2016 Food Stamp/ SNAP Advocacy Guide

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

By Patricia Baker and Victoria Negus, February 2016 Edition

An indispensable handbook for all who need to know about the Food Stamp/SNAP program in Massachusetts. The 2016 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 2016 Food Stamp/SNAP Guide has been updated to reflect significant changes in SNAP policy since January 2014. 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 state regulations and DTA procedural materials (Field Ops Memos, Hotline Q&As, DTA's new Online Guide, and federal USDA guidance).  Guide includes a SNAP calculation worksheet and 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

The Massachusetts Law Reform Institute (MLRI) is a statewide nonprofit poverty law and policy center. Our mission is to advance economic, racial, and social justice through legal action, policy advocacy, coalition building, and public information and to promote policies that meet the fundamental needs of traditionally underserved, low-income populations. We defend against policies and actions that harm and marginalize people living in poverty and 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 supporting MLRI’s trainings and publications. MLRI also wishes to acknowledge the foundations that have supported our anti-hunger work including: MAZON – A Jewish Response to Hunger, Eos Foundation, Wal-Mart Foundation, Tufts Health Plan Foundation. We also deeply appreciate the support and technical assistance from our national anti-hunger colleagues the Food Research Action Center (FRAC) and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP).

This 2016 edition of the SNAP Advocacy Guide was written and edited by Patricia Baker and Victoria Negus. Contributions to earlier editions from Deborah Harris, Laura Gallant, Rochelle Hahn as well as many of MLRI’s AmeriCorps volunteers and Emerson Congressional Hunger Fellows.

Twentieth Edition
January 2016

© 2016 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 were given the choice to call the name SNAP or use another name. Massachusetts uses the name SNAP.

Most grocery stores, supermarkets and co-ops in Massachusetts /SNAP accept 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. 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 first created the Food Stamp Program in 1964 to reduce hunger by increasing the food-buying power of low-income households.  In 2008, Congress renamed the program to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP.

SNAP benefits are widely considered the first line of defense against hunger. The federal government pays 100 percent of the cost of SNAP benefits and reimburses states roughly half of the administrative costs (DTA workers, computers, training, office costs). Massachusetts now brings home over $1.2 billion annually in 100% federal funded nutrition assistance to needy households in the Commonwealth. Nonetheless, based on of the state’s aggregate data of very low income MassHealth (Medicaid) recipients compared with the current individual SNAP recipients, Massachusetts still has a “SNAP gap” of roughly 500K to 700K MassHealth recipients likely eligible for SNAP.

Further, for every $1 in SNAP benefits, economists estimate that it triggers a $1.72 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. 

Overview of key SNAP policies at the federal level:

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) 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 (Public Law 111-5) 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.

The 2014 Farm Bill (Public Law 113-79) reauthorized the SNAP program but also made changes to certain state options, including requiring states to offer a higher fuel assistance benefit in order to qualify SNAP households for the “Heat and Eat” shelter cost option.  

For a concise description of the legislative history of the Food Stamp program and start of the EBT system, go to: http://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/short-history-snap

Overview of SNAP in Massachusetts:

The Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) has long administered the SNAP program for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Over the years, DTA has elected a number of federal options and federal waivers to increase SNAP participation, decrease administrative burdens and allow households to claim more income deductions to boost the SNAP benefits.  Some of these options – such as “categorical eligibility,” the standard medical expense deduction, “Heat and Eat” and Bay State CAP – are described in more detail in this Guide.

Between 2000 and 2004, Massachusetts had one of the worst food stamp participation rates (of eligible households) in the entire United States. Based on SNAP participation data calculated annually by Mathematica Policy Institute, Massachusetts was 51st in participation (including the District of Columbia). Over the next decade, the state’s SNAP participation rate substantially improved where MA ranked 10th in participation by 2010. The number of individual recipients increased from roughly 500,000 persons to almost 900,000 in 2012 at the height of the Great Recession. (The SNAP 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.)

During 2013, the Massachusetts Legislature made changes to the state’s EBT policies affecting both cash assistance and SNAP, including a law requiring DTA to place the photo of the head of household on the front of the EBT card. Advocates succeeded in getting language in the final law that exempts over two-thirds of SNAP and cash recipients from this requirement. Further, federal SNAP law prohibits grocers and retailers from discriminating against SNAP recipients by selectively inspecting SNAP EBT cards or prohibiting SNAP recipients from using self-check out lines like other customers. Federal SNAP law also requires states to ensure that all members of a SNAP household can use the EBT card to access benefits, whether or not their name or photo is on the card.

In 2014, DTA also implemented a number of “program integrity” policy changes affecting SNAP and cash assistance, including increased use of error-prone data matching and monitoring of EBT cash and SNAP purchases. DTA also implemented a “business process redesign” or modernization by moving from a “case-based” system where SNAP recipients were assigned individual workers to a “task-based” system where a “first available worker” is supposed to deal with the case. DTA jammed through modernization that triggered significant problems in 2014 and early 2015, including long wait times and disconnected calls on the centralized DTA Assistance Line, phone, chronic failure of DTA workers to find and act on documents sent to the Document Management Center, and widespread frustration for many low income clients.  Detailed information on these policy changes is included in sections of this Guide.

As a result of these hastily implemented changes, thousands of SNAP households were erroneously denied or terminated from benefits. Between April 2014 and April 2015, the SNAP caseload in MA decreased by 10.3% or 50,513 households. This compares with a national caseload decline of 0.8% during the same time period.  In April of 2015, the new Administration suspended a number of the harmful practices that triggered the rapid caseload decline, and thankfully has focused on improving the many problems with the data matching and newly modernized system. As of May of 2015, the MA SNAP caseload started to increase slowly confirmed by USDA monthly SNAP state participation reports.

Anti-hunger advocates are urged to closely monitor DTA’s new case handling as a result of the “modernized” system for handling SNAP cases, as well as monitor the state’s policies around photo EBT, data matching and other “program integrity” policies. The goal is to ensure that eligible low income households are not discouraged from applying or deterred from accessing their SNAP benefits.

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 USDA and any waivers or demonstration projects approved by USDA.

State:

DTA issues its own SNAP regulations. The DTA SNAP regulations are printed in Chapter 106 of the Code of Massachusetts Regulations (C.M.R.).

DTA policy guidance:

DTA issues a wide range of policy guidance that instruct DTA staff on how the SNAP and cash eligibility rules work, what to input into the computer system, when to send notices, and how to calculate benefits.

  • Until late 2014, most field instructions were contained in Field Operations Memos or Operations Memos (Ops Memos). We’ve posted all of DTA’s policy memos here: http://www.masslegalservices.org/library/directory/benefits/dta-policies-materials
  • In October of 2014, DTA began releasing policy updates through the DTA Online Guide. DTA posts the Online Guide on their website here: http://www.mass.gov/eohhs/gov/departments/dta/online-guide.html. The Online Guide is guidance for DTA workers including SNAP and cash eligibility rules, policy clarifications, BEACON systems instructions and more. DTA announces changes to the Online Guide via Online Guide (OLG) Transmittals.  
  • DTA also issues policy guidance and reminders to staff through emails called Operations Bulletins and a monthly Transitions Magazine that includes policy Hotline Q&As and other clarifications.

With the exception of the DTA Online Guide posted on DTA’s website, MLRI has posted all of DTA’s past Operations Memos, all current Online Transmittals and all current and past Hotline Q&As and Transitions Magazine newsletters here: http://www.masslegalservices.org/library/directory/benefits/dta-policies-materials

In most sections of this SNAP Advocacy Guide we included references to relevant DTA policy. For the DTA Online Guide, you will find the current path to the Online Guide because DTA has not created separate webpages or a numbering system for each section. It is possible DTA’s Online Guide format will change in the future. There is also a “search” function on the Online Guide you can use to find topics.

Stay informed, get involved!

The Massachusetts Law Reform Institute coordinates the Food SNAP Coalition. This is a coalition of anti-hunger agencies, health care and homelessness providers, faith-based organizations, community action programs, and legal services advocates as well as DTA state agency and USDA Regional representatives.  Formed in 2000, the Coalition meets regularly to discuss and strategize over state and federal SNAP, child nutrition and other anti-hunger policies that affect Massachusetts households. Coalition members advocate on behalf of low-income households to improve eligibility rules, remove barriers to access, and increase benefit amounts.

If you would like to receive email updates on SNAP and child nutrition program policy changes, announcements of Coalition meetings or trainings, as well as state and national legislative action alerts, contact:

To get legal advice and representation on your individual case, contact your local Legal Services office by going to: www.masslegalservices.org/findlegalaid.

Additional Food Stamp/SNAP Resources

The following national and state organizations and USDA provide a wealth of important information on the SNAP program history, policy and statistical data, as well as other nutrition programs. Many also provide email alerts and policy updates to community partners.  

Food Research Action Center: www.frac.org

Center for Budget and Policy Priorities: www.cbpp.org

Feeding America: www.feedingamerica.org

Project Bread’s On-line resource: http://www.gettingsnap.org/

USDA Food and Nutrition Service SNAP web page: http://http://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/

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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. You can:

  • Apply in person at a local DTA office.
  • File an on-line application. See Question 2.
  • Mail or fax a paper SNAP application, or
  • File a SNAP application through the local Social Security office (SSA) if you are applying for SSI. See Question 4.

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 no one should discourage you from filing a SNAP application.

To find the address of the DTA office near you or to get a paper application sent to you, call the DTA Assistance Line: 1-877-382-2363

You can also find the local DTA office address or print out a SNAP paper application through DTA’s SNAP web page: http://www.mass.gov/eohhs/gov/departments/dta/food-assistance.html.  

NO wrong door!

You can apply in person or hand-deliver a signed application to any local DTA office, no matter where you live. Each DTA office must accept your SNAP application. 106 C.M.R. § 361.130.  The DTA office should accept any forms or documents you drop off, review them for urgency and then ship them to the DTA Document Processing Center. See Question 14.

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

You have the right to file your application the same day you contact DTA. 106 C.M.R. § 361.130.  If you go in person, the local office must give you an application or “Request for Assistance” form you can sign and submit  the same day. 106 C.M.R. § 361.140.

Retroactive Benefits

If you are approved for SNAP within 30 days of your application, you will get benefits back to the date DTA first received the signed application. 106 C.M.R. § 361.080. You can submit an incomplete application to DTA as long as it has your name, address, signature and date. You can give the rest of the information later. 106 C.M.R. §§ 361.100, 361.130.  If you get your proofs in after Day 30, see Question 18.

Advocacy Reminders:

  • Don’t delay filing a SNAP application just because you don’t have all the information DTA is asking for.
  • Avoid sending original documents to DTA if possible. It’s best to fax or send copies of documents to the DTA Document Management Center.  
  • To check on the status of your application, set up a My Account Page or call the DTA Assistance Line at 1-877-382-2363. See Question 27

DTA Policy Guidance:

DTA Online Guide: SNAP > Application Processing >  

Additional Guidance:

  • Start date for application is when received by EDMC and not date worker reviews application. Transitions May 2015, Quality Corner, Pg.3 
  • SNAP paper applications now available in 12 languages plus English. OLG Transmittal #2015-21 (April 16, 2015)
  • Application with applicant’s name, address, signature sufficient to start the SNAP application process. Ops Memo 2011-51
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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. The online or “web application” is also in Spanish and Portuguese.  

Filling out and signing a web application

A web application is an electronic application for SNAP. You can apply from your home, library or wherever you have access to a computer.  However, it is very difficult to file a SNAP application through Virtual Gateway with a smart phone because it is not “mobile friendly.”

Your electronic signature is your agreement that the information you provide to DTA is truthful and accurate, you will report changes when required, and you understand your rights and responsibilities to follow the rules. During the phone interview, a SNAP worker should go over these rights and responsibilities. See Question 9.

Since the web application does not have a field that asks for the amount of your shelter or child care costs, we recommend you mail or fax DTA a hand-written statement (signed and dated) telling DTA much you pay in shelter and child care costs. See Question 74 and Question 72.

DTA Policy Guidance:

DTA Online Guide:  SNAP > Application Processing > Web Application >

Additional Guidance:

  • SNAP Web Application information automatically goes into DTA computer case file. Notice to client for interview time and date automatically mailed to applicant. OLG Transmittal #2015-47 (Oct 2, 2015)
  • Upgrades to Virtual Gateway to allow for “minimal” SNAP application, allow applicant to flag expedited situations and noncitizens to opt out of SNAP applicant household. Ops Memo 2011-51 (Oct 24, 2011)
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03. What happens next after I apply?

Signing a SNAP application is only the first step!

You still need an interview with a DTA worker and send in proofs. It can take about 2 business days for your application to get into DTA’s BEACON computer system.  After you apply, you should hear from DTA by phone or letter about an interview (see Question 9) and proofs you need to send (See Question 11)

To get a phone interview, be sure to list a phone number on the SNAP application where DTA can reach you or reach a member of your family. Don’t list a number that only takes voice messages or if your cell phone has run out of minutes. If DTA cannot reach you, they should send you a letter with a date and time for a phone interview. If you miss the DTA call or you need help sooner, call the DTA Assistance Line at 1-877-382-2363. 

If your identity is verified, DTA should send you a plastic EBT card and PIN in the U.S. mail. These will be mailed to you in separate envelopes, and can take between 5-10 days to arrive in the mail. Your EBT card will not have any benefits on it until DTA approves your SNAP case. See Question 80 on how to access your EBT benefits.

Policy Guidance:

DTA Online Guide: SNAP > Application Processing > SNAP Application Processing > Issuing An EBT Card

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

If you are applying for or receiving regular Social Security benefits, federal and state SNAP law 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. 106 C.M.R.§ 361.190.  

If you are applying for or receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, federal and state SNAP law requires SSA to take your SNAP application and send it to the local SNAP state agency (e.g. DTA). SSA is supposed to do this for single SSI clients or where everyone in the household receives or is applying for SSI. 7 U.S.C. § 2020(I)(1). See also 106 C.M.R.§§ 361.190, 366.920.  This can be a regular SNAP application or through the Bay State CAP program. See Question 5.

Advocacy Reminders:

  • 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 20.
  • SSA District Office Claims Representatives do not consistently offer SNAP applications to Social Security and SSI clients. 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.  
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05. What is Bay State CAP for SSI recipients?

Massachusetts has a special SNAP program where many SSI applicants and recipients can apply for SNAP through their Social Security office. This is called “Bay State CAP.” CAP stands for the “Combined Application Project” to allow SSI applicants or recipients to apply for SNAP at the same time or a “combined” application. 106 C.M.R. §366.910

If you meet the criteria for Bay State CAP, you do not file an application with DTA, have an interview nor give DTA any proof. DTA uses the information SSA has gathered to establish your benefits and send you an EBT card. You report changes directly to SSA (for example if you move or you start to work).  SSA will automatically tell DTA about the changes. Under Bay State CAP, your benefits are certified/approved for 36 months.

To qualify for Bay State CAP, you must meet the criteria below:

  1. you are an SSI recipient and SSA is reviewing your SSI case, or you are an SSI applicant and SSA is likely to approve or reopen your SSI case within 30 days of your application, 
  2. you are 18 or older and unmarried (or not living with a spouse),
  3. you live alone, or live with others but purchase and prepare your own food separate from the others,
  4. you do not have regular earned income, and
  5. the SSI benefits you receive are federally-funded (if you get only a small SSI supplement on top of Social Security or other unearned income, you are likely getting state-funded SSI supplement and would not be Bay State CAP eligible).

When you contact SSA, the SSA Claims Representative is supposed to ask you the following questions:

  • Do you wish to participate in SNAP?
  • Do you purchase and prepare meals separately from others?
  • Are your housing expenses equal to or greater than $453/month?

106 C.M.R. §366.910 (B)(3)-(5). SSA will electronically send your eligibility information through the State Data Exchange (SDX) to DTA. When it is time to recertify for Bay State CAP (after 36 months of SNAP) DTA will send you a simple Bay State CAP recertification form to fill out and send back.

Advocacy Reminders:

  • Bay State CAP recipients often receive the same benefit amount as regular SNAP benefits or even higher. In some cases you may get more through regular SNAP if you have rent or home ownership costs above $453/month or unreimbursed medical expenses. You have a right to switch from Bay State CAP to regular SNAP any time you would get more benefits. 106 C.M.R. §366.910 (H)(2).
  • If SSA says your SSI application will take more than 30 days to process (unless you are elderly or presumptively disabled), it may be faster to apply for regular SNAP benefits through DTA.
  • Situations where SSA is likely to approve or reopen your SSI case within 30 days include if you are age 65 and older with few assets; you are reapplying for SSI after discharge from a hospital, rehab facility; prison or other institution, or you meet the SSI presumptive disability rules. 45 C.F.R. § 416.931

Policy Guidance:

DTA Online Guide: SNAP > Bay State CAP Policy and Procedures

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 applications for SSI recipients including MA Bay State CAP protocol. SSI Policy Operations Manual, SI BOS01801.302;  accessed December 2015:  https://secure.ssa.gov/poms.nsf/lnx/0501801302BOS

Additional Guidance:  

  • DTA conversion of 16,000 SSI-SNAP households back to the Bay State CAP program. OLG Transmittal #2015-58 (Nov. 23, 2015)
  • DTA re-creates special Bay State CAP SNAP unit to handle Bay State CAP case maintenance and reinstatements. OLG Transmittal #2015-51 (Oct 2, 2015)
  • SSI recipients who receive small amount of state-only SSI supplement but no federal SSI benefit are not Bay State CAP eligible because SSA does not process the SSI state-only supplement. Ops Memo 2012-23 (May 18, 2012)
  • DTA should not close Bay State CAP case if SSI case is closed for less than 30 days (e.g. short term institutionalization).  F.O. Memo 2007-23.
  • Initial 2005 roll-out of Bay State CAP pilot in Massachusetts including DTA worker instructions, client brochures and notices, the one-page application form for regular SNAP application and DTA outreach to SSI recipients. F.O. Memos # 2005-4, 2005-18, 2005-50, and 2005-53
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06. Can I register to vote when I apply for SNAP?

YES!  Whenever you apply or recertify for SNAP or cash assistance, the 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 who are over age 17 and U.S. citizens if they wish to register to vote for any federal elections. 42 U.S. Code § 1973gg–5

If you apply in person, you can get a Voter Registration Form at the local DTA office. DTA must accept and send the completed form to your city or town election office. If you apply for SNAP online or you mail in a paper application – and you check off that you wish to register to vote – DTA should mail back a voter registration form for you to sign

Voter registration is optional. DTA will not deny or close your SNAP case if you choose not to complete a voter registration form.

DTA must mail any voter registration forms they receive to local city or town election officials within 5 days after they are received. You can also register to vote online if you have a current MA state ID or driver license, or get a form mailed to you from the Secretary of State. To find that information, go to the Massachusetts Secretary of State’s Register to Vote web site: http://www.sec.state.ma.us/ele/eleifv/howreg.htm

DTA Policy Guidance:

DTA Online Guide:  Cross Programs > Voter Registration > Overview and Administrative Responsibilities > Voter Registration Overview

Additional Guidance:

  • Homeless can register to vote and identify location using a map on Sec. of State webpage if they do not have “conventional” address. OLG Transmittal #2015-66
  • Voter registration procedures revised under agreement with MA Secretary of State settlement in Delgado v Galvin. OLG Transmittal #2015-28 (June 26, 2015)
  • In compliance with National Voter Registration Act, local DTA offices are required to provide voter registration help including Massachusetts Official Voter Registration Form and/or Declination Form. Ops Memo 2012-36, (July 30, 2012)
  • Each DTA office is required to count and record the number of Voter Registration forms received monthly, and mail the forms to local election officials within 5 days of receipt. Ops Memo 2012-34A (Oct. 25, 2012).
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07. Can someone else apply for me?

Yes! 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 a phone interview with you - with your permission. 

You should sign the SNAP application and participate in the interview – unless you designate someone 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. 

Choosing an “authorized representative”

An Authorized Representative is someone you choose to act on your behalf and manage your SNAP benefits, a concept very similar to a “representative payee” for SSI or Social Security benefits. But the Authorized Representative does not need to have legal guardianship or any court appointment.  

You can choose a family member, friend or other third party to become the authorized representative. You can ask this person to:

  • sign the SNAP application on your behalf, receive DTA notices, report changes and talk about your case with DTA, and/or
  • receive a second EBT card to shop for you with your SNAP benefits.

You will need to sign a DTA form, Request to Choose Someone to Be My Authorized Representative. See Appendix C for a copy of this form.

You can decide what role this person should have.  Be sure to choose someone you trust. If this person gives DTA wrong income or other eligibility information and you get too many benefits, you might have to pay back what you were overpaid.  106 C.M.R. §§ 361.300, 361.310.   

Keeping access to your EBT card

You do not lose access to your EBT card if you choose an authorized representative. DTA can issue two EBT cards—one for you and one for your authorized representative. 106 C.M.R. §§ 361.300-361.370. Authorized representatives are not required to have a photo EBT card. See Question 29.

Giving someone permission to talk with DTA

Family members, friends, social services agencies often help people fill out SNAP applications, fax proofs to DTA or call DTA to get a SNAP case opened. This is not the same as appointing an “authorized representative” who signs your application instead of you, gets DTA notices and/or gets a second EBT card to help you food shop.  

If you want to give permission to a social service agency, family member or trusted friend to contact DTA to find out what’s going on with your SNAP case, you should sign a written consent to release information to the agency or third party. Appendix C has a sample Client Consent Allowing DTA to Release Information to a Helping Agency, or you can send a handwritten note (signed and dated) with the same information.

Advocacy Reminders:

  • DTA cannot force you to have an authorized representative if you do not want one. It is your choice. You can also tell DTA at any time that you want to remove this person as your helper.

DTA Policy Guidance:

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08. How do I apply if I live in a group home, substance abuse or teen program?

Group home residents

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).

Many group homes are also Authorized Representatives where the group home manager files a SNAP application for each residents and/or the group home receives the EBT card. Other group homes let the residents apply but have point of sale (POS) devices – similar to grocery stores – to swipe the EBT card of each resident monthly.  

Under SNAP rules, you cannot be forced to designate the group home your authorized representative to apply for you or forced to turn over your EBT card – unless the group home makes an individualized determination that you cannot manage your benefits due to your disabilities. 106 C.M.R. 365.620(A).  See Question 37 for eligibility in group homes and your rights under SNAP.  

Residents of other substance abuse 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.  Even if you apply for SNAP, the rules say the recipient must transfer their EBT benefits to the treatment program for food purchases while you are staying there. The program should not keep your SNAP benefits, however, after you are discharged.

