the statement you are signing. Do not agree to a repayment schedule that you will not be able to keep or that will cause your family hardship. If you are unsure, consult an advocate first.

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        90. Can you go to jail? Will you have a criminal record?

        If BSI decides that you committed SNAP fraud and that the overpayment was not just a mistake, you can be prosecuted. 106 C.M.R. § 367.850. If you get notice of a criminal complaint, you should plead “not guilty” and ask the court to appoint a lawyer for you. Legal services programs do not represent people in criminal matters but they may help you and your lawyer figure out whether BSI has correctly computed what you owe.

        If you plead guilty or you are found guilty, you will probably not have to go to jail, but the criminal record may make it harder for you to get a job, get credit, or get housing. A criminal record may also cause immigration problems. You may have to pay back the money the court decides you owe. You can ask the court to let you pay back the money through public service. 7 C.F.R. § 273.18(g)(7). If the court finds that you committed an IPV, your benefits can be stopped. See Question 88 (When can your benefits be stopped for an intentional program violation?). 106 C.M.R. §§ 367.900, 367.925.

        Sometimes the court will delay a final decision as long as you pay back the money according to the schedule set by the court. This is called “continued without a finding.” Be careful not to agree to a repayment schedule you will not be able to keep. If you pay the money back or pay the claim through public service, you may be able to get the case dismissed so you don’t have a criminal record.

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        91. How can DTA collect an overpayment?

        If you are receiving SNAP benefits, DTA must collect the overpayment by reducing your benefits unless the claim is being collected at a higher amount some other way. 7 C.F.R. § 273.18(g)(1). See Question 92 (When can DTA cut your benefits to pay itself back?).

        If you are no longer receiving benefits, DTA will ask you to sign a repayment agreement and agree to pay a certain amount of money each month. If you do not agree to do this, DTA can refer your claim to the U.S. Treasury, which can reduce Social Security and most other federal benefits payable to you, attach federal wages, and intercept a federal tax refund. See 7 C.F.R. § 273.18(n). SSI, TAFDC, EAEDC and veterans’ benefits cannot be reduced to repay benefits.

        A criminal court can order you to pay back the SNAP benefits you received if it finds you committed fraud.

        In addition, DTA says it can collect by civil court action, intercepting your unemployment compensation, attaching your wages, or using other “reasonable” means. 106 C.M.R. § 367.510. Federal rules say that DTA can intercept your unemployment compensation only if you agree or if a court orders interception. 7 C.F.R. § 273.18(g)(6).

        If the full amount of the claim cannot be collected in three years without causing you financial hardship, DTA can compromise the claim by reducing it to an amount that can be collected in three years. 106 C.M.R. § 367.510.

        If the claim is for an unintentional program violation, DTA can suspend collection if your household is not receiving benefits and DTA determines that the cost of collection will be more than DTA is likely to recover. 106 C.M.R. § 367.495(H). For current recipients, DTA will not reduce the claim below the amount that could be collected by reducing your benefits. 106 C.M.R. § 367.510.

        Check with an advocate especially if DTA uses any means other than reducing current benefits to collect an overpayment. Also check with an advocate if collection will cause your family hardship. Do not agree to repayment terms that you will not be able to meet or that will cause your family hardship.

        Unless the amount of the claim was set at an intentional program violation hearing, you have a right to request a fair hearing. You have 90 days from date of the DTA action to request a fair hearing. See Question 79 (How much time do you have to ask for a fair hearing?). A fair hearing request should stop collection of the overpayment until the hearing officer makes a decision. 7 C.F.R. § 273.18(e)(6). Contact an advocate if DTA tries to collect the overpayment while your hearing request is pending.

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        92. When can DTA cut your benefits to pay itself back?

        DTA can cut your current SNAP benefits to recover benefits that you got by mistake or because you committed an intentional program violation. 106 C.M.R. § 367.510. This includes recovery of benefits that you got while you were waiting for a hearing decision and you lost the appeal. 106 C.M.R. § 367.275.

        To recover SNAP benefits, DTA can automatically reduce the amount of monthly benefits you get now. If the overpayment was because of a mistake (either yours or DTA’s), DTA can reduce your benefits by ten percent or $10, whichever is greater. 106 C.M.R. § 367.495(G). If the overpayment was because you committed an intentional program violation (IPV), DTA can reduce your benefits by 20 percent or $20, whichever is greater. 106 C.M.R. § 367.500(B)(2). Before reducing your benefits, DTA will send you a letter asking you to the pay the claim, and may try to get you to sign an agreement. You do not have to pay or sign an agreement to pay more than DTA could recover through automatic reduction (10% for mistakes, 20% for IPVs, or at least $10).

        See Question 78 (What are your rights if DTA will not give you benefits or reduces or stops your benefits?) on your right to request a hearing if DTA claims you were overpaid benefits.

        You have a right to advance notice and an opportunity for a hearing before your SNAP benefits are cut. 106 C.M.R. §§ 364.870, 364.880, 366.200.

        Note: DTA cannot take money for a SNAP overpayment out of your TAFDC or EAEDC. See M.G.L. c. 118, § 10, 7 C.F.R. § 273.18(g)(1)(v).

        Additional Policy Guidance on Overpayment Recovery: 

        • Guidance permitting DTA to offset an underpayment (benefits owed to a household) by an established overpayment. Ops Memo 2011-54 (Nov 17, 2011).
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        SNAP Appendices

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