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 should not take your EBT card unless you voluntarily appoint them as your authorized representative.

Residents of teen living programs

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).

DTA Policy Guidance:

DTA Online Guide: Group Homes:  SNAP > Expenses and Deductions >  Household Expenses >  Group Homes > Group Homes and TAFDC >  Program Nonfinancial Requirements  > Teen Parents > Teen Parenting Program

Additional Guidance:  

  • DTA has created and recently updated a special Authorized Representative Form for group homes, available at www.mass.gov/DTA/snap
  • 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 2014-29, pg. 2 (June 11, 2014)
  • 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. Memos 2009-10, Q. 4, 2004-41 and 2004-15.
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09. Does DTA have to interview me?

DTA is required to interview all applicants for SNAP benefits, 106 C.M.R. § 361.500, except for SSI Bay State CAP households. The SNAP interview is usually conducted by phone.   

Scheduling the interview

A DTA worker should try to call you within two (2) business days of when DTA received your SNAP application to screen you for emergency benefits and schedule an interview. See Question 20.  If you miss a phone call and want to get in touch with a worker at DTA for an interview, call the DTA Assistance Line at 1-877-382-2363. 

If DTA has not reached you within 2 days, DTA should send a written notice with a date and time when a DTA worker will call. This scheduled interview should take place within seven (7) days of your application so that DTA can screen you for expedited (emergency) benefits.  

Can I be scheduled for an in-office interview?

If you do not have a phone, DTA will schedule an in-person interview at the local office. But you can always call the DTA Assistance Line any time and ask for the interview, using the phone of a helping agency or friend.

You will need to go to the DTA office for an in-person interview if you are applying for TAFDC or EAEDC cash assistance benefits, unless you request and qualify for an accommodation (see Question 24). If you are disabled and need a home visit, DTA also has the authority to make an accommodation to send someone to your home. See Question 23.

If you are scheduled for an in-office interview solely because DTA says you need a photo EBT card, that is incorrect. See Question 29

If you do have an interview in a local DTA, the DTA worker must conduct the interview in a private setting and not in the waiting room where others can hear you. Your personal information must be kept private and not shared unless you give written permission. 106 C.M.R. §§ 361.550, 360.300.

What happens during the interview?

The role of the DTA worker during the interview is to:

  • Confirm the information you gave on your application and   information DTA gets through government data bases.
  • Screen you for expedited (emergency) benefits that can be issued within 7 days if you are eligible. See Question 20.
  • Review the documents you sent in and tell you what proofs or verifications they need and by what date.
  • Review the SNAP time limit and work requirements if you are a childless individual (ABAWD) subject to the time limit or work requirements. See Question 55 and Question 56.
  • Tell you how long your benefits are certified for and when you need to report changes to DTA.
  • Answer any questions you have and offer to help if you need help getting verifications or contacting a third party for information.
  • Explain your rights and responsibilities, as well as the penalties for committing fraud or for other program rules.

What happens after the interview?

You should receive a DTA letter with a Verification Checklist if there are proofs DTA needs. See Question 7.  If no proofs are missing, DTA should quickly approve your case if you are eligible.

Advocacy Reminders:

  • You can call DTA any time after submitting your SNAP application for an interview. It is best to wait at least 2 business days to be sure it is in their computer system. Call 1-877-382-2363 and follow the prompts to get an interview with a DTA worker.
  • Before or during the interview, the DTA worker should review the documents you sent in with your application. If the DTA worker claims there are not documents that you know you sent or asks you to send in documents you sent before, see Question 26.

DTA Policy Guidance:

DTA Online Guide Sections: General Application Interview: SNAP > Application Processing > SNAP Application Processing > The Application Interview, and  Business Process (BP) > Procedures (BP) > Processing Procedures >, and  > Application Processing > SNAP Application Processing > Expedited Benefits

Additional Guidance:

  • 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. F.O. Memo #2011-38 (Aug. 3, 2011)
  • If no phone number for client is listed on application, DTA will schedule in-office interview. Transitions Hotline Q&A (Sept. 2006). 
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10. What happens if I miss the interview?

If you miss a scheduled interview, DTA is required to send you a written notice called a “Notice of Missed Interview” (DTA may call it a “NOMI”). The DTA notice must say that you have the right to another interview. 106 C.M.R. §§ 361.500, 361.540.  

You do not need to a show good cause for missing the interview. Simply call 1-877-382-2363 and follow the prompts for an interview.

If you do not have an interview within 30 days of when you applied, your SNAP application will be denied. 106 C.M.R. § 361.700(B)(1). You still have the right to reapply for benefits. The denied application will not be held against you, but the start date of your benefits will be the date you reapply.  

Advocacy Reminders:

  • DTA cannot deny your SNAP application if they failed to contact you, failed to send you a notice of initial interview and/or failed to send a notice of missed interview (NOMI). Contact the Assistance Line and ask to speak with a supervisor or contact an advocate. You can also file an appeal to get retroactive benefits. See Question 94.

DTA Policy Guidance:

DTA Online Guide: SNAP > Application Processing > SNAP Application Processing > The Application Interview, and Business Process (BP) > Procedures (BP) > Processing Procedures > Completing Scheduled SNAP Telephone Appointments

Additional Guidance:

  • SNAP interview appointments should be scheduled “timely,” BEACON should automatically mail NOMI to household when worker checks that client missed interview call. OLG Transmittal #2015-17 (April 17, 2015).
  • DTA must send notice of missed interview (NOMI) if applicant misses an in-office or phone interview; no need for applicant to establish “good cause” to get rescheduled interview. DTA workers instructed to contact the helping agency listed on application if unable to reach client. Transitions Hotline Q&A, (March 2011) and F.O. Memo 2007-16 (March 15, 2007)
  • If DTA denies the SNAP application but failed to send a NOMI, this is considered an invalid case action and a “negative QC case error”. DTA Transitions, Quality Corner (see both July 2011 and September 2011
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11. What proofs does DTA need and when?

When you sign a SNAP application, you are agreeing that everything stated on the application and other information you provide is “true under the pains and penalties of perjury.” 

The SNAP rules also require that you provide proof of certain mandatory eligibility factors, including:

  • Identify
  • Residence in Massachusetts
  • Earned and unearned income
  • Immigrant status if not a U.S. citizen
  • Disability (to waive the shelter cap, claim medicals)

During the interview, the DTA worker should verbally tell you what proofs are required and ask if you need help getting them. 106 C.M.R.§§ 361.550. DTA should them send you a verification checklist (often called “VC-1”) and give you at least 10 days from the date the verifications checklist was sent for you to get the mandatory proofs back to them.

DTA must give you a full 30 days from the day you applied before they send a denial notice for missing proofs or failure to have an interview. If you had an interview but some mandatory proofs are still missing by day 30, DTA will send you a pending denial notice. 106 C.M.R. § 361.930.  See Question 18 if your proofs get in late.

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. 

Range of proofs you can provide

The following are examples of mandatory proofs depending on what DTA needs:    

■    Identity of the head of household:  Documents with your name on it such as wage stubs, a state ID or driver’s license, school records, a health care card. You are not limited to a birth certificate or photo ID.

Only the head of household must verify identity and DTA can verify everyone else through a data check with SSA using the name, date of birth and SSN of each member. 106 C.M.R. § 361.610(G).

■    Massachusetts’ residence: Documents with both your name and current address such as a wage stub, utility bill, bank statement, MA state ID or driver’s license with current address; or your lease, rent receipt or other document that shows where you live. 106 C.M.R.§ 361.610(H). DTA cannot require a landlord statement if you have other proof of residence. DTA should also be able to confirm your residence through the Registry of Motor Vehicles if you have a MA state ID or driver’s license with your current address.

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.  If you moved after you applied or approved for SNAP, see Question 13.

■    Current earnings:  This can be copies of your wage stubs (usually the last four weeks, unless you just started working) 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” (aka Equifax) for employee information, DTA can also get your current earnings from that source.  You should not have to also give them wage stubs.

■    Last day of work:  If you left a job 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. DTA may ask for proof if they decide the information you gave on your application or during the interview is considered questionable. See 106 C.M.R. § 362.340 (F).

You should not be asked for proof if the last date you worked was more than 60 days before your application, or if you meet an exemption from the job registration rule. See Questions 52.

■    Unearned income: If you receive SSI or Social Security (sometimes called RSDI), DTA can confirm this directly through the Social Security Administration (SSA). If you receive Unemployment Insurance, DTA should verify this directly with the Division of Unemployment Assistance (DUA). You should not be asked for a letter from SSA about your SSI, RSDI or from DUA about your Unemployment.

If you have other unearned income such as a pension, DTA may ask you for a statement on your retirement or disability pension, or proof of alimony or child support paid directly to you. 106 C.M.R. § 363.210(G)(2).  If you have trouble getting that information, ask DTA to help you. 

■    Self-employment: DTA needs copies of any tax returns or business records that show the profit earned on self-employment and your business expenses. 106 C.M.R. § 365.940. If you have not filed tax returns, other documents that reasonably prove your income should be accepted.

Try to verify all your business expenses to reduce countable income.  See Question 63.  If you get money from renting out a room or apartment in your home or other property, see Question 65.

■    Lack of income: Your self-declaration on the SNAP application that you have no income should be accepted. 106 C.M.R. 363.210 (A). If DTA has a good reason to believe you may be hiding income, they can ask you for additional information to understand how you are managing. 106 C.M.R. 363.210(E)

Situations where DTA may suspect unreported income include if the shelter costs you claim are much higher than your income and you give no explanation how you are managing.  However, if you owe back rent, are borrowing money from family or friends or running up a credit card, that information should be adequate without further proofs.   

■    Disability:  You only need to prove disability if you are under age 60 and your disability will help you claim higher shelter costs or medical expenses. You need to show DTA you receive a disability-based benefit if you do not get SSI or EAEDC. See Question 35.

■    Assets: Very few SNAP households are subject to the asset test. If you need to, DTA will ask for proof of money in the bank, stocks and bonds, real estate, etc. 106 C.M.R. § 361.610(E). See Question 58.

■    Immigration status: Required for household members who are not U.S. citizens and are applying for SNAP for themselves. 106 C.M.R. § 361.610(B). See Question 44 for details on proofs required.

■    Other proofs when DTA determines that information you gave is “questionable.” 106 C.M.R. § 361.620. See Question 17.  

Information you can self-declare:

The SNAP rules allow you to declare certain information, unless DTA determines the information is questionable. You can self-declare:

  • Your household living situation (that you purchase and prepare food separately from others)
  • U.S. citizenship of any household member,
  • Your age or date of birth,
  • Your shelter expenses (rent, homeownership, utility costs),
  • Child care or adult dependent care expenses.

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

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, an interim report or any separate statement you sign and date. 

Advocacy Reminders:

  • Proof of U.S. citizenship is not required unless DTA determines that your status is “questionable.” 106 C.M.R. § 362.210(A).  See Question 17.
  • DTA should not ask for permanent verifications (verifications that never change) you have already given them, such as a license or birth certificate.
  • 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/  Large employers like Dunkin Donuts, Home Depot and other businesses use this service. If your employer uses The Work Number, DTA can access this data for current wage information.  If not, DTA can still help you get information from your employer using a Request for Employment Information form, see Appendix CIf there is a missing wage stub but your pay stubs show year-to-date gross income, DTA can often figure out the missing gross income from other pay stubs. 
  • SNAP rules require DTA to accept documentation that is reasonably available for verification. 106 C.M.R. § 361.610(A): “If all attempts to verify the gross countable income are unsuccessful because a third party has failed to cooperate, the case manager shall determine the household’s gross countable monthly income based on the best available information.”
  • DTA can also accept a reasonable explanation from the household regarding any discrepant information. See 2008 FNS guidance http://www.fns.usda.gov/sites/default/files/111308.pdf

DTA Policy Guidance:

DTA Online Guide: SNAP > SNAP Verifications > SNAP Verifications Overview and The Verifications Checklist and  Business Process (BP) > Procedures (BP) > Front Office Procedures > Determining Document Urgency

Additional Guidance:

  • Extensive and still current DTA guidance 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).
  • Local DTA office staff must review documents hand-delivered to DTA and assign an “urgent” or “non-urgent” status.  Urgent documents (e.g. for expedited) must be processed by first available worker before sending them to EDMC, non-urgent documents batched and sent by local DTA to the EDMC. OLG Transmittal #2015-16 (May 1, 2015)
  • DTA workers should not ask client to resubmit permanent verifications unless information is questionable, detailed discussion on how workers should avoid “over verification.” Transitions FYI, March/April 2015
  • RMV data can verify MA residency if address provided by client matches address on RMV database. Ops Memo 2014-39 (June 11, 2015), OLG Transmittal #2015-35 (Aug 7, 2015).  
  • MA residency must be verified but worker can accept range of proofs including those used for identity, utilities, shelter. No specific verification can be imposed. (Hotline Q&A, August 2014)
  • Proof of U.S. citizenship is not required unless questionable. Ops Bulletin 2015-13 (Oct. 15, 2015)
  • Detailed guidance on handling cases with “voided” Puerto Rican birth certificates. F.O. Memo 2010-49 (Nov. 1, 2010)
  • Employment information available through The Work Number (Equifax) can be used verify earned income for clients whose employers using this service. Ops Memo 2013-33 (July 19, 2013)
  • Instructions to workers on how to get Unemployment Insurance benefits information through DUA’s “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)
  • SSN card never needed to verify SSN under any circumstances; SSN is verified through a match with SSA. Transitions Hotline Q&A (July 2003). 
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12. What proofs do I need to claim living expenses?

DTA needs certain information about your expenses to calculate the amount of your benefits.  Some of this information can be self-declare and other information needs proofs. These are considered optional verifications. If you do not provide information or required proofs for the expenses, DTA cannot deny your benefits – but the SNAP amount will be calculated without these deductions. 106 C.M.R. § 364.450(B).

■    Shelter costs – can be self-declared. You do not need to verify shelter costs. Be sure to write down the amount of your shelter costs on the paper SNAP application or a separate piece of paper you signed and dated. 106 C.M.R. §§ 361.610(K).  A sample declaration form is in Appendix C.

If your shelter costs appear questionable, DTA may ask for a rent receipt, canceled check, money order, copy of a lease, proof of home ownership or statement from your landlord or tenant you share expenses with.  See Question 74 on how DTA calculates shelter costs. If you have rental income from your property, see Question 65.

■    Child care or adult dependent care costs – can be self-declared. You do not need to verify child care costs, Be sure to tell DTA what you pay on the SNAP application or on a separate piece of paper. A sample declaration form is in Appendix C.

Dependent care includes what you pay for day care, after-school programs, summer programs as well as transportation to and from the child 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 72 for more about dependent care costs.

If your dependent care costs appear questionable, DTA may ask for proof such as a statement from your caregiver, canceled checks or other documents showing what you pay.

■    Medical expenses – proofs required. If you are disabled or elderly (age 60 or older), you can claim unreimbursed medical expenses. 106 C.M.R. § 361.610(D).  See Question 70 for a detailed list of medical expenses and acceptable proofs, and Appendix C for a MLRI flier and sample screening forms.

■    Child support paid to children outside the household – proofs required.  You will need to show two things: 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 71.

DTA Policy Guidance:

DTA Online Guide: SNAP > Expenses and Deductions > Introduction > Expenses/Deductions Introduction

Additional Guidance:  

  • 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 (March 15, 2007
  • Child support obligation can often be verified though the Department of Revenue as well as canceled check, wage garnishment or UI withholding statements. Transitions Hotline Q&A (May 2008)  
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13. If I move, how do I report my new address?

It’s important to keep DTA informed of any address changes so you don’t miss important notices. And if your rent goes up, you may get more SNAP.

You can report an address change to DTA by:

  1. Calling the DTA Assistance Line at 877-382-2363.  Follow the prompts to report your address change (You don’t have to talk to a live DTA worker).
  2. Verbally reporting the change to a DTA worker. OR
  3. Sending DTA your new address by fax or mail. Be sure to write down what your new rent amount is, and if you have heat, AC or other utilities separate from rent. See Question 74.

Depending on your case and your reporting requirements, when you report a change of address DTA may send you a letter asking for verification of the address and if anything else changed in your household. If your SNAP case is on Interim or Simplified Reporting, see Question 89. You should not be told that you have to verify your new address or verify any other changes.

Federal SNAP regulations require households to “reside” in a state but do not require households have an “address” in a state. 7 CFR §273.2(f).  The SNAP regulations suggest a physical address must be provided where possible, 106 CMR §362.110, and only require verification of residency. 106 C.M.R. §362.120.  If you are still a MA resident and you tell DTA about a new MA address, you should not have to reprove your residency.

If your rent increases when you move it is worth telling DTA because your SNAP may go up. Also, if other things change in your household (who you live with, what income there is, etc) you may have to tell DTA. Again, it depends on your case and your reporting requirements. See Question 89.

DTA’s returned mail policy

On most DTA mail, DTA instructs the U.S. Post Office not to forward mail to the recipient’s new address. This means DTA letters may get returned back to DTA with your new address or “undeliverable.” If DTA has your new or “forwarding” address, they will send you another letter asking for proof of your new address. If they don’t hear back, DTA may take steps to close your SNAP case if they do not know where you are living.

Sometimes recipients get notices they have moved, when actually the US Post office made a mistake and the individual has not moved. And sometimes DTA makes mistakes if you told them you have moved, but they failed to update your address in their computer system. If your SNAP is delayed or stopped because DTA says they do not know where they are living and they want verification of your address, contact an advocate.

Returned mail and simplified reporting cases

If you are approved for “simplified” or interim reporting, DTA should not close your case if they get returned mail midway through your reporting period.  You are required to report and verify address changes at your next interim report or recertification.  

Important: If you do move and you do not tell DTA know your new address, you risk not receiving the required Recertification or Interim Reporting Forms.  See Question 89 for more information about interim or “simplified” reporting.

DTA Policy Guidance

DTA Online Guide: Cross Programs > Request for Assistance (RFA) > Address (RFA)

Additional Guidance:

  • DTA can verify MA residency if the address you give them matches the address on file with the Registry of Motor Vehicles. Ops Memo 2014-15 (Feb. 13, 2014)
  • If mail returned as undeliverable to DTA, DTA will request verification of new address from household unless case is on Simplified Reporting. Automatic case closings if verification not returned.  Ops Memo 2013-13A (March 28, 2013) 
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14. How do I submit proofs to DTA’s Electronic Document Center?

DTA now has one document processing unit known as the Electronic Document Management Center or EDMC. All documents sent to DTA are scanned electronically and uploaded into your DTA case at the EDMC.  DTA clerical workers identify the documents and link them to your case file. This new process eliminates all paper files. Note, the EDMC does not make decisions about your eligibility.

You can send your documents to DTA three ways:

  • FAX documents to DTA at 617-887-8765
  • MAIL documents to DTA at:

Department of Transitional Assistance
EDMC
P.O. Box 4406, Taunton, MA 02780-0420

  • Hand deliver documents to a local DTA office:  

For the address of a local DTA office, call the DTA Assistance Line or go to: http://webapps.ehs.state.ma.us/DTAOffices/default.aspx

Advocacy Reminders:

  • You have a right to drop off documents at any DTA office. 106 C.M.R. § 361.650.  DTA staff should to review the documents to see if any are urgent and need to be dealt with right away. If not urgent, DTA should forward documents to the Electronic Document Processing center on your behalf.  You don’t need to wait for a DTA worker to review the documents if you only want to drop them off.
  • DTA has special pre-stamped envelopes with the DTA EDMC address. Ask for one if you want to send future documents by mail.
  • Don’t send original documents. Keep copies of anything you mail in or ask DTA to send back your copies. DTA will shred all documents that are not considered “permanent” (such as birth certificates) unless you ask for them back.
  • Keep track of the date you sent DTA the documents by mail or a copy of the fax confirmation cover page, in case documents get lost.
  • Write on each page of the documents your name and your DTA “Agency ID” (if you know it) or the last 4 digits of your SSN. That will help the EDMC match the documents with your SNAP file.
  • If you are faxing a double-sided document, don’t forget to fax the information on the reverse side! Documents printed on grey or color paper do not fax well, the information may be hard to read.

DTA Policy Guidance:

DTA Online Guide: Business Process (BP) > Procedures (BP) > Front Office Procedures > Preparing Documents for Transport to the EDMC  and > Processing Procedures > Linking Scanned Documents to Verification

Additional Guidance: Multiple Operations Memos describing roll out of Electronic Document Management in 2013/14 including: Ops Memos 2014-03, 2014- 26, 2014-22 and 2013-61. Note that DTA’s procedures for receiving, indexing and processing client documents have changed over time.

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15. How do I reach a live DTA worker about my SNAP case?

In October of 2014, DTA changed from a case system to a task-based system for all SNAP cases. All SNAP applications, interviews and case processing is done by random “first available workers” or FAWs. Most cash (TAFDC and EAEDC) cases still have assigned workers. 

DTA now has one central phone number called the DTA Assistance Line:

1-877-382-2363.

This DTA Assistance Line gives you two options: 

  • Speak with a live DTA worker. DTA workers, pooled from local offices all around the state, are supposed to be available Monday through Friday from 8:15AM to 4:45PM on a “first available worker” model. This can often involve a long wait on the phone.
  • Use an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system. The IVR lets you get some information about your case and report certain changes. The IVR system is available 24 hours/7 days a week.

DTA’s Interactive Voice Response (IVR):

When you call the DTA Assistance Line, you will first get a recording with menu options. This is called an Interactive Voice Response or “IVR” automated phone system. Currently, the IVR can only be used to get and give specific information if you know the SSN and year of birth of the head of household.

You can use the IVR to report two changes to DTA: a change of address or a new phone number. DTA is planning to increase reporting options soon.

You can also use the IVR to get information on: 

  • Status of an application or your benefits including the date approved or denied.
  • Date that DTA last received a document from you (but it will not tell you what type of document DTA received, or if it has been reviewed by a worker).
  • Amount of your benefits and next date you will have SNAP or cash deposited on your EBT card.
  • The street and city address of your local DTA office.
  • General information about DTA’s SNAP and cash programs.
  • To request a DTA “Income Verification Letter” you can use with other agencies that ask about your benefits.
  • To request DTA mail you a paper SNAP application.

Reaching a live DTA worker:

The DTA Assistance Line is staffed with DTA case managers from 8:15 AM to 4:45 PM on regular business days. Follow prompts to:

  • Speak with a live DTA worker about your SNAP or cash case.
  • Reach a DTA Domestic Violence specialist.
  • Request an “accommodation” (extra help) for if you have a disability or impairment. See Question 23-25 for more information.
  • Reach other DTA offices including the Division of Hearings, the Overpayment Recoveries Unit and other DTA units.

If you have to wait on hold to speak to a live DTA worker:

Depending on the time of day you call, you may have to wait a while to talk with a DTA worker. We recommend you call from a landline, a social services agency or a cell phone that does not use up limited minutes.

If the DTA call volume is high, you may also be given the option to request a “courtesy call back” from a DTA worker.  DTA says it provides this call back option at certain times of day depending on volume. If you choose to get a courtesy call back, leave a voice message with your full name, SSN or Agency ID and a phone number they can reach you at within the next 24-48 hours.  This is your choice to request a call back.

When you reach a live DTA worker:

The DTA worker should first ask your name, your Agency ID (if you know it) or your SSN. That will help the worker find your SNAP application or case record. The worker should immediately look up your case and then respond to the reason you are calling. If you are calling because you need an interview for your SNAP application or recertification, the worker should conduct an interview and not tell you to call back later.

Example: Juan applied for SNAP on June 1. He was scheduled for an interview on June 8, but the scheduled interview conflicted with his work hours. Juan calls the DTA Assistance Line on June 5. The “first available worker” he reaches should do the interview and not tell Juan to wait until June 8.  If Juan also sent in proofs with SNAP application, the DTA worker should review the documents and process his case, or tell him what is missing and send him a Verification Checklist (VC-1).

If you do not get the help you need, you have the option to speak with a supervisor or the office manager or call the DTA Ombuds Office. See Question 26.

If you are a helping agency or advocate calling on behalf of a client, first let the DTA worker know that you faxed or mailed a signed client consent authorizing you to speak with DTA was faxed or mailed to DTA. The workers should not refuse to look up that information in the BEACON Scanned Document History. See Appendix C for sample consent form.

Advocacy Reminders:

  • When you call the DTA Assistance Line, the DTA worker should give his or her name and office location. Write this down.  If the worker does not volunteer this information, ask the worker directly. If the worker refuses, ask to talk with a supervisor.  DTA workers have been instructed by DTA Central to identify themselves. The name and location of the DTA worker could be useful if you need to follow up on a case with a supervisor or the DTA Ombuds Office. See Question 26.
  • Certain “free” cell phones – such as Lifeline, SafeLink and Assurance – use up limited cell phone minutes for toll free phone calls, including DTA’s Assistance Line.  If possible, try to use a landline or the phone of a social service agency line if you have limited cell phone minutes.

DTA Policy Guidance:

DTA Online Guide:  Business Process (BP) > BP - Overview > Statewide Assistance Line and  SNAP First Available Worker Model

Additional Guidance:

  • DTA guidance on handling of domestic violence situations and protocol for referrals to DTA DV specialists. Transitions Policy Mailbox, pg 4, Sept. 2015 
  • Reminder to DTA staff that certain Interim Reports and Recertification documents are considered urgent and should be handled before forwarding to EDMC. PPER Email 2014-40 (Nov. 21, 2014). Additional information about handling dropped off documents in OLG. 
  • DTA overview of first available worker (FAW) model and other “business process redesign” changes. Ops Memo 2014-66 (Oct 16, 2014) 
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16. Should DTA help me if I am having trouble getting proofs they need?

Yes! DTA workers are required to help you get proofs if you tell DTA you are having difficulty, 106 C.M.R. § 361.650. This can include making a “collateral contact” to a third party. 106 C.M.R. § 361.640(B) . Examples of DTA worker assistance include:

  • DTA contacting an employer for missing wage information, or seeking proof from a health care provider for medical expenses.
  • DTA contacting another state to confirm the date your out-of-state SNAP case closed. DTA has access to the “PARIS data system” that provides information on the status of out-of-state SNAP cases. DTA can also make a phone call to the sister state agency.
  • DTA should provide you with additional accommodations if you have a disability that makes it hard for you to get proofs or comply with other DTA rules. If you have a disability and need an accommodation, see Question 24.

Collateral contact is when DTA contacts a third party for information, as long as you have given written DTA permission to do so. 106 C.M.R. § 361.640(B).  It is up to you to give DTA the names of people to contact and written permission to contact. But DTA cannot require you to agree to a third party contact 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 if you do not meet the other eligibility rules. 106 C.M.R. §§ 361.400 and 361.650.

DTA Policy Guidance:

DTA Online Guide: SNAP > SNAP Verifications > Providing Assistance to Clients in Obtaining SNAP Verifications

Additional Guidance

  • Workers have an affirmative obligation to assist in securing verifications, including offering to do a collateral contact with a third party. Transitions FYI, December 2000.
  • Workers must advise clients of alternative forms of verification and must advise clients to contact DTA if they need assistance with getting documents. Transitions FYI, June 2000.
  • Worker assistance must be provided if clients cannot get verifications for reasons beyond their control, including domestic violence situations. Transitions FYI, May 2008.

 

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17. What if DTA questions the proofs I sent them or demands more proofs?

First, if a specific or preferred proof is not available, DTA must accept any documents that reasonably prove your eligibility. 106 C.M.R. § 361.640. DTA cannot demand a specific document such as a birth certificate for identity, or statement from a landlord for residence.

Second, under some circumstances, DTA can ask for additional proofs if the DTA worker determines the information or documents you provided is “questionable.” That means the information you gave DTA is inconsistent with other information on your application, what you reported to the worker or information known to DTA (e.g. through database checks). 106 C.M.R. § 361.620.  The DTA worker must review the individual circumstances of a household before determining information is questionable. 

DTA should not require you to “prove a negative,” such as being out of work more than 60 days, or that you are no longer living with an absent parent. If you are asked to prove something that you cannot, 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, you can ask to speak to a Supervisor or contact a Legal Services (See Appendix E).

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 require additional verifications. 

Example: Sandy is age 55 and separated from her husband 6 months ago. She applied recently for SNAP. An RMV check shows that her husband still has his car registered at the same address. Sandy has no control over her husband and should not be required to prove where he lives or to get the RMV to change the listed address of his car.

DTA Policy Guidance:

DTA Online Guide: SNAP > SNAP Verifications > SNAP Verifications Overview

Additional Guidance

  • Extensive guidance on verification options, and obligation of worker to assist and provide collateral contact. F.O. Memo 2010-55 (Nov. 23, 2010)
  • Living expenses that exceed income are not questionable if household has reasonable explanation, proofs not required. Transitions Hotline Q &A (May 2012, March 2010)
  • Workers cannot limit verifications to any single type of document and cannot require verification from a specific person. Transitions Hotline Q&A (August 2004); Transitions FYI, (August 2005
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18. Can I get my SNAP case reopened if I am denied for lack of proofs?

Yes! First, DTA must give you a full 30 days from when you applied before they can deny your SNAP application. DTA must also send you a notice of the exact verifications they need.

If the proofs they need are still missing by Day 30, DTA will send you a pending denial notice. 106 C.M.R. § 361.930.  The SNAP pending denial notice should list the specific proofs or verifications that are still missing, and tell you that you have another 30 days to bring in these proofs.  

If you get the proofs to DTA within this second 30 day period, your case should get reopened. You do not need to reapply.  106 C.M.R. § 361.940.

Example: Vicky applied for SNAP on June 1. She sent DTA most of the required verifications by June 10, but was missing wage stubs from a part-time job. Vicky was sent a denial notice dated June 30th telling her she was denied and the proofs missing. Vicky sends DTA the missing wage stubs on July 10. DTA should reopen Vicky’s SNAP application without making her reapply.

DTA Policy Guidance:

DTA Online Guide: SNAP > SNAP Verifications and SNAP > Application Processing > SNAP Application Processing > The BEACON-generated Pending Denial Notice

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19. What if DTA “prorates” my SNAP with a later start date?

Sometimes if your SNAP case is not approved until the second 30 day period, DTA will “pro-rate” your SNAP. This happens when your case is approved in the second 30 days after missing verifications were received. The date from which your SNAP benefits start depends on whose “fault” caused the delay in verifications.  

The SNAP regulations, 106 CMR 361.910 and 920, are very clear that pro-ration should only happen if the delay is the fault of the household AND the DTA worker assisted the household in getting the required verifications. So, it is very important to tell DTA if you need help getting documents. It is a good idea to tell them in writing.

In most cases, DTA’s computer system automatically determines “fault” and decides if the SNAP should be pro-rated or not. This means even if you asked for help getting documents, DTA may still pro-rate your SNAP. If DTA approves your SNAP but you do not get the full amount going back to the date of application you can ask DTA to fix it. Call the DTA Ombuds office or file an appeal if DTA does not fix the problem. See Question 26 and Question 94.   

Example: Vicky applied for SNAP on June 1, got a pending denial notice then got an approval notice on July 15. It said her SNAP was approved effective July 10, the date DTA received missing wage stubs. This means she missed 40 days’ worth of SNAP. You learn Vicky actually had asked the DTA worker for help getting the missing wage information because her employer was uncooperative. DTA made a note in the case record but did not offer to do any collateral contact, and then denied the SNAP on Day 30. Vicky eventually got an advocate to contact the employer who sent the missing wage information, but DTA failed to offer to help her back in June. DTA incorrectly prorated the SNAP benefits and should pay Vicky SNAP going back to the date of the original application.

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 99. 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.
  • If you submit verifications to DTA after Day 30 from when you first applied, call the DTA Assistance Line and ask a worker to check your case record. Once a SNAP case is denied, it is not clear whether or how quickly DTA workers are alerted to documents sent in.
  • If the SNAP case is denied to due incomplete or delayed verification, the federal SNAP rules say DTA must have informed the household of the required verification, offered to assist in obtaining that verification, and allowed sufficient time to procure the necessary paperwork. 7 C.F.R. §273.2(h)(1)(i)(C). If DTA has not done all of those things, the SNAP regulations says the delay is the agency's fault.
  • If the SNAP case is denied due to lack of an interview, the federal SNAP regulations require DTA to have scheduled an interview and then notified the household if they missed the interview and right to reschedule. DTA must reschedule the interview if the household contacts them within the 30 days. If DTA fails to schedule another interview requested by the household, the fault is DTA’s and not the household. 7 C.F.R. §273.2(h)(1)(i)(D).
  • If you submitted everything listed on your denial notice before Day 60 – but DTA does not agree to reopen your case, or gives you “prorated” benefits – you can file an appeal and/or contact an advocate.  See Question 94.

DTA Policy Guidance:

DTA Online Guide:  SNAP > Application Processing > SNAP Application Processing > Proration of SNAP Benefits at Application

Additional Guidance:

  • SNAP application denied for failure to submit verifications in error where QC found no evidence that client was scheduled for an interview, no NOMI and no verification checklist sent. Transitions, January 2015, Quality Control Corner.
  • Describes detailed DTA procedures for determining client “fault” versus DTA “fault” in triggering start date of benefits or proration. Ops Memo 2014-30 (June 11, 2014). (Policy may violate federal SNAP regulations, which require state agencies to have taken multiple steps before assigning fault to SNAP applicant.)
  • Provides detailed list of what is considered “negative case errors” where DTA failed to schedule interview, send NOMI, send VC-1, give sufficient time, deny case for documents in the case record, etc. Field Ops Memo 2008-59 (November 12, 2008). (All of these are useful examples to push for a finding of “Department error” vs client error and argue against proration of benefits.
  • Denial notice must identify missing verifications and for which household member; SNAP case cannot be denied or closed if applicant has not had the minimal 10 days to submit verifications. Case also cannot be denied for lack of verifications needed for certain deductions. Ops Memo 2012-17 (April 25, 2012)  
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20. Can I apply for expedited (emergency) benefits?

The SNAP rules require DTA to screen all applicants for expedited service upon receiving the application. 106 C.M.R.§ 365.800. You are eligible for expedited (emergency) 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 shelter costs are higher than your combined gross monthly income and cash and savings (DTA adds the value of the standard utility allowance or SUA to your rent or home ownership costs) , or

■    you are a migrant household with $100 or less in cash and savings.

106 C.M.R. §§ 365.810-365.830

If you verify your identity and you meet one of these criteria, you should get SNAP EBT card and benefits within 7 days.  Expedited SNAP benefits are not extra benefits—they are just a way to get your first month’s benefits faster.

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 $500/month rent and separately pays heating costs. Her total shelter costs are $1,121 based on her rent of $500 plus the $621 heating/cooling standard utility deduction (SUA). Because her gross income is less than her shelter costs, Stella is eligible for expedited SNAP for one month. 

To get ongoing SNAP benefits after the expedited month, you will have to provide proofs of all the other eligibility factors. 106 C.M.R. § 365.850(B). See Question 11.

The amount you get in expedited SNAP benefits is based on the income you have already received and anticipate receiving in the cyclical month of your SNAP application. DTA can count your last pay check in that cyclical month, even if it comes from a terminated source. 106 C.M.R. § 365.840.

Advocacy Reminder:

  • It is often faster to get expedited SNAP by going in person to a local DTA office, especially if hard to reach you by phone.
  • DTA cannot refuse to issue expedited benefits again if you verified all SNAP eligibility factors the last time you applied or it’s been at least 12 months since your last got expedited benefits. If DTA tells you that you can only get expedited SNAP benefits one time, contact an advocate.
  • DTA cannot hold up your expedited benefits even if you are required to have a photo EBT card. They must issue you a photo-less card. See Question 29.

DTA Policy Guidance:

DTA Online Guide: SNAP > Application Processing > SNAP Application Processing > Expedited Benefits  and > Screening for Expedited Service and > Issuing Expedited Benefits

Additional Guidance:

  • Case managers can process expedited and ongoing SNAP at the same time if all necessary verifications provided. OLG Transmittal #2016-4 (Jan. 4, 2016).
  • DTA guidance regarding FNS Program Access Review finding that DTA failed to screen for expedited immediate needs. Ops Memo 2013-35 (July 26, 2013
  • 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 verbally 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 need to tell  DTA about the  amount of any 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 identity and SSN through State Verification and Exchange System (SVES). Transitions FYI, (May 2007) 
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21. What if I do not speak English?

If English is not your primary language, DTA must provide you with a bilingual DTA worker or communicate through a translation service.  

Language Access on the DTA Assistance Line

When calling the DTA Assistance Line (1-877-382-2363), DTA has a recording with the prompts you can push to get service in your language.

As of January 2016, the DTA Assistance Line has language capacity in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Cantonese, Vietnamese and a separate prompt to push for other languages.

If you select a language other than English, then:

  • You should be connected to a bilingual DTA worker.
  • The DTA worker should add a bilingual DTA interpreter to do a three way call with you OR
  • The DTA worker should use their language line interpreter service.

Applying for SNAP in another language

As of January 2016, the online application is in English, Spanish, and Portuguese.  If you are applying for SNAP online through the Virtual Gateway (see Question 2), you should indicate your primary language in the “Personal Information” section on the drop-down menu labeled “Spoken Language”.

As of January 2016, DTA has paper applications in 12 languages byond English: Spanish, Portuguese, French, Haitian Creole, Chinese, Vietnamese, Khmer, Korean, Russian, Italian, Polish, and Arabic. You can download and print these applications at http://www.mass.gov/eohhs/gov/departments/dta/food-assistance.html  Be sure to write down the language you prefer in the first section of the SNAP application that says: Information About You.

DTA notices in another language

DTA currently provides the computer-generated (BEACON) notices and forms in only English and Spanish. DTA sends a “babel” flier in other languages recommending you get the information sent to you translated.

Advocacy Reminders:

Under 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.

Federal SNAP 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 www.lep.gov and https://www.justice.gov/crt/executive-order-13166.  For SNAP eligibility and benefits information in 35 languages, see http://www.fns.usda.gov/documents-available-other-languages.

DTA Policy Guidance:

DTA Online Guide:  Services > Interpreter Services >Department Interpreter Services and   Guidelines for providing Interpreter Services

Additional Guidance:

  • Interpretation services must be offered at no cost to LEP clients. If LEP client wants to use own adult interpreter they must be advised DTA will provide a professional interpreter free of charge. Children over 12 may interpret only to schedule an appointment. Children under age 12 must never be asked to interpret.  DTA PPER Email 2015-24 (July 1, 2015)
  • DTA obligations to meet its Title VI obligations to provide bilingual services at first point of contact; use tele-language line if bilingual staff is not. 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; interpreter should be offered even if English-speaking family member or friend accompanies client to DTA.  DTA Ops Memo 2013-11 (March 19, 2013)
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22. What if I am deaf or hard of hearing?

If you are deaf or hard of hearing, DTA must ensure effective communication with you.  106 C.M.R. § 360.510.  DTA requires staff to be trained on and use auxiliary aids.

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.

See also DTA obligations to provide additional accommodations in Questions 23 through 25.

DTA Policy Guidance:

DTA Online Guide: Cross Programs > Harper/ADA > Available Auxiliary Aids and DTA Job Aid: “Using MassRelay: Telephonic Assistive Technology” found in Online Guide at Interpreter Services – Policy and Procedures

Additional Guidance:

  • Detailed guidance on 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)
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23. What if a disability makes it hard for me to apply or comply with DTA 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 106 C.M.R. §§ 360.250, 701.390.

Under the ADA you are a person with a qualifying disability if you have a disability that substantially impairs a major life activity, such as learning, understanding, walking, working, breathing, or caring for yourself.  Disabilities include physical or mental health impairments, and intellectual disabilities. 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. See Question 24.

If a disability makes it hard for you do the things DTA asks you to do to get and keep your benefits, you can ask DTA for a reasonable accommodation.  An accommodation may be appropriate if your disability makes it hard for you to:

  • Understand DTA’s notices and form
  • Meet deadlines
  • Give DTA the verifications it asks for
  • Communicate with DTA
  • Meet a specific rule or requirement

Accommodations can be something you need only once, or something you need on an ongoing basis.  Accommodations can include:

  • Giving you extra help to meet a rule
  • Giving you extra time to meet a deadline
  • Changing a requirement or rule
  • Naming someone to get copies of mail DTA sends you, or talk to DTA on your behalf (See Question 7 re choosing to appoint an Authorized Representative)
  • Providing an auxiliary aid (such as an ASL interpreter)

Example 1: You have severe depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). You need help getting verifications and you cannot go in person because taking public transportation and being in crowded waiting areas trigger your PTSD symptoms. You can ask DTA to help you get verifications and to waive any requirements for in-person appointments. 

Example 2: Because of your learning disability, you need help understanding DTA notices and help completing the paperwork that DTA asks you to complete. DTA should accommodate you by explaining notices to you and by filling out the forms with you instead of requiring you to fill forms out by yourself.  For more information about protections related to learning disability, see Question 23.

Example 3: You have a hearing, vision, or other condition that makes it hard for you to communicate.  DTA should ask you what kind of help you prefer to communicate with DTA. This help is usually called an auxiliary aid.  DTA should try to provide your preferred auxiliary aid.  If that is not possible, DTA should work with you to find an acceptable alternative. 

Example 4: Because of your disability, you need help explaining to your health care provider that you need an exemption from the 3 month “ABAWD” time limit. See Question 55. You have a hard time communicating with third parties because of your disability. You need DTA to contact your health care provider to complete the special ABAWD Medical Report. You need this form signed because you are under age 50 and not currently receiving SSI or other a disability-based benefits and you may lose your SNAP benefits without this proof.  

Advocacy Reminders:

  • An accommodation can be requested at any time, including after DTA has issued a notice stopping or lowering your benefits.
  • DTA cannot require you to accept a specific accommodation (such as requiring a helper or authorized representative to act for the client).  Instead, DTA should work with you to find an accommodation that you agree to.
  • DTA is not required to provide an accommodation which is a fundamental alteration of its programs, for example waiving the federal SNAP law that counts the income of a child who turns age 18, even if the child is in school and needs more time to finish school.  If that issue comes up, consult an advocate.

DTA Policy Guidance:

DTA Online Guide: Cross Programs > Harper/ADA

Additional Guidance:

  • OLG Transmittal #2015-25 (April 24, 2015) on role of Client Assistance Coordinators (CACs), and DTA Transitions FYI, Nov 2011, DTA workers can make home visits to take an application, conduct and interview if needed for an accommodation for client with disabilities. 
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24. How do I ask DTA for an accommodation?

DTA is required to ask all clients if they have a disability and need an accommodation. A DTA worker is supposed to ask these questions at application and recertification, and also when a client raises disability. You can ask for an accommodation at these times, or at any time that you need one.

You can ask the DTA Assistance Line worker for an accommodation, or you can talk to the Client Assistance Coordinator in your local DTA office. Each DTA office has a Client Assistance Coordinator who can help with the accommodation process. You will have to explain why the disability means you need the accommodation you are requesting. 

Once you ask for an accommodation, the process to figure out what accommodation is appropriate is supposed to be interactive. For example, if you ask for something DTA says they cannot do, instead of denying your request, they should discuss other options with you.  In some cases, DTA may also ask for medical evidence that you need the accommodation.  If you need an accommodation but do not have the medical evidence that DTA is asking for, you can ask the Client Assistance Coordinator to help you get it.

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25. What are my rights if DTA denies my reasonable accommodation?

If DTA cannot approve the specific accommodation you ask for, they are supposed to discuss what they can do instead. If DTA has not approved an accommodation you think you need, you may appeal.

The DTA local office should give you a written decision on your request for reasonable accommodation no later than 30 days from your request. If the local office denies your request, or any part of it, you can ask the DTA Central Office Accommodation Appeal Committee to review the decision by filling out the back of the form and DTA. The Committee has 10 days to make a decision on the reconsideration request. You can also file your request directly with the Committee if the local office does not decide your request in 30 days.

If the DTA Central Office Accommodation Appeal Committee denies your request for accommodation in whole or in part or does not make a decision in 10 days from your request for a decision, you can request a hearing by filling out the back of the form and sending it to the Division of Hearings.

Try to get a legal advocate to help you with your request for review and your appeal. See Appendix E for a list of legal services offices. See Part 6 on your appeal rights.

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26. How can the DTA Ombuds Office help?

DTA has created a special DTA Ombuds Office to handle client complaints and concerns. You can call the DTA Ombuds Line any time if you cannot reach a DTA worker or you need help fixing your SNAP case.

DTA Ombuds Line: 617-348-5354.

If no one answers, leave a detailed message with your full name, your Agency ID or SSN and a phone number where you can be reached. If you do not get a call back and cannot get help with your case, contact an advocate.

You always have the right to appeal any decision made by DTA, even if you contact the Ombuds Office. See Part 6 for appeal rights. 

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27. What is a My Account Page? Can I get information on line?

If you have access to the Internet, an email address, and have your EBT card, you can set up a “My Account Page” (MAP). Follow these steps to set up your MAP:

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

Step 2: Look out for an email sent back to you from the MAP with a special web 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 (such as your favorite food or favorite animal). The next screen will show you an assigned “username.” The username is the 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 and click on the “My Account Page” link in the middle of the screen. Then you need to enter the following three pieces of information:

  • Your year of birth,
  • Your full SSN, and
  • Your EBT card number (make sure the name on the account matches the spelling of your name on the EBT card).

This information is required each time you log-on to the MAP. You can change your email address or user profile any time.

As of the date of this Guide, DTA does not allow a MAP to be set up for persons without an EBT card.  

What information will I find on my MAP Account?

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

  • the status of your SNAP or cash case - active, denied, closed, pending
  • all DTA notices and forms sent to you in the past 12 months
  • a list of the documents received by mail or fax in the past 18 months, including document type, date received and if the document was “processed” by DTA (You will not see a copy of the actual document sent in.)
  • names and dates of birth of your household members
  • the address and phone number DTA has on file for you. (Contact DTA if you need to update this information.) 
  • the amount of your monthly SNAP or cash benefit and date you will next receive benefits
  • the address and contact information for your local DTA office
  • the date your certification period ends.

You can print out information about your monthly benefits to give to another program (e.g. if you apply for housing or Fuel Assistance, but note that SNAP benefits do not count as income for any of those programs).

You can also print out recent forms that DTA has sent to fill out, including a SNAP interim report or recertification form.

DTA Policy Guidance: 

Online Guide Sections: Cross Programs > MAP > My Account Page (MAP) FAQs

Additional Guidance:

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28. Should I choose to get electronic notices instead of paper DTA notices?

In December 2014, DTA started a pilot called eNotification to reduce the number of paper notices mailed to DTA clients. If you chose to enroll in eNotification, you will receive an email from DTA each time they send a SNAP notice to your My Account Page (MAP).  DTA will no longer send you paper notices through the U.S. mail. E-notification is your choice.  

Important – the email that DTA sends you about your benefits is just a general alert. The DTA email does not include a copy of the actual notice DTA sent or even tell you what it is about. You need to log into your MAP each time to read the notice.  

DTA will continue to snail mail paper forms you need to fill out and return, such as SNAP interim reports and recertification.

Advocacy Reminders:

  • 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). It is extremely difficult to log into the MAP and view notices through a smart phone or similar mobile device.
  • If you choose eNotification, it is important to log onto your MAP and read the DTA notices as soon as you get DTA’s email alert. You can also opt out of e-notify at any point, even if you have a MAP and check that too.
  • We do not recommend eNotification for persons who are limited English proficient, have literacy challenges or are not comfortable using computers. The MAP is only in English. Some DTA notices require action so that you don’t lose your SNAP benefits.

DTA Policy Guidance

  • DTA memo describing eNotification pilot for recipients and how DTA will notify and post SNAP notices on the MAP.  Ops Memo 2014-41 (Jan 12, 2014)
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29. What is a Photo EBT card and who needs to have one?

In 2013, the Massachusetts Legislature passed a state law to require some of the SNAP and cash assistance recipients to have EBT cards with a photo of the head of household.  M.G.L. Chpt. 18 §2 (B)(k). Due to advocacy by a range of state organizations, the final state law exempts almost 75% of our SNAP and cash recipients from the photo EBT rule.

There are three types of valid EBT cards in Massachusetts. Regardless of what your card looks like, all EBT cardholders have the same rights when using the card and buying food.

Photo EBT Card for “mandatory” (non-exempt) recipients. DTA started issuing in December, 2013.

Photo EBT Card for “mandatory” (non-exempt) recipients. DTA started issuing in 12/13.

“Valid-without-Photo” issued to exempt applicants, and recipients who need a replacement card. Started December, 2013.

“Valid-without-Photo” issued to exempt applicants, and recipients who need a replacement card. Started 12/13.

Back side of new photo and non-photo EBT card, states “This card may be used by any household member.”

Back side of new photo and non-photo EBT card, states “This card may be used by any household member.”

Some MA residents still have the traditional blue EBT card if on SNAP before December 2013.These EBT cards remain valid.

Some MA residents still have the traditional blue EBT card if on SNAP before December 2013. These EBT cards remain valid. 

Important rights to know:

  • All household members are authorized to use the EBT card at the grocery story. The personal ID number or “PIN” is your electronic signature. 
  • Store clerks should not treat SNAP recipients different from other shoppers who use credit or debit cards. Stores should not ask to see the photo EBT card unless it is story policy to inspect ID of all debit or credit card customers.

Persons EXEMPT from photo EBT cards: The head of household does NOT need a photo EBT card if:

  • Age 60 or older
  • Disabled
  • Blind
  • Under age 19
  • A victim of domestic violence, OR
  • Have a sincerely held religious belief about photo/facial images.

DTA automatically exempts persons they know are age 60 or older, or receiving a disability-based benefit such as SSI or EAEDC. A victim of domestic violence and person with disabilities can self-attest to their situation, without having to provide additional verification.

If DTA already issued you a photo EBT card, but you are now exempt, you have the right to get an EBT card without a photo (e.g. you turn age 60, are disabled or meet another exemption). DTA also should not charge you any replacement fee if you qualify for a “Valid-without-photo” EBT card.

How does DTA issue photo EBT cards?

DTA will provide you with a photo EBT card one of two ways:

  • If you have a current Mass Driver License or Mass State ID, DTA should use the photo on file with the Mass Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV), 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 notice for a photo EBT appointment, you can reschedule the photo appointment if you have a conflict. You can also go to any DTA office to have your photo taken. DTA cannot hold up or delay or close your SNAP case while scheduling your photo appointment.

Appendix C has 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.

Advocacy Reminders:

  • Federal rules protect the right of all authorized members to use the EBT card and to not be discriminated against:  7 C.F.R. §274.7(A), 7 C.F.R. §274.8(b)(5)(iv) and 7 §C.F.R.. 278.2(b)
  • Grocers and retailers should not inspect the EBT card nor refuse to let spouses, older children or other household members use the card. This is true even if their name or photo is not on the card. The PIN is your electronic signature that protects the card, just like a debit card.
  • Retailers cannot treat SNAP recipients differently from other shoppers. A store clerk cannot inspect your EBT photo card unless they routinely ask everyone using credit or debit cards to show a photo ID.  Stores that accept EBT cards cannot set up “SNAP-only” checkout lines or refuse to let you use self-checkout lines. ­­­
  • See also 2015 Urban Institute report assessing the merits of photo EBT laws, with a focus on Massachusetts and Maine: http://www.urban.org/research/publication/assessing-merits-photo-ebt-cards-supplemental-nutrition-assistance-program.

DTA Policy Guidance:

DTA Online Guide: Cross Programs > EBT > Photo EBT Requirements

Additional Guidance:

  • DTA reminder that immigrant-ineligible heads of households and “authorized representatives” are exempt from photo EBT requirements. DTA PPER Email #2015-23 (July 1, 2015), see also PPER Email #2014-11 (March 21, 2014)
  • Detailed instructions to DTA workers on implementation of Photo EBT, including mailing and deactivation of RMV photo EBT cards, in-office appointment procedures and EBT photo exemptions. Ops Memos 2014-29 (June 11, 2014, which obsoleted earlier Ops Memos re same). 
  • Initial client informational mailing on photo EBT card and exemptions, Ops Memo 2013-55 and field instructions on RMV data match with DTA to provide photos. Additional information about RMV data available to DTA. Ops Memo 2014-39 (June 11, 2014) and 2014-29.

 

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SNAP Part II -- General Eligibility Rules

General rules regarding eligibility.
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30. 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 support 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 weekly meals.) See Question 31 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 32.

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.”

DTA Policy Guidance:

DTA Online GuideSNAP > Eligibility Requirements > Household Composition

Additional Guidance:

  • Same-sex spouses living together must be part of same SNAP household. PPER Email 2014-22
  • 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 decide which parent receives SNAP for child. Hotline Q&A (Feb. 2012).
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31. 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 17. 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 1: Jane and Steve are roommates who share an apartment. Both have jobs, Jane works part-time. They occasionally share  a meal together, but they buy, prepare and consume the majority of their food (more than half their weekly food) 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 2: 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. She purchases and prepares most of her own food for herself and her child even though she uses her sister’s kitchen. Sally and her child can be a separate SNAP household. 

Advocacy Reminders:

  • 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 SNAP benefit is included in 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).
  • If you are disabled and someone purchases and prepares your food for you – other than your spouse or your parent if you are under age 22 – you may also qualify for separate SNAP benefits.  See Question 33.

DTA Policy Guidance:

DTA Online Guide: SNAP > Eligibility Requirements > Household Composition

Additional Guidance:

  • Battered woman who moves to a domestic violence shelter can be own SNAP household even if still part of the SNAP household she fled from. 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)
  • Roommate subletting not required to get a “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.” F.O. Memo 2005-50, Attachment B (Oct. 3, 2005).
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32. 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 TAFDC for herself and her baby. However, due to her age, 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 for herself. She cares for two grandchildren, ages 8 and 12, and receives child support for them. Katherine cannot get separate SNAP benefits for her grandchildren because they are minors and she provides financial and parental supervision for them.

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

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 foster care payments do not count toward the SNAP household income for an excluded child.

For more details on the right to opt out a foster child or foster adult, see Question 40.

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.

 

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33. 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, your age does not matter (you do not have to be both elder and disabled) and you do not need verify the income of the people you live with. However, you cannot get separate SNAP benefits if the person buying and cooking food for you is your legal spouse, or your parent if you are under age 22.

There are many reasons why persons with disabilities may have meals prepared separately. For example, they may have special diets, need to eat meals at different times from others, or 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 1: 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.

Option 2: If you are 60 or older and have a permanent disability, you may be able to get SNAP separately for yourself even if you share meals with others. To qualify as a separate SNAP household in this situation, you must be severely disabled and at least 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).

Example 2: 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 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% 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 SNAP household of four persons.

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 C.M.R. § 361.240 (F)See Question 40. Adult foster care is a special program through MassHealth which pays someone for in-home care of a low-income disabled adult or frail elder who might otherwise be institutionalized. See MLRI FAQ in Appendix C.

DTA Policy Guidance:

DTA Online Guide: SNAP > Eligibility Requirements > Household Composition

Additional Guidance:

  • A person too disabled to purchase and prepare for him/herself and gets assistance with food preparation can still qualify for separate household status. Transitions FYI (Dec. 2007).
  • An individual who is both elder and disabled and shares meals with others can also qualify as separate SNAP unit if income of other household members is below 165% FPL. DTA 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, http://www.fns.usda.gov/sites/default/files/061206.pdf
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34. Are there special rules for seniors and persons with disabilities?

Yes! If you are disabled or elderly (meaning age 60 or older) you can benefit from special program rules. 106 C.M.R. § 361.210.

  • More of your shelter costs can be deducted in the SNAP math.  See Question 74.
  • You can claim out-of-pocket medical expenses as a deduction to boost your SNAP benefits. See Question 70.
  • You might still qualify for some SNAP benefits even if your gross income exceeds the 200% gross income test. However, you must also meet the $3,250 asset test. See Question 58.
  • You may be able to waive the five-year waiting period for immigrant adults who are LPRs, parolees or battered. See Question 46.
  • You may be eligible to apply as a separate SNAP household even if you live with others who buy and prepare food for you. See Question 31
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35. How do I show DTA I am disabled?

Under the SNAP rules, you are considered disabled only if you receive one of the following benefits:

  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits or social security disability benefits (RSDI),
  • EAEDC benefits, based on a severe disability,
  • certain disability retirement pensions, if you have a disability that meets the SSI criteria,
  • railroad retirement disability benefits,
  • veteran’s disability benefits, depending on severity of disability, or veteran’s benefits for a spouse or children,
  • MassHealth (Medicaid) for persons with disabilities (DTA should verify this by contacting MassHealth), or
  • TAFDC benefits and you are exempt from the TAFDC time limits based on a severe disability.

Cash Assistance Disability Determinations

If you receive EAEDC or TAFDC cash assistance, in order to meet the SNAP disability criteria you must meet the SSI standards of disability. DTA uses the Disability Evaluation Service at UMass Medical School as their “professional review organization” or PRO. When DES reviews disabilities, they code TAFDC and EAEDC recipients based on the severity of disability.  Individuals that meet SSI standards are given the following codes on the DES Decision Tracking Form sent to DTA: codes 100, 110, 120, or 130 on their “Determination Tracking Form.” 

Many disabled EAEDC and TAFDC recipients may meet SSI standards even though they have not been approved for SSI benefits. Be sure to ask DTA what the DES or PRO decision code is on your case if it would make a difference in your qualifying for SNAP or in the SNAP math.

MassHealth Disability Determinations:

Some individuals may need a MassHealth disability determination in order to benefit from the favorable SNAP math (uncapped shelter, medical expense deduction), or just to qualify as a disabled legal immigrant.

MassHealth generally uses disability standards to upgrade persons from MassCare Plus to MassHealth Standard and for CommonHealth. 130 C.M.R. § 505.002(F),  § 519.007(B) and (C). MassHealth applicants often forgo a disability determination because they find the scope of benefits in MassCarePlus is adequate to meet their needs. Individuals tend to apply for a disability determination if their income exceeds 133% FPL and are looking for CommonHealth, or if they need long term nursing care services or other services not included in CarePlus. 

However, even if you do not need more health coverage, you can still seek a disability determination. You may wish to do this if you are severely disabled, do not receive EAEDC or TAFDC and having the DES disability determination would make you SNAP eligible as disabled or help you get a higher SNAP benefit because you could claim medicals and higher shelter costs. 

To get a disability determination, fill out the 10 page MassHealth Adult Disability Supplement, and each of the Medical Records Release Forms.  Send this full document to: 

Disability Evaluation Services
UMASS Medical DES
P.O. Box 2796
Worcester, MA 01613-2796

For copies of the MassHealth Adult Disability Supplement, go to: http://www.mass.gov/eohhs/docs/masshealth/appforms/mads-adult.pdf

For more information on the difference between MassHealth Standard and MassCare Plus, see MLRI’s chart describing the programs here: http://www.masslegalservices.org/content/careplus-table-comparing-benefits-standard

Immigrants and Disability Determinations:

Legally present (LPR, parolees, battered) immigrants under age 65 who receive EAEDC will have a disability determination done by UMass DES. Elder immigrants who get EAEDC cannot get a DES disability evaluation.  If you are an elder immigrant receiving EAEDC, DTA has developed a form on which a doctor can certify that you meet the SSI standards. This is especially important for legal permanent residents subject to the 5-year waiting period. See Question 46.

DTA Policy Guidance:

DTA Online GuideSNAP > Eligibility Requirements > Elderly/Disabled > SNAP Disability Requirements and Verifications; and > Processing a Claim of Disability to Qualify for the Special Regulations for SNAP Eligibility.

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36. 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).

When you apply, DTA will ask for proof of your identity. 106 C.M.R.§ 361.610(G). If you do not have any ID, there are many ways you can prove who you are, including a written statement from a staff person at a soup kitchen, detox program or shelter. 106 C.M.R.§ 361.640(B). DTA will also ask for and verify your SSN. See Question 12

If you do not have an address where you can regularly pick up mail, you can have mail from DTA sent to the address of your local DTA local office, to a local organization such as a shelter that accepts mail for clients, or to a U.S. Post Office Box.

You may also qualify for emergency or expedited SNAP, Question 20, and a $143 homeless deduction to calculate your net income, Question 75.

Three-month “ABAWD” time limit and homeless individuals

If you are between age 18 and 49 without children and lack a stable nighttime residence, you may be exempt from the ABAWD (able-bodied without dependents) three-month SNAP time limit. You can call the DTA Assistance Line to claim an exemption or complete a special ABAWD Homeless Exemption Form, Appendix C. See Question 56 for all the ABAWD exemptions.

DTA Policy Guidance:

Online Guide Sections: Homeless Households Policy and Procedures and SNAP > Work Requirements > ABAWD Work Program Requirement > ABAWD Work Program Exemptions

Additional Guidance:

  • DTA worker must ask homeless client if they can provide the, address of friend, relative, authorized representative or shelter as mailing address. The local DTA office (TAO) can be used as “last resort.” A DTA form, “Using TAO for Mailing Address” must be signed by client. OLG Transmittal #2015-35 (Aug. 7, 2015).
  • When family is placed in EA shelter, DHCD is required to send updated information (including address) to DTA. Online Guide Transmittal 2015-1 (Jan 23, 2015).
  • DTA staff must assist homeless clients to identify a mailing address, including the address of local TAO. OLG Transmittal #2015-35 (Aug 7, 2015)
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37. Can I get my own EBT benefits while living 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 7. 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. 

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 you appoint them as your “authorized representative” to receive your EBT card, and you do not agree, 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. If you live in a “sober house” or other roomer/boarder situation that is not licensed by the state, you cannot be forced to turn over your EBT benefits without your written agreement. If this has happened to you, contact an advocate.

DTA Policy Guidance:

Online Guide Sections:   SNAP > Expenses and Deductions > Household Expenses > Group Homes > Group Homes

Additional Guidance:

  • When group home indicates a portion of the resident’s fee is used toward  heating or cooling expenses, the SNAP benefits are calculated with the 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. F.O. Memo 2009-10, Q. 4 (Feb. 20, 2009).
  • Interagency agreement with DMH, DDS to designate 10% of residents’ shelter costs as a heating expense. This  leverages heating/cooling SUA in SNAP calculations. 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)

 

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38. Am I eligible for if I live in a hospital, school, or other 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,
  • 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 them an authorized representative during your stay. 106 C.M.R. § 365.610.

Advocacy Reminders:

  • 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.
  • If you live in a drug/alcohol treatment centers or teen living program, you should receive your SNAP benefits directly once you move into a permanent residence. The residential program should report the change of address to DTA to ensure your SNAP benefits continue if you are still SNAP eligible.

Additional DTA Guidance:

  • Program fee for clients living in certain temporary housing types, including sober houses, transitional living programs and Teen Parent Programs do not generally count as shelter expenses. If shelter costs are claimed, verification must be submitted that includes amount paid for shelter. PPER Email 2015-9 (Feb 6, 2015)
  • 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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39. 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, $194/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 disabled and live with others who provide meals for you, see Question 33.

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 Question 31

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40. 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 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 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 C.M.R. 361.240(F). Adult Foster Care (AFC) is a program for frail elders and adults with disabilities who cannot live alone. 130 C.M.R 408.410-438.   MassHealth pays qualified AFC caregivers up to $18,000 a year to provide in-home care to elder and disabled MassHealth recipients 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 or income of the fostered individual counts 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 all together.

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 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.

DTA Policy Guidance:

Online Guide Sections SNAP > Eligibility Requirements > Household Composition > Household Composition

  • Foster grandparent income is not countable. Transitions FYI (Jan. 2005).
  • Adopted children are required to be included in household with parents. Transitions Hotline Q&A, (Oct. 2001)
  • DTA affirms option allowing households the choice of including or excluding foster care child or foster care adults in SNAP household. Hotline Q&A (Oct. 1992)
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41. 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,
  • you are “physically or mentally unfit for employment” and have a reduced capacity to support yourself as verified by your health care provider,
  • you are in a vocational, mental health or substance abuse rehabilitation program,
  • you are enrolled full-time in a school or training program not considered an “institution of higher education” such as GED, Adult Basic Ed, HiSET, or you are enrolled in a ESL 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.

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.

College students enrolled less than half-time do not need to meet the conditions above to get benefits. 106 C.M.R.§ 362.400(A). If you are able-bodied, child-less and age 18 to 49, however, you may be required to comply with certain work or community service requirements to continue SNAP benefits.  See Question 55 and 56 regarding ABAWDs.

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 if you meet the student eligibility rules, and even if you purchase and prepare food separately. See Question 17.

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 Question 60 and 61. 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). See Appendix C. 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:

  • Special rules apply to low-income students attending community colleges. Community college 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  (CCE-1) used to verify eligibility for students in community colleges and a MLRI FAQ.

DTA Policy Guidance:

Online Guide Sections: SNAP > Eligibility Requirements > Students > Students

Additional Guidance:

  • College students are considered continuously enrolled during holiday and summer vacations, unemployed college student not receiving work-study may not be SNAP eligible; earnings of ineligible student not count to SNAP household but do count where student becomes SNAP eligible if work hours increase to 20 hrs/week. Transitions Hotline Q&A (June 2014)
  • VA educational benefits excluded as income if VA grant or scholarship precludes use for current living costs. Transitions Hotline Q#5 (May 2013)
  • Job Aid for DTA workers “Everything you need to know about student eligibility for SNAP,” Transitions Training Corner (Sept 2012)
  • DTA guidance on SNAP eligibility for community college students enrolled in career and technical education or other programs likely to lead to employment. F.O, Memo 2010-28 (June 1, 2010), DTA Transitions Hotline Q&A (July 2010), updated CCE-1 form issued January 2012.
  • Guidance on college students living with others - ineligible college student are “non-household members” and their income does not count toward 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)
  • Once student turns 22, he/she can be own SNAP household even if living with parents as long as adult child  purchases and prepares separately; participation in school meal plan does not disqualify student if meal plan  not provide “majority of meals.” Only one parent in a 2-parent household can claim responsibility to care for a young child to meet student rules. Transitions Hotline Q&A (Nov. 2006)

 

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42. What if I have a criminal record or DTA says I’m 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).

Federal SNAP rules directs states not to disqualify individuals whose names happen to appear on a criminal database. The regulations put the burden on the state SNAP agency to confirm an individual is actually fleeing prosecution by confirming a) there is an outstanding felony warrant, b) the individual is aware of or should be reasonably expect the felony warrant, c) the individual is taking action to avoid being arrested,  and d) law enforcement is actively seeking the individual. 7 CFR §273.11(n). FNS provides states with an alternate test as well.  In issuing final regulations, FNS noted that unless law enforcement has arrested an individual (e.g. placed them in an institution), the individual is “free to apply for SNAP at any time” Fed Register 55410 Vol. 80, No. 175, Final Regulations September 10, 2015 

DTA has not issued updated regulations as of the publication if this guide. If you see any SNAP households denied or terminated for SNAP benefits on this basis, contact an advocate immediately.

Advocacy Reminder:

  • You cannot get benefits if you get more than half your meals from a prison or half way house, but you may be eligible for SNAP benefits if you are sentenced to home detention (for example, with an electronic bracelet). See Question 31.
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43. 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.

Advocacy Reminders:

  • 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. 
  • 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.

DTA Policy Guidance:

DTA Online Guide: SNAP > Eligibility Requirements > Citizenship > Citizenship Overview

Additional Guidance:

  • Reminder to staff that U.S. citizenship be self-declared unless questionable, and that SAVE should serve as primary source of verification when a non-citizen reports a new status. Ops Bulletin 2015-13
  • DTA guidance on handling cases for individuals with “voided” Puerto Rican birth certificates. 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 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 (March 2006)
  • Foreign-born children of U.S.-born and/or naturalized U.S. citizens are also U.S. citizens and meet the SNAP citizenship requirements. Transitions Hotline Q&A (May 2006) 
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44. 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 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) designation. SIV holders are legal permanent residents, many of whom worked on behalf of the U.S. government in Iraq or Afghanistan. They and their immediate family members may be granted immediate 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 5-year waiting period if you recently became an LPR even if you previously had one of these statuses.

Group 2: Legal permanent residents, parolees and battered immigrants

You may qualify under the SNAP requirements if you are:

  • A legal permanent resident (LPR or sometimes referred to as a “green card holder”),
  • A person granted parolee status (generally based on humanitarian or public interest reasons) for more than one year, or
  • A battered immigrant (this includes the parent of an abused child or the child of an abused parent) who meet the requirements for battered immigrants in Question 47.

If you are one of the above immigrants, you also do not need to wait five  years if you meet any of the following:

  • You are a child under age 18, or
  • You are blind or have a disability that your health care provider states meets SSI criteria and you are receiving a state or federal disability benefit, such as MassHealth Disability, EAEDC, or other benefits listed in Question 34, or
  • You are an LPR credited with 40 qualifying quarters of work history. See Question 45.

Group 3: Immigrants with other special statuses

You meet the SNAP eligibility requirements, without the 5-year 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.

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 SNAP eligibility rules, but you will not receive benefits for yourself. 

Examples of ineligible immigrants include:

  • Non-disabled adult LPR or parolee who has less than five years in qualified status and not enough qualifying work history. See Question 45.
  • An immigrant who is lawfully present under other provisions of federal 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 48 for how ineligible immigrant parents can apply for eligible children, and Question 50 for a description of how income of ineligible immigrants is counted to the rest of the household.

Advocacy Reminders:

  • For copies of U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Service-issued documents and a key to the USCIS immigration codes, see materials produced by National Immigration Law Center available at https://www.dshs.wa.gov/esa/resources-desk-aids-and-links/immigration-la...
  • 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 alien status verification system, called “SAVE” or Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements.
  • USCIS has a special process for immigrants to correct wrong or incomplete information in SAVE. 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. Persons unfamiliar with the immigrant requirements sometimes incorrectly assume all LPRs must wait 5 years when that is not true for refugees/asylees, LPR children and disabled immigrants. And a battered immigrant’s five year waiting period starts from when the VAWA or a relative petition was filed and not when granted LPR status.

DTA Policy Guidance:

DTA Online Guide: SNAP > Eligibility Requirements > Noncitizen > Noncitizen Introduction;   > Legal Permanent Residents > Legal Permanent Resident Overview  and  SNAP > Eligibility Requirements > Noncitizen > Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE)

Additional Guidance:

  • Disabled LPRs receiving EAEDC not subject to 5 year bar if disability meets disability severity of SSI as determined by UMass Disability Evaluation Service (DES). Elderly LPRs (age 65+) not subject to 5 year bar if receiving EAEDC and can provide statement from MD re disability, no need for UMass DES review.  Hotline Q & A (October 2014)
  • DTA reminder to field of exceptions to 5 year bar. Hotline Q&A (April 2014)
  • SAVE: Reminder to DTA staff about how to verify noncitizen status and information from USCIS on SAVE document selections. Ops Memo 2013-14A (May 2, 2013); Right of immigrants to notify USCIS and correct inaccurate immigration status information in SAVE, Ops Memo 2013-14A (May. 2, 2013)
  • Start date of 5- year waiting period begins with date immigrant granted humanitarian parole and not LPR status. Transitions Hotline Q&A, (Oct. 2011, and Q&A of May 2006)
  • Guidance on Iraqi and Afghan Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) treated same as refugees, no 5 year wait. F.O. Memo 2010-19 (March 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  battered immigrants 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, child not subject to 5-year wait; includes examples of LPRs exempt from five-year wait. Transitions Hotline Q&A (March 2006)
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45. How does my work history help so I don’t wait five years for SNAP?

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 DTA said 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.

If you think you have enough countable work history, you can qualify for SNAP for 6 months pending verification. 106 C.M.R. § 362.220(B)

You can get work quarters credit for the following:

  • Work you have done in the United States or a U.S territory.
  • Work done in any of 25 foreign countries, including Europe, Australia, Japan and South Korea after specific dates (for example, work done in Italy after 11/1/1978).
  • 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) and including work done in the US and the 25 approved foreign countries.
  • Work done by your parents before you were 18, including work done by your parents before you were conceived, born, or adopted, including work done in the US and the 25 approved foreign countries.

You can get credit for work history even if the work was not continuous or the wages not high. For example, for calendar year 2014, the Social Security Administration counted gross earnings of $4,800 or more as four (4) quarters of qualifying work history. The work can be one in just one quarter or over 12 months and still count as 4 quarters (the minimum amounts are adjusted annually and are lower for years prior to 2014).

Check with an advocate before claiming credit for work done in the U.S. when the wage earner did not have work authorization. or a valid social security number.

When can you not get credit for work?

Under the federal rules, the LPR adult or child cannot claim credit for work done after December 31, 1996, if the wage earner also received one of the following federal means-tested benefits while working: TAFDC, SNAP, Medicaid or MassHealth, SCHIP (special Medicaid benefits for children).

If the wage earner was just the grantee for an eligible child or spouse, but not part of the benefits grant, the wage earner should not lose the right to claim the work quarters.

Example 1: 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). The couple has 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 work quarters. Clara 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 does not affect their right to claim the work quarters as long as they (the parents) were not on the benefits too. 

Example 2: Siobhan is from Ireland. She is 25 years old and finally got her LPR status last year.  Her mother and father both lived and worked (and paid taxes) in the U.S. for 6 years when Siobhan was 10 years old, living with her grandmother. They also worked before that in Ireland in the late 1990s. She stayed in Ireland with her grandmother. Siobhan can count her parent’s work history before she turned age 18. Even though she is 25 and just got her LPR status, she can qualify for SNAP.  Siobhan can also count any work done by her parents in Ireland after 1993 and before she turned 18 (Ireland is one of the 25 foreign countries for which work history counts). 

How to confirm 40 quarters of work history

Work history can be confirmed through pay stubs, union records, federal or state tax returns, proof of self-employment business or SSA records.

DTA can also 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 to identify 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. DTA should send the Social Security Administration a “Request for Quarters of Coverage History Based on Relationship” (SSA-513 Form).

Advocacy Reminder:

  • Only LPRs can claim work history to jump the 5 year bar. Immigrants with humanitarian parole or battered immigrants cannot claim work history unless granted LPR status.
  • You can get SNAP benefits for up to six months if you need time to verify work history or while DTA is waiting on an SSA response.
  • 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.

DTA Policy Guidance:

DTA Online Guide: SNAP > Eligibility Requirements > Noncitizen > Noncitizen Introduction  and  Legal Permanent Residents > Legal Permanent Resident Overview  and  Legal Permanent Residents > Verifying 40 Quarters

Additional Guidance:

  • 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 SNAP 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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46. If I am a disabled immigrant, do I need to wait five years for SNAP?

You do not need to wait five years if you are a legal permanent resident adult  and you receive a disability-based  benefit because of a severe disability. 106 C.M.R. § 362.220 (B)(7)(e). The same policy applies to battered immigrants and humanitarian parolees.

Question 34 explains the disability rules for SNAP. If you receive MassHealth benefits or EAEDC based on a disability, you may be eligible without the five-year wait. If you are under age 18, there is no 5-year wait for minor LPR, battered or parolee children.

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 elder or disabled LPR but are not receiving EAEDC cash assistance, contact an advocate. Some elder or disabled LPRs 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.)

DTA Policy Guidance:

DTA Online Guide: SNAP > Eligibility Requirements > Elderly/Disabled > Processing a Claim of Disability to Qualify for the Special Regulations for SNAP and  SNAP > Eligibility Requirements > Legal Permanent Residents > Disabled Noncitizen > Disabled Noncitizen

Additional Guidance:

Five year bar does not apply to a LPRs, battered immigrants and parolees who meet multiple exceptions including disabled immigrants who are approved for EAEDC, depending on disability severity.  Transitions Hotline Q&A, October 2014.

Guidance to DTA workers on identifying both elderly and disabled EAEDC immigrants who may be eligible for SNAP without the 5-year waiting period, includes Disability Verification Form for Elderly Non-Citizens. F.O. Memo 2008-11 (March 11, 2008) and F.O. Memo 2008-28 (May 29, 2008) 

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47. What are the special immigrant rules for battered immigrants?

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 disabled immigrants 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:

  • Each DTA office has designated Domestic Violence specialists as well as protocol for handling communication with individuals who self-identify as DV victims.  You can request to speak with a DV Specialist on the DTA Assistance Line during DTA business hours.
  • It is important to screen for the disability exemption to jump the 5 year waiting period. 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). 

DTA Policy Guidance:

Online Guide Sections:  SNAP > Eligibility Requirements > Noncitizen > Battered Noncitizen

Additional Guidance:

  • Extensive guidance on the eligibility of battered immigrants, including scope INS coding, acceptable documents, eligibility of other household members, verification if documents missing, etc. F.O. Memo 2005-22 (June 1, 2005)
  • DTA protocol for handling domestic violence situations and referrals to DV specialists. Transitions, Sept 2015, Policy Mailbox, pg 4.
  • Immigrants are not required to self-petition under VAWA to be battered immigrant 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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48. 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. Also, DTA is not permitted to take the photo of any noncitizen adult who receiving SNAP on behalf of eligible children but not him/herself. See Question 29.

NOTE: Even if you are not eligible for SNAP or choose to not apply, you must still provide DTA with information on your income and expenses. This is because you are a parent or spouse who is legally and financially responsible for your dependents.

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 children are born to immigrant parents does not make their U.S. citizenship automatically questionable.
  • The SNAP application form 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 can indicate programs that the individual is applying for. You can also send a written statement with the other proofs sent in to clarify who is and is not applying for benefits. See also DTA Brochure, “What Non-citizens Need to Know,” Appendix D.
  • 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 give proof of your legal status. See Question 50.
  • 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 were different from wage earner). http://www.fns.usda.gov/sites/default/files/111308.pdf

DTA Policy Guidance:

Online Guide Sections: SNAP > Eligibility Requirements > Noncitizen > Battered Noncitizen

Additional Guidance:

  • Extensive DTA guidance on the right of non-citizens to opt out of SNAP application, not provide information on immigrant status and apply for just the eligible family members seeking assistance. Guidance includes opt-out form, client brochure and resource list of agencies. F.O. Memo 2004-34 (Sept. 24, 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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    49. Will receiving SNAP benefits hurt my immigration status?

    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). If you are not sure about your status or need legal advice, consult an immigration specialist.

    See DTA Brochure, “What Non-Citizens Need to Know.” Appendix D.

    DTA Policy Guidance:

    Online Guide Sections: SNAP > Eligibility Requirements > Noncitizen > Noncitizen Introduction

    Additional Guidance:

    • 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 U.S.C.I.S. document that shows a determination made of unlawful status. Transitions Hotline Q&A, (Feb 2002).

    Other Useful Resources on Immigrants and Public Benefits:

    Department of Homeland Security public charge fact sheet (revised, April 2011) can be accessed via  https://www.uscis.gov/. The fact sheet includes an updated list of programs not subject to the public charge consideration, including SNAP benefits, WIC and other non-cash benefits.

    USDA statement on public charge and nutrition benefits, http://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/nutrition-benefits-and-public-charge-effect... USDA has also notified all state SNAP agencies of USCIS guidance that states receipt of SNAP benefits does not lead to “public charge,” found at: http://www.fns.usda.gov/sites/default/files/020110.pdf

    Additional sources for information on immigrants and public benefits can be found at the National Immigration Law Center, www.nilc.org, and the Mass. Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, www.miracoalition.org.

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    50. How does DTA count the income of an ineligible immigrant?

    Some ineligible immigrants live with other people who are eligible for SNAP, such as an immigrant parent living 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 – the 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 immigrants with work authorization such as applicants for asylum or with pending VAWA or relative petitions.

    The SNAP calculation for households with lawfully present immigrants involves three steps. DTA initially first calculates benefits including the legal immigrants who are not eligible, then calculates benefits excluding the immigrant and his/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 employment authorization but is not eligible for SNAP until the asylum status is granted (which can take years). Juana has two young children born in the U.S. 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 looks at the total household income, including the income of the ineligible immigrant and all allowable deductions.

    Countable net income after deductions: $341
    Maximum benefits for household of 3 persons: $511
    Subtract 30% of $355 (countable net income): -102
    Benefit for this HH ($511 less 1/3 net income): $409

    In Juana’s case, DTA first calculates the benefits for three persons 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 $155 standard deduction and a shelter deduction max at $504).  Juana has net income of $341 a month. The maximum benefit for a household of three is $511. After subtracting 30% of net income, her family will receive $409/month.

    ■    Step 2: DTA calculates SNAP for the eligible household members excluding the ineligible immigrant and his/her income. If the eligible 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 $357 a month (the maximum SNAP for a household of 2).

    ■    Step 3: The two amounts are compared and the household is eligible for the amount in Step 1 or Step 2, whichever is lower. The policy reason for granting the lower amount is one of fairness—an immigrant-headed household get no more SNAP benefits than they would receive if all were eligible U.S. citizens.       

    In Juana’s case, the benefit for the children is the amount in Step 2 ($357) because that is lower than the amount in Step 1 ($409). If Juana had no countable income, the SNAP would still be capped at $357, the maximum for two persons (versus the higher amount of $511 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 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 68.

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

    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 $255 in SNAP benefits, as this is the maximum monthly benefit level for a household of two with countable net income of $341. All of Juana’s countable income is subtracted against a household of two persons.

    Countable net income after deductions: $341
    Maximum benefits for household of 2 children: $357
    Subtract 30% of (countable net income): -102
    Benefit for this HH ($347 less 1/3 net income): $255

     

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    51. 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).

    Example: Johann is an LPR from Germany. Every month his sponsor sends him a $500 payment. DTA will calculate Johann’s SNAP benefits counting $500 of unearned income.

    There is no counting or “deeming” of a sponsor’s income if you are indigent (low-income) and do not receive actual payments from a sponsor. “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. In general, there is also no deeming of sponsor income in the SNAP, TAFDC, EAEDC or MassHealth programs.

    There is one exception to this sponsor deeming rule: DTA will count sponsor income when a household member is sanctioned for failure to comply with the SNAP program rules such as committing fraud (an IPV or intentional program violation). 106 C.M.R. § 362.270.

    DTA Policy Guidance:

    Online Guide Sections:  SNAP > Eligibility Requirements >  Noncitizen > Sponsor Deeming (deeming applies to sanctioned non-citizens)

    Additional Guidance:

    • No sponsor deeming for EAEDC and TAFDC recipients, nor for indigent immigrants seeking SNAP unless household is under sanction, intentional program violation. F.O. Memo 2008-65 (Dec. 9, 2008).  
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    52. Who is required to register for work?

    Any member of your family who is age 16 to age 60 and not exempt must register for work as part of the SNAP application process and accept any suitable job offers. The individual can also volunteer for additional services. This is called the SNAP Employment & Training (SNAP/ET) Program. 106 C.M.R. § 362.310.  

    Your SNAP application is also an agreement to register for work—you do not have to take any additional steps to register. This means you can volunteer for the SNAP E&T program. If offered a job, you must accept it unless you have good cause. SNAP work registration is different from the three-month time limit that affects ABAWDs. (See Question 55).  The SNAP regulations provide for a wide range of exemptions from work registration. 106 C.M.R. § 362.310(B).  These exemptions are most important if DTA thinks you voluntarily quit a job within 60 days or if you are on strike.

    DTA Policy Guidance:

    •  DTA moves to voluntary SNAP Employment and Training program, effective August 30, 2015. Clients should not be issued Job Search declaration form and should not be sanctioned for failure to do job search. Ops Bulletin 2015-9 
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    53. What are the rules if I recently quit a job or I am on strike?

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

    Voluntary quit rule:

    • 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. 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. 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 jobs you had within 60 days prior to the date you applied. DTA does not need 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 16 and Appendix C. 106 C.M.R. § 361.640(B).

    Work strike rule:  

    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. In other words, your union job paid low enough that your family would qualify for SNAP. If you were income eligible before the strike, DTA will count either the value of your current income or your income before you went on strike to calculate your SNAP benefit, whichever is higher. 106 C.M.R § 361.240(E)(2)

    You are not considered on strike if:

    • your former boss locked you out or permanently replaced you, or
    • you are not on strike but you cannot work because other workers are on strike or because you are afraid to cross a picket line, or
    • you were exempt from work registration on the day before the strike. See Question 52 for a list of work registration exemptions.

    See 106 C.M.R § 361.240(E)(1).

    Advocacy Reminders:

    • If you meet an exemption from the SNAP work registration 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 106 C.M.R. § 362.310(B)

    DTA Policy Guidance:

    Online Guide Sections:  SNAP > Work Requirements > Voluntary Quit > SNAP Voluntary Quit

    Additional Policy Guidance:

    • 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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    54. What is considered “good cause” if you recently quit 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 more than 20 hours a week, and, for reasons beyond your control, your employment stops or your wages go down.
    • If the amount you are paid in a week equals what you would be paid if you worked at least 20 hours and you were paid the federal minimum wage, and, for reasons beyond your control, the employment stops or wages decrease. For example, you work 10 hours a week at $16/hour, or 20 hours at $8/hour. The Federal Minimum Wage in 2014 is $7.25.
    • 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 don’t have to show good cause for leaving a job if you are exempt from work registration requirements. 106 C.M.R. § 362.340.  

    Even if not exempt, you 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 MLRI for sample appeal decisions.
    • Advocates may also find helpful arguments and case law on “voluntary quit” in MLRI’s 2015 Unemployment Advocacy Guide, http://www.masslegalservices.org/unemploymentadvocacyguide
    • 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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    55. What is the “ABAWD” 3-month time limit for childless adults age 18 to 50?

    Starting January 1, 2016, many childless adults – ages 18 through 49 years – will receive only three (3) months of SNAP in a 36 month period unless the individual is exempt or meeting certain work rules. This is a recently reinstated federal SNAP rule that affects individuals age 18 through 49 who are “able-bodied without dependents” or ABAWDs. 106 C.M.R. 362.320. You may be exempt from this rule based on illness, homelessness, living with a child or living in certain parts of the states.  See Question 56.

    If you are not exempt, your SNAP benefits will end unless you meet one of the requirements below.

    • You work 20 hours/ week or more (or are self-employed and earning at least 30 times the federal minimum wage of $7.25/hour),
    • You are participating for 20 hours a week or more in an approved training or education activity,
    • You are participating for 20 hours a week in a combination of training or education and  job search activities, but job search cannot exceed 9.5 hours a week, or
    • You are engaged in volunteer or community service activity for up to19 hours a month. The amount of hours you need to work is based on your monthly SNAP grant divided by the state’s minimum wage, now $10/hour as of January 2016.
      • Note: You will need to verify your community service hours with DTA each month. DTA has a form that the community service organization needs to sign. See Appendix C.

    Example:  Samuel is age 45 and unemployed. He is medically able to work but has not been able to find a job since he was laid off a year ago and his unemployment insurance ran out.  Samuel applied for SNAP on January 1, 2016 and receives $194/month.  He has no other income. After March 31st, Samuel must meet the work or training requirements above, or find a place to volunteer for 19 hours a week (194/$10 hour) to continue his SNAP benefits.

    Under the federal SNAP rules, DTA has no obligation to find you a job, training program or community service site, nor help you with transportation costs.

    Additional three months of SNAP

    Under certain circumstances you can regain SNAP for an additional three consecutive month period if you lost your SNAP eligibility. This option is available if you had a job for at least 80 hours a month, or met the other work requirements for at least 30 days, but then that job or other activity ended.  See 7 C.F.R. § 273.24(e).  Note, DTA has not issued regulations or guidance on this provision yet. Contact an advocate if you think you meet this criteria.

    DTA Policy Guidance:

    Online Guide Sections:  SNAP > Work Requirements > ABAWD Work Program Requirement>

    Additional Guidance on ABAWDs:

    • Initial DTA guidance announcing the end of the statewide “waiver” on ABAWD work requirements and reinstatement of 3 month time limit for individuals not otherwise exempt. OLGT #2015-67 (Nov. 20, 2015) 
    • Verification of an ABAWD exemption can’t hold up SNAP benefits, unless SNAP client has already used up their 3 months of SNAP after January 1, 2016. Transitions Policy Mailbox, December 2015.
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    56. Who is exempt from the 3-month ABAWD time limit?

    You are EXEMPT from the SNAP three-month if you meet any of the following:

    • You are under age 18 or over 49 years old, 
    • You live in a geographic area of the state with high unemployment. DTA has identified 3 counties and 43 cities and towns that meet the high unemployment criteria for 2016.   
    • You are disabled and receiving a disability-based benefit such as SSI, MassHealth as disabled, VA disability benefits or EAEDC cash assistance,
    • You are physically or mentally “unfit for work” – either permanently or temporarily – based  on a statement from a health care provider,
    • You participate in a vocational rehabilitation program, a mental health program, or a drug or alcohol treatment program,
    • You are pregnant, any stage of pregnancy,
    • You are homeless (lacking a stable nighttime residence) or other criteria as established by DTA,
    • You live  in the same household with a child under 18, even if not related to you (you do not need to be responsible for care for the child),
    • You are responsible for the care of an incapacitated person, even if the incapacitated person does not live with you,
    • You receiving unemployment insurance or waiting you’re your UI claim to be approved,  
    • You work 20 hours or more a week,
    • You are self-employed and earning at least $217.50 per week in pre-tax net income ($217.50 is 30 times the current federal minimum wage of $7.25/hour that went into effect July 24, 2009).
    • You are a student enrolled in a high-school, vocational or post-secondary educational program at least half-time. See Question 41 on which college students are considered eligible for SNAP.

    For a list of cities and towns that are currently exempt for 2016, go to:  http://www.mass.gov/eohhs/gov/departments/dta/abawd-work-program.html

    How to verify you are exempt from the ABAWD work requirement:

    There are a few ways to show DTA you are exempt. The most common ones are listed below. If you need help call DTA and ask for help showing you are exempt from the requirement. See Appendix C for copies of all the forms listed below.

    1. 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.
    2. DTA has a one page homeless screening form. If you are homeless you can fill this out to show you do not have a stable night time residence or show that you meet other factors that make you exempt.
    3. For homeless clients, DTA can also determine you are exempt over the phone. Call DTA and ask them to talk to you about the homeless screening for ABAWDs.
    4. DTA has a screening form that lists the exemptions and tells you what verifications to send in to show to DTA you are exempt.

    Advocacy Reminders:

    See MLRI’s webpage on ABAWD requirement: www.masslegalservices.org/ABAWD .  You can find copies of all the forms and information you need. As updates become available about ABAWDs we will post them at this webpage.

    If you live with an individual who is considered an “ABAWD,” you cannot be denied or disqualified for failure to meet the work program rules.

    DTA Policy Guidance:

    Online Guide Sections:  SNAP > Work Requirements > ABAWD Work Program Requirement > ABAWD Work Program Exemptions

    Additional Guidance:

    • BEACON updated with homeless screening questions to exempt homeless clients, including when client indicates they do not have a stable nighttime residence. Also, ABAWD verifications are needed to claim exemption or show meeting the work requirements, but verifications are not mandatory for case processing . OLG Transmittal 2016-1 (Jan. 4, 2016).
    • Reminder to staff to accurately include information in case record to flag when clients are exempt from ABAWD requirements. OLG Transmittal 2015-53 (Sept. 18, 2015)
    • Individuals residing in same household as child are exempt from work rules, even if child is not part of SNAP household. Transitions FYI (April 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)
    • Refugee attending training program exempt from work requirements. Transitions Hotline Q&A, (Nov. 2001).

     

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    SNAP Part III -- Financial eligibility

    Financial eligiblity rules.
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    57. 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. There is no asset test for most Massachusetts households. See Question 58.

    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 www.gettingfoodstamps.org.

    • A different type of calculator using an Excel spreadsheet is available at   http://www.masslegalservices.org/SNAPCalculator. 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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    58. 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 20 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 disabled 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:

    • Intentional program violation (fraud) at 106 C.M.R. § 367.800,
    • Failure to comply with the work program rules at 106 C.M.R. § 362.320, or
    • If your household includes a disqualified household member, you are also subject to a $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).

    DTA Policy Guidance:

    Online Guide Sections: SNAP > Eligibility Requirements > Assets > SNAP Asset Guidelines

    Additional Guidance:

    • Pension or retirement savings account withdrawals that are more frequent than one time withdrawals are likely countable as unearned income. Withdrawals from savings accounts are non- countable income. Interest income is countable. Hotline Q&A (Feb 2014)
    • 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 2014-57 (Oct. 10, 2014)
    • 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. 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. 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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    59. Is there a gross income test for SNAP?

    Most SNAP applicants only need to pass a 200% federal poverty level (FPL) gross income test.

    Gross income is your monthly income before any deductions for taxes, or any of the allowable deductions.  106 C.M.R 364.370, 106 C.M.R. §§ 365.180. DTA implemented a single 200% FPL gross income test in January 2016, eliminating the lower 130% gross income test used for childless non-disabled individuals ages 18-60. 

    Household Size

    Gross Income Test

    200%  FPL*

    1

    $1,980

    2

    $2,670

    3

    $3,360

    4

    $4,050

    5

    $4,740

    6

    $5,430

    7

    $6,122

    *Gross income amounts effective February 1, 2016.

    If a household member pays legally obligated child support to a child outside the home, the child support is not counted in the gross income test for the household. 106 C.M.R. § 363.230(O).  See Question 71.

    Elder/Disabled Households:

    If an elder/disabled household has income above the 200% gross income test, to qualify for SNAP, the household must meet the asset test. See Question 58.  The household must also have low enough net income, after all allowable deductions, to qualify for a benefit.  All other households above 200% gross income are simply SNAP ineligible. 

    Sanctioned households:

    In limited situations, there are special rules for “sanctioned” households. This involves SNAP household where a member has been sanctioned due to fraud or some other program rule violation. In these situations, SNAP uses a lower 130% FPL gross income threshold for households and a 100% FPL net income test. In both cases the sanctioned member is not included in the household size. 106 C.M.R. § 363.110. See Question 68.

    In addition, the sanctioned household is subject to the asset test. Appendix B has the charts for the 130% gross income and 100% net income tests. 

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

    Snapshot of the SNAP income and asset tests

     

     

    SNAP Asset

    Test

    Gross Income

    Test

    Net Income

    Test (100% FPL)

    Family with children, pregnant woman

     

    NO

     

    200% FPL

     

    NO

    Persons age 18-60, no kids, not disabled

     

    NO

     

    200% FPL

     

    NO

    Elder/disabled household

     

    NO

     

    200% FPL 

     

    NO

    Elder/disabled household – gross income > 200% FPL*

     

    YES

     

    None

     

    YES

    Household under sanction (work or IPV sanction)

     

    YES

     

    130% FPL

     

    YES

    * But household’s net income must be low enough to qualify for a benefit. Households above 200% FPL gross income do not receive the $16 minimum benefit.

    Advocacy Reminders:

    • 1 and 2 person households under 200% FPL receive at least the minimum $16 SNAP benefit, in accordance with 106 C.M.R. § 364.600(A).
    • In special situations, an individual who is both elderly and disabled 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 elderly disabled person (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 33 for more details on these special situations.

    DTA Policy Guidance:

    Online Guide Sections:  SNAP > Eligibility Requirements > Categorical Eligibility

    Additional Guidance:

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    60. 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.  Here are examples of income that does not count:

    • 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 half 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 and medical 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, including Montgomery Bill payments to veterans. (See Question 41).
    • 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).

    Check the regs for a complete list. 106 C.M.R. §§ 363.220(C), 363.230.

    Advocacy Reminders:

    • Before their 18th birthday, earnings of children in school are not countable for SNAP. 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). In addition, school attendance can be self-declared. 106 C.M.R. § 361.610 (K). Contact an advocate if a student under age 18 is asked to verify income with DTA.
    • DTA should not issue an overpayment for unreported income that is not countable. Wage matches with the Department of Revenue (DOR) do not always sift out wages or other income that is in fact non-countable. For example, SCSEP or AmeriCorps stipends may have appeared  on a wage match but are non-countable income for SNAP purposes. See Question 62 about DOR matches and Question 101 about overpayments.
    • 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, lump sum payments are treated as assets in the month received, but most households not subject to asset test.. 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.

    DTA Policy Guidance:

    Online Guide Section:  SNAP > Eligibility Requirements > Income > Non-countable Income

    Additional Guidance:

    • Cash contributions from non-legally liable individuals restricted for a specific purpose and used for a portion of living expenses non-countable. Transitions, Pg 4. Oct 2015.
    • Reimbursements paid for medical expenses not countable income. Transitions, July 2015, Quality Corner, Pg 2.
    • Repeated withdrawals (e.g. more than once) from pension or retirement accounts are countable unearned income. One time withdrawal from pension or retirement account is non-recurring lump sum and does not count as income. Hotline Q&A (Feb 2014)
    • Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) earnings non-countable. Online Guide Transmittal 2016-6 (Jan 30, 2015), Transitions Hotline Q&A, #4 (March 2013), and Transitions Hotline, (April 2010)
    • Quarterly clothing allowance for foster children paid by DCF is countable unearned income. Transitions Hotline (Sept 2014)
    • 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)
    • Montgomery GI Bill payments used for educational purposes non-countable income. Transitions Hotline Q & A (Feb. 2011)
    • WIA-funded earnings are non-countable. Transitions Hotline Q&A (March 2010)
    • Section 8 Homeownership Program vouchers are not countable as income nor claimed as shelter costs. Transitions FYI (March 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. F.O, 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, 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 (April 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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    61. 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

    ■    Gross earnings from wages and salaries, including earnings diverted or garnished by an employer for a specific expense. 106 C.M.R. § 363.220(A). Money that is paid directly to your landlord for rent on top of your regular wages is excluded as a vendor payment. 106 C.M.R. § 363.220(C).

    ■    Gross earnings from self-employment after allowable business expenses but not personal income taxes or FICA. See Question 63.

    ■    Income from boarders (persons who get a room and meals from you) after subtracting the cost of doing business, provided the boarder is not part of the SNAP household. 106 C.M.R. § 365.200. See Question 31.

    ■    Income from rental property minus business expenses, provided a household member manages the property for at least 20 hours per week. 106 C.M.R. § 365.930(A). If managed for less than 20 hours per week, it is considered unearned income. See Question 65.

    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 count. See Question 60.

    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, credits that cannot be taken as cash by the employee. See Question 60. Special rules apply to individuals who pay child support. See Question 71.

    DTA Policy Guidance:

    Online Guide Sections:  Home > SNAP > Eligibility Requirements > Income > Earned Income > 

    Additional Guidance:

    • 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.” http://www.theworknumber.com/. Ops Memo 2013-33 (July 9, 2013)
    • Earnings of a student who turns age 18 is countable for SNAP, even if still finishing school. Transitions Hotline Q&A #1 (June 2013).
    • 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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    62. What if DTA wants proof of past wages due to a computer match?

    From March 2014 until March 2015, DTA was using a highly flawed automated process to match wage information from the MA Department of Revenue (DOR) with SNAP and cash case information. If DTA’s computer system found DOR wage information different or “discrepant” from the wage information in the client file, notices were automatically mailed to households. These notices – called a “DOR Employment Verification Notice” – asked the SNAP and cash households for current pay checks or a letter from the listed employer stating the last day of work. In many cases DTA already had the wage information on record, the earnings was non-countable (like work study, VISTA or earnings of a child), the income was for one-day of pay (election wardens) or the notices referred to wages from many years past.  The DTA notices were error filled and extremely confusing. Many SNAP and cash cases erroneously closed or had significant delays because of these notices.

    In March 2015, the state suspended automatic mailing of wage match notices and is reviewing the manner in which it will conduct future data  matching. As this Advocacy Guide goes to print, DTA is evaluating the DOR wage match system.  If you think DTA erroneously closed or delayed your SNAP benefits in 2014 or 2015, contact a Legal Services advocate. Updates will be provided through the SNAP Coalition.

    DTA Policy Guidance:

    Additional Guidance: Suspension of automatic generation of Employment Verification Notice. PPER Email 2015-12 (March 24, 2015). 

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    63. 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 (these 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), and 365.930(A). See Question 65 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.

    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 should be put on simplified reporting when approved for SNAP and need to report income changes that boost them above the gross income limit for the household size. See Question 89.  

    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.

    DTA Policy Guidance:

    Online Guide Sections: SNAP > Eligibility Requirements > Income > Self-Employment > Self-Employment Introduction

    Additional Guidance:

    • 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).
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    64. 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 entitlement 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 40.

    ■    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, including federal work study, are non-countable). 106 C.M.R. § 363.230(D). See Question 41. State or private funded work-study is countable earned income if intended for living expenses versus educational 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 67.

    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). When DTA can use these data bases to verify unearned income, you do not need to produce a written statement about the benefit amount.
    • Unearned income that is “recouped” for an overpayment is not countable unless it is a) a needs-based benefit and b) recoupment is due to a fraud-based overpayment. See Question 67.
    • 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. See Question 60.

    DTA Policy Guidance:

    Online Guide Sections: SNAP > Eligibility Requirements > Income >Other Income (Unearned) > Other Income Introduction (Unearned)  

    Additional Guidance:

    • Pension or retirement savings account withdrawals that are more frequent than one time withdrawals are likely countable as unearned income. Interest income is also countable. Hotline Q&A (Feb 2014) 
    • 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 (April 2007)
    • Social Security received by household for child residing in institution is not countable if money used for the care and maintenance of the institutionalized child. Transitions Hotline Q&A (June 2000).
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    65. 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 the standard utility allowance (SUA, $621), 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.

    DTA Policy Guidance:

    Online Guide Sections:  SNAP > Eligibility Requirements > Income > Self-Employment > Self-Employment Introduction

     

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    66. 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 the DTA Assistance Line. A DTA worker should offer to help you get the information by calling the employer with your permission (“collateral contact”) or by accessing on-line payroll information such as The Work Number. See Question 11.

    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 ongoing SNAP 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.

    If you are applying for expedited (emergency) SNAP, income from a terminated source does count if you received a final paycheck within the cyclical month of your SNAP application. 106 C.M.R. § 365.840.  See Question 20 on expedited SNAP.  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.

    If you get a letter from DTA about a Department of Revenue Wage Match, See Question 62.   

    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 89. 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.

    DTA Policy Guidance:

    Online Guide Sections:  SNAP > Eligibility Requirements > Income > Earned Income > Earned Income Introduction

    Additional Guidance:

    • DTA should only count income from a terminated source that is received during the cyclical month of your SNAP application (e.g. the first month of the certification period). Transitions Quality Corner, September 2015, Pg 2
    • 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 household will actually receive the UI benefit by Day 30. Transitions Hotline Q & A (April 2004) 
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    67. Does DTA count money I don’t receive or withheld from my cash benefits?

    The SNAP rules sometimes count money you do not get as income in the following situations.

    ■    Money taken out of your TAFDC or EAEDC cash benefit because of an intentional failure on your part to comply with the rules of the cash assistance program is counted as if it were still paid in calculating your SNAP benefits. This includes:

    ■   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).

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

    ■    Money taken out of your Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits or the Massachusetts means-tested Veterans Services program (Chapter 115 benefits) to recover an overpayment due to an intentional program violation (fraud) is counted as if it were still paid to you in calculating your SNAP benefits. 106 C.M.R. § 363.220(C)(4). This rule does not apply non means-tested benefits such as Social Security (RSDI).

    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)

    ■    USDA has also clarified that this policy of counting recouped income does not apply to federal Veterans Administration (VA) pension or compensation benefits, even if means-tested, because USDA has determined that VA benefits are not a “public or general assistance program.” The federal regulations further state that the SNAP state agency (e.g. DTA) is required to contact the agency that administers the needs-based benefits (e.g. SSA for SSI or the state Department of Veterans Services) to confirm a formal finding of fraud as the basis of the overpayment, and not the SNAP recipient.

    ■    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 counts as income to you. 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) is countable income for SNAP. 106 C.M.R. § 363.220 (C)(2), (C)(3).

    Advocacy Reminders:

    • Money that is taken out of your EAEDC, TAFDC, SSI, Federal VA Pension 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 an IPV hearing. See Question 103. 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. Again, 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 family member, friend or an 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.

    DTA Policy Guidance:

    Online Guide Sections: Home > SNAP > Case Maintenance > SNAP Attributed Amount

    Additional Guidance:

    • DTA guidance and chart on when SNAP can count withheld or recouped income as countable.  Workers must use net Social Security and not count recouped RSDI, and confirms that VA pension overpayment recoupments are never countable. Transitions Hotline Q & A (Nov 2014)
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    68. How does DTA count the income of someone 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:

    ■    An intentional program violation or fraud, see Question 103.

    ■    A disqualifying criminal record (fleeing felon), see Question 42.

    ■    A voluntary quit from employment or striker, see Question 53.

    ■    Undocumented or undetermined immigration status, see Question 50.

    ■    A household member who fails or refuses to give his or her SSN for reasons other than non-citizen status.

    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% federal poverty level) gross income eligibility test and the amount of household benefits. Even if the household includes children, an elder or disabled member, the SNAP rules require DTA to use the lower 130% gross income test.

    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 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. Mark is now working 20 hours a week. He understands that he is not eligible for SNAP benefits until the 12 month disqualification period ends. However, all of Mark’s income along with the income of his family must fall under the lower 130% FPL gross income limit for three people (his wife and two children). The SNAP benefit amount is calculated for a household of three (not four). Mark is excluded in the SNAP household size.

    Advocacy Reminders:

    • Live-in attendants and ineligible college students are not part of the SNAP household and their income and assets are not countable. 106 C.M.R.§ 361.230(B) and (C).
    • As soon as the sanction period ends, DTA should use the 200% FPL gross income test for the household versus the 130% FPL test. 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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    69. What deductions are allowed against my income?

    The following deductions are allowed for all households depending on living situation and expenses:

    ■    20 percent of gross earned income. 106 C.M.R. § 364.400(B).

    ■    Self-employment business expenses. 106 C.M.R. § 365.940. See Question 63

    ■    A standard deduction based on household size: 106 C.M.R. § 364.400(A).

    Standard Deduction

    $155

    Household of 1-3 persons

    $165

    Household of 4 persons

    $193

    Household of 5 persons

    $221

    Household of 6 or more persons

    ■    A child care or disabled adult care deduction if you are working, looking for work, or in school or training.. 106 C.M.R. § 364.400(D). See Question 72 describing the range of allowable expenses.

    ■    Child support paid to children outside the home (including payments for health insurance, child support arrearages, payments made to third parties for rent or mortgage) if you are legally obligated to pay the support, 106 C.M.R. § 364.400(E). See Question 71.

    ■    A shelter deduction capped at $504/month for households that do not include an elderly or disabled member. For households with an elderly or disabled member, the shelter deduction is un-capped. 106 C.M.R.§ 364.400(G). See Question 74.

    ■    If you are homeless and have zero rent and utility costs, a homeless shelter deduction of $143 a month. 106 C.M.R. § 364.400(F). See Question 75.

    The result is your monthly net income. Your benefits are based on this amount. An additional medical expense deduction is available to elder and disabled households.  See Question 70.

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    70. What medical expenses can I claim if I am elderly 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. To be considered “disabled,” the adult or child must receive a disability-based benefit. See Question 34.

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

    ■  Standard medical deduction of $155:  If your out-of-pocket medical expenses are at least $35 a month, you will receive a standard medical deduction of $155 from your monthly income. You will need to give DTA proof of at least $35/month costs.

    ■  Actual medical expenses: If you incur more than $190 per month in medical expenses (that’s the $35 threshold plus the $155  standard deduction), you can claim the actual expenses (minus the $35 threshold). You will need to give DTA proof of your actual medical/health expenses above $190 to claim a higher deduction.

    For example: Esther is 78 years old. She has MassHealth coverage, but the combination of small pharmacy co-pays plus her over-the-counter pain relief and skin treatments add up to $36 per month. Her SNAP benefits will be calculated using a $155 medical expense deduction. If Esther verified more than $190/month in out-of-pocket expenses, 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 2016 it is $.54 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 you owe.
    • An Explanation of Benefits (EOB) health insurance statement showing how much you owe for co-pays or deductibles.
    • A Medicare Claim Summary useful in showing the dates of visits to your doctor and laboratory visits, which you can use to claim your transportation costs.
    • A print-out from your pharmacy showing your co-pays and out-of-pocket payments for drugs. This is also useful to show 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 statement you sign and date that 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 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.
    • Sometimes claiming medical expenses does not make a difference in the SNAP math if the household is already receiving the maximum grant or if the household has low shelter costs and higher income. MLRI has a chart to show when the medical expense deduction matters the most: www.masslegalservices.org/snap-medical
    • 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 5.
    • 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, call the DTA Assistance Line and ask a worker to review your documents.

    DTA Policy Guidance:

    Online Guide Sections: SNAP > Expenses and Deductions > Health  Insurance/ Medical Expenses > Medical Expenses > Medical Expense Deduction  

    Additional Guidance:

    • DTA’s SNAP Medical Expense Brochure (revised Aug. 2015): http://www.mass.gov/eohhs/docs/dta/snap-meb-brochure-english.pdf
    • DTA SNAP Medical Deductions Job Aid instructing workers how to handle medical expense deduction, when to request verification and how to average expenses. Posted at www.masslegalservices.org/snap-medical
    • Standard medical deduction increased to $155. Ops Memo 2014-16 (Feb 2014)
    • Over-the-counter, service animals, dietary supplements: Reminder on scope of allowable medical expenses including dental bills, drug plan premiums and delivery fees, and costs of service animals; confirms no need for prescription to claim over-the-counter drugs not required; dietary supplements like Ensure can be claimed as medical expenses, but food you need for a special diet is not allowable expense. Transitions Feb 2015, Hotline Q &A.
    • Transportation Costs: IRS mileage rate for private vehicles $.54/mile for 2016. Ops Bulletin 2016-3 (Jan 29, 2016). Self-declaration of transportation expenses acceptable, worker can use MapQuest to determine the door-to-door mileage. Transitions Hotline Q&A (Aug. 2008). Sample transportation cost calculations included in Transitions Training Corner (February 2015).
    • Medical expenses must be verified initially, but can be self-declared at recertification if there are no changes or the amount would not exceed the standard medical deduction; must be verified if the expense is questionable. Transitions Training Corner (February 2015).
    • Averaging One Time Medical Bills: 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)
    • Re-verifying Medical Expenses: Medical expenses that have not changed do not need to be re-verified at recertification; recert form lists household member claiming medical expenses, type and amount previously claimed. DTA Transitions Mailbox (August 2015), F.O. Memo 2010-3 (Jan. 22, 2010).
    • Verifying Over the Counter: 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. Ops Bulletin 2015-2 (July 30, 2015), DTA Transitions Mailbox (August 2015), DTA Transitions FYI (Jan. 2010)
    • Expenses incurred still count: Medical bills need only be “incurred”—not necessarily paid—to claim for medical deduction (as long as not reimbursable by third party); Transitions Mailbox (August 2015), Transitions Hotline Q&A (Aug. 2008).
    • Service animals and misc. expenses: Dental and monthly drug plan premiums qualify. 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. Transitions Hotline (February 2015). F.O. Memo 2009-10 (Feb. 20, 2009). 

    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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    71. 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 earns $2,080/month gross ($12.hr x 40 hours x 4.333). He pays $500/month court-ordered child support. John applied for SNAP benefits as a single person. In measuring his income against the 200% gross income test, DTA should ignore the $500 child support to determine his gross income at $1,580 – well below the 200% gross income test of $1,980 for 1 person.

    In calculating John’s SNAP, DTA should calculate the 20% earnings deduction off the higher $2,080 gross income amount to give John a $416/month earned income deduction. If DTA calculated the 20% earnings deduction after child support paid, John would get only $316 earnings deduction.  In calculating John’s preliminary net income, DTA should subtract both the $500 child support and $416 (20% earned income 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 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)

    DTA Policy Guidance:

    Online Guide Sections:  SNAP > Expenses and Deductions > Child Support Expenses >

    Additional Guidance:

    • 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 by SNAP client. Transitions Hotline Q&A (March 2009)
    • 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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    72. 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). Dependent care includes the cost for supervision of teenage children (under age 18), as well as care of a child or disabled adult 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 with caregivers not part of your SNAP household (e.g. older children);

    ■    co-payments or fees for subsidized child care;

    ■    payments for “attendant care,”  PCAs and/or co-payments for adult day care provided for elder or disabled adults;

    ■    fees for after-school, before-school and vacation care including adult supervised before and after-school activities for teenagers, YMCA and YWCA camps, Boys and Girls Clubs, summer camp fees; and

    ■    transportation to and from the program sites at the federal mileage rate ($.54 cents per mile as of January 2016) 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 or send DTA a separate signed statement. See sample self-declaration form in Appendix C. You do not need to a statement from the child care provider.

    DTA can ask for more verification if the information you provide determined “questionable.” This is when DTA thinks you gave information  is inconsistent with other statements on your application or information known to DTA. 106 C.M.R. § 361.620.

    Example: Julie is a single parent reports who now pays $400/week for child care but she earns only $600/week gross income. She previously reported paying $75/week in subsidized care. DTA may request more information from Julie, or actual verification, to confirm the amount of child care since the information she provided is contradictory to what was on file before.

    Dependent care for disabled/elder adults

    If you need to pay for care for a disabled adult, such as an elderly parent od disabled adult child, so you can work or attend training, you can claim this as a dependent care cost. 106 C.M.R. § 364.400(D).

    If a disabled member of your household pays for adult care for any reason unrelated to your needing to work, DTA will treat these costs as medical expenses of the disabled individual, not dependent care expenses. 106 C.M.R. § 364.400(C)(12). See Question 70. 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 notify DTA immediately.

    DTA Policy Guidance:

    Online Guide Sections:  SNAP > Expenses and Deductions > Dependent Care Expenses >

    Additional Guidance:

    • Instructions to workers on how to calculate travel related costs for child care deduction using round trip mileage to and from child care site at federal mileage rate. Transitions, Feb. 2015 Training Corner.
    • Self-declaration for dependent care expenses is acceptable at both application and recertification unless questionable. Transitions Hotline Q&A (July 2011) and F.O. Memo 2007-19 (March 15, 2007)
    • 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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    73. What is the standard utility allowance 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 $621 for households that incur heating or air conditioning costs separately from their rent. This includes public or subsidized housing tenants if your housing authority charges you for heat, or charges you for summer time use of an air conditioner (either excess electricity or a usage or maintenance fee). You also get this SUA if you receive or have received Fuel Assistance (also called Low Income Home Energy Assistance Act or LIHEAP payments) in the last 12 months even if your heat is included with your rent. Often LIHEAP will provide a partial rent subsidy if rent exceeds 30% of net income.

    ■  Non-heating SUA – currently $381 for households that incur utility expenses but not heating or air conditioning costs. Utility expenses can include electricity (non-heating), cooking gas, garbage collection, and water and sewer fees passed onto tenants.

    ■  Telephone-only SUA – currently $44 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.

    It is important that you tell DTA 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. DTA has many questions on the paper application and recertification paperwork about utility expenses. Make sure to fill out this information accurately.

    You also get the full SUA even if you live with another household and pay only part of the utilities. 106 C.M.R. § 364.410(B)(2).

    The “Heat and Eat” Fuel Assistance Program

    DTA and the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) have coordinated a special Heat and Eat or H-EAT Fuel Assistance program. This has helped thousands of SNAP households – mostly elder and disabled households – qualify for higher monthly SNAP benefits and get information on regular Fuel Assistance benefits. This H-EAT program was created because seniors and persons with disabilities often underreport their AC/cooling costs, or do not realize they can claim utility costs when sharing utility costs with other households. This can cause under reporting of utility expenses that make a difference in the SNAP math.

    Under the H-EAT Program, DTA first identifies SNAP households not getting the full “heating/cooling standard utility allowance” (SUA). Then, on the 1st of each month, DTA shares a data file with DHCD of “active” SNAP households. DTA asks DHCD to confirm if the SNAP household got regular Fuel Assistance/LIHEAP in the past 12 months. If not, then around the 3rd week of the month, DTA provides eligible SNAP households with a $21 H-EAT Fuel Assistance payment. This payment is put on the EBT card, but just once every 12 months. The SNAP benefit should then increase the next month and continue at the higher amount without interruption. DTA should automatically issue another $21 H-EAT payment when necessary.

    The SNAP households excluded from the H-EAT payment are:

    • Bay State CAP (SSI) households,
    • homeless households (who get a special $143 homeless income deduction), and
    • households already identified has having separate heating or cooling costs or getting maximum SNAP

    If your SNAP benefits do not include a Heating/Cooling SUA and you are not on Bay State CAP or homeless, check with an advocate.

    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 you have zero rent. Contact an advocate if denied a SUA.

    DTA Policy Guidance:

    Online Guide Sections: Home > SNAP > Expenses and      Deductions > Household Expenses > Standard Utility Expenses

    Additional Guidance:

    • Implementation of revised H-EAT Program providing $21 of Fuel Assistance payment to qualified households. Ops Memo 2014-52 (Aug 28, 2014) 
    • DTA guidance on creation of H-EAT program in 2007 with sample household notices, instructions on semi-annual caseload sweeps, caseload match with DHCD. F.O. Memo 2007-31 (June 28, 2007)
    • 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)
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    74. What is the shelter deduction and how is it calculated?

    The SNAP rules allow you to deduct shelter expenses that exceed half of your net income, but not a dollar for dollar deduction of shelter costs. This is called the “shelter deduction.” 106 C.M.R. § 364.400(G).  

    Example:  Lauren’s shelter expenses are $700 per month, but her net income after other deductions is $1,500 per month. Lauren will not get any shelter deduction. That’s because half of her  net income ($750) is more than your shelter expenses of $700.

    The SNAP shelter deduction is complicated but important. After Section 8 and public housing, it is the biggest source of federal assistance to low-income households based on their housing needs.

    Remember, shelter costs may be self-declared by the household unless questionable. See Question 11.

    Two types of shelter deduction:

    • Regular shelter deduction: The current shelter deduction is capped at $504 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  106 C.M.R. § 364.400(G)(1)

    ■    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);

    ■    property taxes and homeowner insurance (even if zero mortgage);

    ■    trailer payments and parking fees;

    ■    the cost of repairs to your property (a new boiler, new roof, replacement of windows, etc.) needed as a result of a fire, flood, severe storms or other natural disaster and not reimbursed by insurance;

    ■    shelter expenses for a home not occupied by you if you are planning to return to it and are not otherwise renting it; plus

    ■    the appropriate standard utility allowance (SUA) for your household. See Question 73. Actual utility costs and heating costs are not allowed as they are covered under the SUA.

    How DTA calculates the shelter deduction – four steps

    ■    Step 1: Calculate your preliminary net income – gross monthly income after subtracting the earned income deduction, standard deduction, any dependent care , child support payments, and allowable medical costs .

    ■    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. If the answer is more than $504, you can deduct only $504 unless the household includes an elderly or disabled person.

    Example: Carl works party time and 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.

    $1,500       Gross earned income of Carl (including child support)

    -    300       20% earnings deduction from gross

    -    155       Standard deduction for household of 3

    -    100       Child support deduction

    $    945      Preliminary net income

                      Shelter deduction calculation

                      $   500       Rent

                      +   621       SUA

                      $1,121       Shelter expenses

                      -   473        One-half prelim net income

     $  648        Shelter expenses

     

    -    504       Maximum shelter deduction (capped)

    $   441 NET INCOME for Carl’s family (preliminary net income minus max shelter deduction)

    DTA Policy Guidance

    Online Guide Sections: SNAP > Expenses and       Deductions > Household Expenses > Shelter Expenses >

    Additional Guidance:

    • SNAP clients who own their homes entitled to total incurred cost of mortgage, homeowners insurance, property taxes and condo fees as shelter costs. Fact of no mortgage obligation does not mean household has no shelter costs. Transitions, March/April 2015, Quality Corner.
    • Mortgage or rent payments 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. Transitions Hotline Q&A (Feb. 2010).
    • 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 (January 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 mortgage amount billed is countable, even if household pays the bank more than monthly mortgage. Transitions Hotline Q&A (October 2000).
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    75. What is the homeless deduction?

    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 $155 standard deduction and the $143 homeless deduction. His net monthly income for SNAP is $102 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 36.
    • 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.

    DTA Policy Guidance:

    Online Guide Sections:  SNAP > Expenses and       Deductions > Household Expenses > Homeless Households 

    Additional Guidance:

    • 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. F.O. Memo 2001-18 (March 30, 2001)
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    76. 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 11 has detailed information on verifications, self-declarations, worker assistance and more. As a reminder, you can:

    ■  Self-declare the cost of child care or adult dependent care, including transportation, unless questionable.

    ■  Self-declare your shelter and utility costs, unless questionable.

    ■  Verify the legal obligation to pay child support with any legal document that describes your obligation and verify the amount you pay. 106 C.M.R. §§ 361.610(J), 364.400(E). See also Question 71.

    ■  Veriify at least $35.00 per month to get a standard $155 medical deduction  Verify that you have over $190/month in medical expenses to claim more. See Question 70 for examples of proofs accepted.

    Advocacy Reminders:

    • If your DTA worker failed to give you a notice telling you what verifications you needed and the date by which to provide them or failed to help you get the verifications, you may be able to recover the benefits you would have received had the verifications been processed timely. 106 C.M.R. § 364.450(B). See also Question 18
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    SNAP Part IV -- Getting and Using SNAP Benefits

    Getting and using SNAP Benefits.

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

    If you have zero countable income after all deductions, you will get the maximum SNAP benefit listed below based on the size of your household. Amounts current as of January 2016.

    Household Size

    Max SNAP Benefit

    1

    $194

    2

    $357

    3

    $511

    4

    $649

    5

    $771

    6

    $925

    7

    $1,022

    106 C.M.R. §§ 364.600, 364.980. See also Appendix B, Chart 4.

    If you have countable net income, you calculate your benefit by multiplying 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.

    Example: Carl and his family 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
    $ 511 Maximum SNAP for 3 persons
          -$150 Countable income (round up)
     $ 361 Monthly SNAP benefits for the 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 78 for an explanation of “SNAP month.”

    If you do not get all the mandatory documents in within 30 days from applying and it was your fault, DTA might pro-rate your SNAP as of the day when they got everything they needed. This means you are getting less than you might otherwise receive. You can challenge this. See Question 19.

    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 the household’s 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), 365.180(G)(3). 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 baby or other household member).

    DTA Policy Guidance:

    Online Guide Sections: Notices/Forms > Cross Program > SNAP Calculation Page Example

    Additional Guidance:

    • Calculation page included in DTA notices updated to clearly list income, deductions and information taken into account in SNAP math. OLG Transmittal #2015-44 (Aug. 28, 2015). 
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    78. When will I get my SNAP benefits?

    Your SNAP benefits are put in your EBT 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.

    DTA has to decide on your application and make sure you get your SNAP benefits within 30 days of the day you apply or a notice of denial. 

    If approved, you should receive a DTA approval notice and benefits by Day 30. 106 C.M.R. § 361.700(A).  Unless you pick up your card in person, you should receive two envelopes in the mail that include your EBT card and a PIN (these come in separate envelopes). Your SNAP benefits should be loaded onto the EBT card so you can go food shopping by Day 30.

    • The amount you get initially should also be retroactive to the date you applied.  106 C.M.R. § 361.700(A).  If your benefits are not approved back to the date you applied, see Question 19.  If DTA denies your application, you have a right to appeal. See Question 94
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    79. Why do some households get only $16 in SNAP each month?

    If you are a household of one or two and your gross income is below the 200% FPL, you are eligible for a minimum of $16 a month in SNAP benefits regardless of net income. 106 C.M.R. § 364.600(A).  Federal and state SNAP law allows all 1 and 2 person households under the gross income test to get a minimum benefit. This rule does not apply to households of 3 persons or more. 

    Sometimes the “minimum benefit” is a sign that the household is not claiming all the expenses they are entitle to claim, such as medical expenses or dependent care.

    Example:  Tom and Emily Smith are an elderly couple who each receive Social Security, totaling $2,000 (under 200% FPL for two persons).  They pay a mortgage of $1,000 per month and have not claimed or verified any medical expenses for DTA. The couple receives $16/month in SNAP as a “minimum” benefit.

    If the Smiths could verify medical expenses of $36/month, their SNAP would increase to $83 If they verified over $190/month, their SNAP would increase even higher. 

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    80. How do I use SNAP benefits?

    SNAP benefits are kept in an electronic benefits transfer (EBT) account for you to use at any grocery or convenience store that is a USDA-approved EBT vendor. 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.

    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. You can change your PIN any time by calling the Massachusetts EBT Customer Service number: 1-800-997-2555. 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.

    You have the option to pick up the EBT card at your local DTA office, but DTA cannot require you to come in person. 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 required to have an EBT photo card, see Question 29.

    How to use your EBT card

    ■    Look for the Quest mark on the door or window of the store, or a sign that says the store accepts EBT.

                                                           Quest symbol for food stamp benefits only

    ■    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.

    ■    At check-out, swipe your card and enter your secret PIN on the number pad and then press enter. The cashier should NOT ask to inspect your card or look at your name or any photo on the card. The PIN is your electronic signature See Question 29.

    ■    Tell the clerk how much SNAP you want to use to pay for your food or enter the amount yourself. If there is not enough EBT on your card, the clerk should tell you how much cash you need to pay.

    ■    Always check your receipt to be sure that the amount on the EBT receipt is the same as the grocery receipt.

    ■    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 as long as you have benefits on the card. There is no charge or fee when you use your EBT card to buy food.  If you lose your card, see Question 84.

    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 29.
    • See also DTA client pamphlet, How to Use Your EBT Card, available:  http://www.mass.gov/eohhs/docs/dta/ebt/dta-ebt-tb-eng.pdf 
    • If the EBT equipment in the store is not working, the store should still let you purchase some of your food using a manual voucher process. The clerk should fill out a manual voucher for SNAP that lists your EBT card number and the amount of your purchase. Then the clerk will call to see if you have enough SNAP to buy the food. Make sure the amount on the voucher is correct before you sign, and make sure you get a copy. Keep the voucher copy so you can subtract this amount from your balance. Call the customer service number on the back of your card or call the DTA Assistance Line if a store says its EBT system is down.

    DTA Policy Guidance:

    • Online Guide Sections: SNAP > Application Processing > SNAP Application Processing > Issuing An EBT Card
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    81. Can I use my EBT benefits out of state?

    YES! You have a right to use your SNAP in all 50 states. SNAP is a federal program that is “interoperable” between states. 7 C.F.R. § 274.8(b)(10).

    In order to get SNAP in Massachusetts, you must be a resident.  You can also not receive SNAP in two states at the same time. 7 C.F.R. § 273.3(a)

    Many SNAP recipients live near and shop in border states such as New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island. New York.  Often some of the large grocery stores are closer and/or cheaper.

    And SNAP recipients visiting family and friends can also use their SNAP benefits while out of state.  DTA should not assume you have abandoned your MA residency and threaten to close or close your SNAP case solely because you are shopping out of state. For example, you can shop across the border in another state because the food is less expensive.

    If you live in MA and DTA sends you a letter saying you have to reprove your MA residency because you are using your SNAP out of state, this policy may be illegal. Contact Legal Services.

    DTA Policy Guidance:

    • DTA policy announcing tracking out-of-state usage of EBT benefits, EBT benefit transactions now tracked by DTA Fraud Unit.  If EBT activity seems suspicious (e.g. regular out-of-state purchases for prolonged periods), DTA may issue request for verification of residence and may close SNAP case if not received.  Ops Memo 2013-34 (July 26, 2013)
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    82. If I forget to use my EBT card, does my case close or will I lose benefits?

    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 may also contact you if your SNAP balance seems too high. 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. See Question 7.
    • 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 may ask you to verify that you are still a resident of the state. See Question 81. You cannot get benefits in two states at once.

    DTA Policy Guidance:

    Additional Guidance:

    • 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 2014-8 (Feb 6, 2014)
    • 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)
    • USDA Guidance 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). http://www.fns.usda.gov/sites/default/files/082207.pdf  
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    83. 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 81 for more details about DTA policy and using your EBT card when you are out of state.

    Advocacy Reminder:

    • While you cannot use SNAP for vitamins or medications, if you are elderly or disabled, be sure to tell DTA about any money you spend on vitamins and other health care expenses. You can claim these as a deduction to boost your SNAP benefit. See Question 70.

    Additional Guidance:

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    84. What if I do not receive an EBT card or my card is lost or stolen?

    To report a lost or stolen EBT card, call EBT Customer Service at 1-800-997-2555. 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 speak with a DTA worker to talk about the reasons for multiple requests and how the EBT card works.

    No request for a replacement EBT card can be denied if the person is otherwise eligible. Some EBT recipients may be confused about the card and how it 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.

    DTA Policy Guidance:

    Online Guide Sections:  Cross Programs > EBT > EBT Card Fees, Replacements and Notices

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    85. What if I lose food due to a power outage, fire or a disaster?

    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. See Appendix B, Chart 5 . 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: 

    DTA Policy Guidance:

    Online Guide Sections:  SNAP > Household Misfortune > Household Misfortune Procedures

    Additional Guidance:

    • Updated procedures for household misfortune, loss of food due to fire, flood, loss of electricity, equipment (refrigerator/freezer) malfunction or other disaster.  OLG Transmittal #2015-5 (Jan 30, 2015)
    • Overview of DTA protocol regarding procedure for replacement SNAP and regarding third party verification. Ops Memo 2013-30 (Oct 24, 2013)
    • Sample DTA protocol on household misfortune benefits for victims of Hurricane Irene including 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 2011-20A; F.O. Memo 2008-73.    
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    86. 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.

    Example:  Martha Jones reported her change of address in July including paying higher rent.  DTA never acted on the information. Martha’s case closed in December but she would have received $75 more per month in SNAP benefits from August through December. DTA owes her $375 in retroactive SNAP

    If you are owed back SNAP benefits, take the following steps:

    • Send a letter to DTA requesting the underpayment correction (keep a copy of this letter for yourself).
    • Call the DTA Assistance Line at 877- 382- 2363 and ask a DTA worker about your request for an underpayment.
    • If DTA is going to deny your request for an underpayment, they need to tell you in writing so that you have an opportunity to appeal. Under the SNAP regulations, 106 C.M.R. § 366.530, when restoring SNAP to a household the household must be told about the payment, including the amount it is giving you back, how it calculated the amount (including any amounts DTA keeps to offset benefits you may owe), and your right to appeal. DTA does not generally send this level of information. You should call the DTA Assistance Line to ask for this information.
    • 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. 106 C.M.R. § 366.530.  See Question 94. The DTA notice telling you about SNAP paid as a result of an underpayment may look like the one below. You can appeal this notice!

    Below is sample text telling you DTA has issued a correction of an underpayment or “related benefit.” You can appeal this notice if you do not agree with the amount. If you have problems with this process contact Legal Services.

    What happens if a grocery store or other EBT retailer charges me too much?

    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.

    DTA Policy Guidance:

    Online Guide Sections:  SNAP > Case Maintenance > Related Benefit  

    Additional Guidance:  Overpayments can be offset by established underpayments (e.g. where DTA owes SNAP benefits to a SNAP household which has been overpaid). F.O. Memo 2011-54 (Nov. 17, 2011)

     

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    SNAP Part V -- Proving Continuing Eligibility

    Proving continuing eligibility.
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    87. How long am I certified for SNAP benefits?

    When you are approved for SNAP, you are “certified” for a set amount of time. This is called your certification period. You need to reapply or “recertify” before the end of your certification period to continue to receive SNAP.  Your SNAP will not continue without completing a recertification. 106 C.M.R. § 364.700

    The approval notice you receive from DTA will tell you how long your SNAP benefits are certified. This could be:

    • 6 months, typically for “ABAWD” individuals (see Question 55)
    • 12 months for most households with children
    • 24 months for most households with an elder or disabled person
    • 36 months for Bay State CAP households (see Question 5)

    What happens at the end of my certification 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 most of the information DTA has about your household. You need to tell DTA if:

    • Your new address if you have moved
    • Your current income (last 4 pay stubs)
    • Any new household members who share food or have left
    • Changes in any shelter costs, dependent care or medical expenses.  If no changes, you do not need to reverify this information.

    When it is time to recertify:

    • Fill out, sign, and return the recertification form; and
    • Send in copies of your most recent wage stubs if working and proof of anything that has changed; and
    • Be available for a phone interview with a DTA worker. See Question 70.

    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 after the DTA deadline, you may have an interruption in benefits.

    Getting continued SNAP 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). Remember that DTA should not ask for documents you have already given them.

    If you sent DTA your recertification and any necessary proofs on time and you do not get your SNAP on time, call DTA and ask them for help. See Question 26.

    Getting a closed case reopened:

    If you send DTA your recertification form and have your interview, but your SNAP ends because DTA is missing documents, you can ask DTA to reopen your case as long as:

    • you sent in the recertification form before the deadline, and
    • you get your missing 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).

    If more than 30 days has elapsed since the end of your certification period, you should reapply.

    DTA Policy Guidance:

    Online Guide Sections: SNAP > Reporting Requirements/Recertifications 

    Additional Guidance:

    • Notice of Benefits Ending sent to household when SNAP automatically closes because recertification process started but not complete. OLG Transmittal 2015-26 (May 1, 2015).
    • 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 F.O. Memo 2010-03 (Jan. 19, 2010)
    • DTA required to close SNAP case if recert process not complete prior to closing date, even if household sends in timely recert form. F.O. Memo 2011-55A (Dec. 14, 2011)
    • Closed SNAP case must be reopened if missing verifications received within 30 days of termination, no need for household to file a new SNAP application. F.O. Memo 2006-20 (April 21, 2006) 
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    88. Do I need to have an interview at recertification?

    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).  This is the same interview process done for initial application. See Question 9.

    But, there is no interview at recertification for elder or disabled SNAP households who meet the following conditions: 

    • Everyone in your SNAP household is elderly or a disabled adult;
    • Your household has no earned income;
    • Your recertification form is fully filled out and sent to DTA on time; and
    • You send DTA all the verifications they need for anything that has changed, such as income, immigration status, residence.

    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. 

    DTA Policy Guidance:

    Online Guide Sections:  SNAP > Reporting Requirements/Recertifications > Recertification

    Additional Guidance:

    • Elder/disabled households are eligible for waiver of interview at recertification unless information on form is questionable or member of household reports earnings or self-employment. Transitions March/April 2015 DTA Mailbox
    • DTA policy announcing reinstatement of waiver of recert interview for elder/disabled households, Ops Memo 2011-29 (June 30, 2011), and creation of  of pre-filled elder/disabled recertification forms. Ops Memo 2012-55 (Nov 19, 2012)
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    89. When do I need to report change and what is Simplified Reporting?

    The majority of SNAP households are now on “Interim Reporting”, also called “Simplified Reporting.” This means, other than your recertification, you do not have to report to DTA any changes in income or living situation except at specific intervals – when you are sent an Interim Report.

    There are three different reporting schedules based on the length of your certification period:

    • Elder and disabled households certified for 24 months must complete an Interim Report before the 12th month.
    • Households certified for 12 months (typically families with children) must complete an Interim Report before the 6th month.
    • ABAWDS (able bodied without dependents) and other households are certified for 6 months or less, and need to complete an Interim Report before the 3rd month of the certification period.

    IMPORTANT: In late 2015, DTA began switching more SNAP households from “change reporting” to Simplified Reporting.  DTA’s goal is to achieve universal simplified reporting for SNAP cases that do not also receive TAFDC or EAEDC cash assistance. As this Guide goes to print, some SNAP households may still be on change reporting. This means the household is required to report changes to DTA within 10 days of the date of the change (a new job, someone moves into the home, etc).

    If you have questions about your SNAP reporting requirements, contact DTA, look at a recent SNAP approval notice or look on the My Account Page. See Question 27 to get information on your case.

    Reporting requirements households that get cash assistance

    Reporting requirements are different for households that also get cash assistance from DTA (TAFDC or EAEDC). If your household receives cash assistance, you are not on simplified reporting. You are required to report any changes of more than $100 that can affect the cash assistance grant. This includes if a relative receives TAFDC for a minor children. The change must be reported within 10 days of the receipt of the new income or other change. 106 C.M.R. § 366.110(A).

    When you will get the Interim Report

    DTA will send you the Interim Report 45 days before the middle of your certification period. So, if you are certified for 12 months – January through December, you should get this report by May 15th, 45 days before July 1st.  When you get it, fill it out and send it back to DTA as quickly as possible so there aren’t any delays in your SNAP. The Interim Report includes the information DTA knows about your household. It has check boxes where you can check if there has been a change or if there has been no change to the information listed. If there has been a change, try to also send in verification of the change to make the process faster.

    You do not need an interview when you file the Interim report.

    A couple of things can happen based on what you do:

    1. If you do not send this form back, your benefits will stop.
    2. If you send back the form on time DTA should process it and tell you if you need to send in any proofs. If everything is all set, your SNAP should continue without interruption.
    3. If you needed to send DTA proofs but were late and your SNAP stopped, you can get your SNAP reopened back to the date DTA received your proofs as long as DTA got the proofs within 30 days of your case closing.
    4. If you send in the interim report form late, DTA will treat it as a new application and should reopen your SNAP case – but the benefits will be prorated as of the date they received the report.

    If you did everything DTA asked you to do and your SNAP still closed, contact the DTA Ombuds or Legal Services. See Question 26 and Appendix E.

    DTA will also send you a Recertification Form before the end of your certification period. This is a longer form that asks more information about your household changes. See Question 87.  

    IMPORTANT:  Even though you are not required to report most changes until your Interim reporting period, you must report to DTA if:

    • Your gross income exceeds the gross income limit for your household. The gross income limit should be listed on your approval notice. See Gross Income Chart in Appendix B.  
    • Someone moves into your household and has income that, in combination with other income, exceeds the gross income limit for your household. 106 C.M.R. § 366.110(C)(3).

    Example:  Selina is a single mom with one child. She is certified for SNAP for 1 year and must report changes in January and July. She starts a second part time job in March earning $200/week. Her total monthly gross income from both jobs is $1,700 per month, below 200% FPL ($2,670) for her family size. Selina does not need to report the second job until her next Interim Report or Recertification.

    If your gross income increases above the gross income assigned to your household, you must report this change right away—within ten (10) days after the change occurs. When you are approved for SNAP, DTA will send you a notice explaining how long you are certified, when you will get an Interim Report and what the gross income level is in case you need to report sooner.

    Summary of SNAP simplified reporting requirements

    Type of Certification

    Which households?

    What do I have to report and when?

    24 Month Certification Period

    Elder (60+) or disabled households with no children and no earned income

    Must complete an Interim Report at 12 months and  Recertification at 24 months. Paperwork mailed out about 45 days before end of 12 or 24 months.

    12 Month Certification Period

    Most families with children, non- elder/disabled households, persons with earnings or history of earned income.

    Interim Report at 6 months and Recertification at 12 months.  Paperwork mailed out about 45 days before end of 12 or 24 months

    Must report if gross income exceeds 200%  FPL gross income test.

    ABAWDs - 6 month Certification Period

    Non-disabled adults ages 18-49 and not part of SNAP household with minor child

    An interim report at 3 months and Recertification at 6 months. Some ABAWDs meeting the work requirement through community service need to send DTA papers every month. See Question 55.

    Bay State Cap – 36 Month Certification

    SSI recipients approved for Bay State CAP.

    Recertified every 36 months. Report any changes directly to SSA that affect SSI benefits and SSA will notify DTA. See Question 5.

    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 should 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).

    Example: Suzyn and her 3 kids are certified for 12 months and on “interim” reporting.”  She is not required to report any changes on her SNAP case for the first five months after her application. The first month of her certification 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 and, unless her income goes over the Gross Income level for her household, she is not required to report anything else until her next Interim Report or Recertification.

    Advocacy Reminders:

    • It’s a good idea for a household to report changes in income or expenses if it would result in an increase in SNAP. DTA should lower or terminate your SNAP benefits ONLY when your income exceeds the gross income limit or if they have received information from a data source that is “verified upon receipt”. If DTA closes your case or reduces your SNAP for other during the interim reporting periods for other reasons, contact an advocate.
    • 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. 

    DTA Policy Guidance:

    Online Guide Sections: SNAP > Reporting Requirements/Recertifications > Simplified Reporting/Interim Report

    Additional Guidance:

    • Further expansion of “simplified” or “interim reporting” for households previously on “change reporting”,   ABAWDs put in into 6-month interim reporting. OLG Transmittal #2016-05 (Jan. 4, 2016).
    • Expansion of simplified reporting to include elder/disabled households – these households in general moved into 24 month reporting with an Interim Report at 12 months. OLG Transmittal #2015-57 (Nov. 20, 2015).
    • 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.” 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)
    • 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)
    • New verifications are not required if no changes reported in household expenses at Simplified Reporting 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)
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    90. Can DTA act on other information they receive and change my SNAP benefits?

    Under certain situations, DTA can make changes to your SNAP benefits during the middle of your interim reporting periods, even if you did not report a change. SNAP federal rules say that DTA may adjust your benefits if they receive information from a reliable third party that impacts your eligibility. 7 C.F.R. §273.12(a)(5)(vi)(B)(2).

    Examples include when:

    • DTA gets confirmation  about the death of a family member through the Dept. of Public Health (DPH) Vital Records,
    • DTA gets confirmed information that the Department of Children and Families (DCF) has removed a child.
    • DTA gets confirmation from the Department of Corrections (DOC) that a household member has been incarcerated for 30 days or more.
    • DTA gets confirmed information from the Social Security Administration (SSA) about an increase or other change in SSI or Social Security benefits.

    DTA has a master list of “primary source” data that they consider “verified upon receipt.” This means that DTA does not need additional verification from you household or another source to reduce or terminate benefits.

    Sometimes there are errors with these data matches. For example, a Department of Corrections prison list may not have the correct date of release, or a child removed by DCF may have returned to the home. DTA should double check this information but problems have surfaced in the past. If your SNAP benefits mysteriously decrease and nothing in your household has changed, contact Legal Services. See Appendix E.  

    DTA Policy Guidance:

    Online Guide Sections:  SNAP > Reporting Requirements/Recertifications > Simplified Reporting/Interim Report and Cross Programs > External Agency Matches > Matches - Match Processing for SNAP Households  (for DTA’s  list of the data information considered “verified upon receipt.”) 

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    91. If my TAFDC case closes, do my SNAP benefits continue?

    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.” 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 $338 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 $468 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).

    45 days before the end of the 5 month TBA period, DTA should send you a recertification form that you will need to complete in order to continue your SNAP.  

    Additional Guidance:

    • 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 (March 2005).
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    92. How soon should DTA increase my benefits if I report loss of income or a new household member?

    DTA must increase your benefits by the month following the month you report and verify the change to them. 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). If your shelter costs change, you do not need to verify that information unless DTA determines it is questionable.

    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 your TAFDC stops, see Question 91.

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    93. How soon will my SNAP decrease if my income goes up or a member of my household leaves?

    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 (such as an across the board decline in the SNAP benefit level). 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.

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    SNAP Part VI -- Appeal Rights

    Appeal rights.
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    94. What are my rights if DTA denies, cuts or stops my SNAP?

    If DTA denies your SNAP benefits or stops or lowers your benefits, you can ask for a fair hearing. A fair hearing, or an “appeal”, is a formal meeting at the local DTA office or a formal telephone or video conference. A hearing officer runs the hearing and decides who is right. 106 C.M.R. §§ 367.375, 343.110. To ask for a fair hearing you file something called an “appeal” with DTA. 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.

    Most DTA notices have an appeal form on the back which you can use to request a fair hearing. See Question 98 for more on how to file an appeal and Appendix C for a copy of the DTA “Request for an Appeal” form.

    Denials

    You can appeal most actions DTA takes. For example, you can appeal if:

    • DTA denies your application or recertification
    • DTA lowers your SNAP and you think it is wrong
    • DTA denies or ignores a request to correct a SNAP underpayment (underissuance)
    • DTA does not increase your SNAP (for example, when your income goes down or someone has moved into your household).
    • DTA denies or ignores your request to accommodate a disability. See Question 25.
    • DTA says you have been denied but never sends you written notice.

    See 106 C.M.R. § 343.230.

    Cuts or Terminations

    In most situations, 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 97 on whether you can 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.

    Worker Bad Conduct

    • You can ask for a hearing if a DTA 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. You have 120 days to file an appeal from the date of the incident where you allege worker misconduct. 106 C.M.R. § 343.140.
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    95. If I have the proofs DTA wanted, should I still ask for a hearing?

    You should always ask for a hearing, even if you now have the proof DTA wanted. But, you might be able to get the problem fixed without having to wait for the hearing.

    If you are missing proofs and your case was recently closed or denied you can still give them to DTA.

    • If you give DTA the missing proofs within 60 days of the date you applied for SNAP, OR within 30 days of the date your certification period ended or your case closed, then as long as they think the proof you sent is acceptable DTA should approve or reinstate your benefits. 106 C.M.R. § 361.700(B).
    • You may also be able to get a worker or supervisor to approve your case if you supply the proof after this time. 106 C.M.R. § 367.225(A).
    • If the documents DTA is asking for are ones you already sent them and DTA did not look at them timely, DTA should give you benefits going back to the date they received the proof from you.  You can ask to speak to a Supervisor, call the Ombuds Office or contact an advocate to help you.

    Canceling the hearing if DTA fixes my case

    If DTA approves or re-opens your case while you are waiting for the hearing, you can withdraw (cancel) your appeal request so you do not have to go to the hearing.

    • You can do this in writing. Mail or fax your withdrawal to the Division of Hearings, see Question 98.
    • You can do this orally by calling the Division of Hearings at 617-348-5321and asking them to cancel your hearing.
    • If DTA approved your case or agreed to some or all of what you were asking for, it is a good idea to say so in the withdrawal. You will get a letter from DTA confirming that your appeal request was withdrawn. 106 C.M.R. 343.240 and 106 C.M.R. 367.150.
    • Do not confuse withdrawing an appeal with asking for a postponement because you cannot attend the hearing on the date the Division of Hearings scheduled.
    • You should not be pressured into withdrawing your appeal.

    Bringing missing proofs to the hearing

    Bring any documents you have that you think show what the problem is with your case.

    • If you are late giving DTA missing proofs or have other issues, you can bring the proof to the hearing. 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 Guidance:

    • 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. F.O. Memo 2006-20 (April 21, 2006)
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    96. Can I fix problems without going to a hearing?

    Yes. You can try to fix problems by talking with a DTA worker, Supervisor, Office Director or calling the DTA Ombuds Office.

    Start by trying to figure out what happened in your case, when your benefits started or stopped, and what notices you were sent. See Question 27 for information about the My Account Page (“MAP”) to get information about your benefits case.

    Second, call the DTA Assistance Line and ask the DTA worker to explain to you the reason for their action on your benefits.

    • When the issue is missing verification and the verification was in the case record but not processed, DTA should reopen the case immediately and issue you retroactive benefits. See Question 18.
    • When the issue is verification you sent in but you sent it in late, DTA should reopen your SNAP and make a determination of whose “fault” it is. See Question 19.
    • When the issue involves DTA failing to increase your benefits when you reported a decrease in income or increase in expenses, DTA should fix the case and issue you retroactive SNAP (this is an “underpayment”).  See Question 86.  DTA should not tell you to file an appeal to get the correction made.

    If you do not get a satisfactory answer, ask for a Supervisor or the Assistant Director in the office you are calling.

    You can also file a complaint with the Department by speaking with a manager or the DTA Ombuds Office at 617-348-5354.  See Question 26.

    Even if you are trying to fix the problem, you can ask for a hearing at the same time. You can always cancel the hearing if DTA agrees to fix the problem and correct your benefits. 106 C.M.R. § 343.350.

    Discrimination complaints

    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:

    Director, Office of Adjudication
    U.S. Department of Agriculture
    1400 Independence Avenue, SW
    Washington, DC 20250-9410

    Director of Equal Opportunity
    Department of Transitional Assistance
    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 E for a list of Legal Services offices.

    Advocacy Reminders:

    • Advocates may need a release signed by the client to discuss a client’s case with DTA. If you cannot send a release, you may be able to do a three-way call.  See Question 7.
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    97. How much time do I have to ask for a fair hearing?

    You can file an appeal 90 days from the date on your notice to get your appeal request to the Division of Hearings. 106 C.M.R. § 343.140.

    You can file an appeal 120 days from the date DTA received a request from you and they failed to act (e.g. you asked DTA to increase your benefits or your request for a correction of an underpayment and DTA takes no action). 106 C.M.R. § 343.140.

    You can ask for a hearing any time during your certification period to challenge the amount of your benefits or whenever you discover an error. 106 C.M.R. § 367.100. See Question 94.

    Keeping your benefits while waiting for a hearing

    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 timely receives your fair hearing (appeal) request. Getting benefits while you are waiting for the hearing decision is called “aid pending appeal.”

    If you get the Division of Hearings your appeal request either before the effective date of the action OR within 10 days of the date on the notice (whichever is later) then you should be considered to have “appealed timely.” If you appeal timely, your SNAP benefits will continue until the hearing officer makes a decision or until your certification period ends, whichever is first. 106 C.M.R. § 343.250, 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. § 343.250(C). See Part 7 for information about overpayments.

    Note, you are not eligible for SNAP benefits pending appeal if you are terminated at the end of your certification period. 106 C.M.R. § 366.200. You can still appeal, but the aid will stop. If you do not appeal timely or your certification period ends, you can always re-apply for SNAP while waiting for your hearing.

    Example: Judy's SNAP is put on her EBT card on the 11th of each month. She is certified for one year. She gets a notice from DTA dated January 25 that says 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 appeal request by February 9, the day before the termination is to take place, for Judy to continue to get SNAP while waiting for the hearing to happen and for the hearing officer to make a decision. But, if her certification period ends while she is waiting for a decision her SNAP will stop. 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. But, she can reapply for SNAP!

    Advocacy Reminders:

    • It always a good idea to appeal any denial, termination, or reduction in benefits you disagree with promptly. The appeal form asks if you do not want your benefits to continue while you wait for a hearing decision. It’s usually a good idea to not to choose this option. If you have questions about appeals contact a legal advocate. See Appendix C for a copy of the appeal form. 
    • Save any notices you get from DTA and the envelopes the notices come in. You may need the postmark on the envelope to show when the notice was sent.
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    98. How do I file an appeal to get a fair hearing?

    You can ask for a hearing by

    • sending a fax to the Division of Hearings, FAX 617-348-5311, or
    • writing to DTA, P.O. Box 4017, Taunton MA 02780‐0314

    Fax is better because it is faster and you have a fax receipt showing when you sent the request to the Division of Hearings.

    Call 617-348-5321 or 800-882-2017 to see if DTA got your hearing request. Also call this number if you think your SNAP should have continued while you are waiting for the hearing and it stopped.

    DTA has a form called a “Request for an Appeal” to ask for a hearing. See sample in Appendix C. If you got written notice of DTA’s decision, you can ask for a hearing by filling out the appeal form on the back of one copy of the notice. Or, you can write your own letter requesting a fair hearing. You do not have to use the DTA form. 106 C.M.R. § 343.240.

    You should write the reason why you want a fair hearing. If you file the appeal on the backside of the SNAP letter of denial or termination, it is perfectly fine to give a general reason if you are not sure. You can write down “I disagree with DTA’s decision.”  If you are not sending in the DTA notice of action, you should give more detail.

    If you need an interpreter or you are homebound, you can ask for accommodations on the appeal form including:

    • Request that the hearing to be held in your home if you are disabled and homebound. 106 C.M.R. §§ 343.310.
    • Request for an interpreter if you need one including American sign language or foreign language. 106 C.M.R. §§ 343.450,   and
    • Request an “expedited” (quickly scheduled) appeal, if your SNAP application for expedited benefits was denied. 106 C.M.R. § 367.225

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

    Next steps after you file an appeal request

    The Division of Hearings (DOH) should send you a notice within a few weeks of your appeal that tells you the date and time of your hearing. DTA must send you written notice of your hearing date at least one week prior to the hearing. 106 C.M.R.§ 367.325.

    It will also include the address of your local DTA office where it will be held. If you prefer to not go in person or cannot travel to the DTA office for any reason, you can ask to have your hearing done over the phone. This is your choice.

    The DOH notice will have other information about what a hearing is like and what your rights are.  

    Rescheduling the hearing

    If you are appealing a SNAP issue and you cannot make the hearing date the Division of Hearings scheduled, you are entitled to receive postponement of the scheduled hearing. 106 C.M.R. §367.200. Call the Division of Hearings before the date it is schedule for and ask for a new date. You do not need to have a good cause reason, as long as you call before the hearing date to postpone. 106 CMR 343.320(A)(2).  If you need to postpone more than once, you may need to show good cause.

    If you miss the hearing without calling in advance, you will have to give a good cause reason to the Division of Hearings to get the hearing rescheduled. You will also be asked to explain to the hearings officer at the rescheduled hearings why you missed the first hearing. Good cause includes an unexpected emergency. 106 C.M.R.§ 343.320(D).  Otherwise the Division of hearings will dismiss your appeal. 106  C.M.R. 343.320(B)(1).  

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    99. How should I present my 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 E for a list of legal services offices. You can also bring a friend or relative for support. 106 C.M.R. § 367.350.
    • DTA should schedule you for a face-to-face hearing unless you prefer a 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.
    • Bring any proof you have. This can include proof you did not have before or never sent to DTA. 106 C.M.R. §§ 343.410, 343.500(A), 367.400(F). You or your advocate can ask DTA to send you papers and information from your file before the hearing. 106 C.M.R. § 343.340. If your hearing is being conducted by telephone or video, you should insist on an opportunity to fax any follow up 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 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 representative, 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.

    Advocacy Reminders:

    • DTA regulations allow DTA to schedule your hearing by telephone 106 C.M.R. § 343.120, but it is current DTA policy not to schedule a telephone hearing unless you ask for one. If DTA schedules you for a telephone 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 21.

    DTA Guidance:

    • Appellant can request permission from hearing officer keep hearing record open to submit additional materials after hearing date. Transitions, May 2015 Policy Mail Box
    • Confirms right of appellant to see full case record at DTA, including electronic information about in BEACON. Transitions, Jan. 2007,  FYI.

     

     

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    100. When will I get a decision and what should I do if I lose?

    The hearing officer must decide your case within 60 days of receiving your appeal request. 106 C.M.R. § 367.450.

    If you win, you should get any benefits DTA owes you within 30 days of the decision.  If your SNAP is supposed to go up because of the hearing decision, DTA must include the increase either within 10 days or in your next regular payment (depending on the date you asked for a hearing).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, 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 E. 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 101. 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 Question 108 and 109.

    Advocacy Reminders:

    • You can fax your remand request to the DTA Commissioner:  Fax to 617-348-8575.
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    SNAP Part VII -- Overissuances and Fraud

    Overissuances and fraud.
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    101. What if I was overpaid SNAP benefits?

    If you get more SNAP benefits than you are eligible for, DTA can recover the 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 consider the overpayment an Intentional Program Violation (IPV) or refer your case to the Bureau of Special Investigations (BSI). 106 C.M.R. § 706.240.

    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. § 271.4(b). You should ask DTA to compromise your claim if you cannot pay it without hardship. 

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    102. Do I have to repay an “unintentional” overpayment?

    First, DTA will decide if the overpayment was “intentional” (e.g. fraud) or “unintentional” or was the result of a DTA mistake, called an “agency error.”  106 C.M.R. § 367.495

    If the overpayment happened because of your mistake or a DTA mistake and DTA agrees it is an “unintentional overpayment,” DTA does not seek  recovery when:

    • the overpayment occurred 12 or more months before DTA discovered the problem,
    • the overpayment is less than $125 and you are not a current recipient,

    If you cannot repay the overpayment within three years without financial hardship, DTA has the authority to reduce the claim to the amount that can be recovered in three years ($10 per month or 10% of the SNAP you are getting, whichever is greater). This is called “compromising the claim.” 106 C.M.R. § 367.495(F).

    Contact Legal Services if you need help trying to compromise a SNAP overpayment.

    How is the overpayment calculated?

    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 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).

    Example: Jane Smith is self-employed and subject to simplified or interim reporting, ever six months. She gets her SNAP on the 8th of the month because her SSN ends in “5.” She gets a new client that will pay her much more than she had been getting paid before. On March 7 she gets her first check, which bumps her above the gross income test. 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 SNAP would have been closed effective April instead.

    Advocacy Reminders:

    • If DTA says you were overpaid, you can appeal. See Question 94. You can also ask DTA to send you a copy of the overpayment packet (overpayment information) in your case. If you think DTA made a mistake in the overpayment amount you should tell them.
    • DTA may suspend collection for an unintentional overpayment if you are no longer a recipient or DTA determines that collecting the claim will cost more than the amount it will be able to get from you.
    • 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 simplified reporting and you did not report an increase in income, unless the increase put your household over the gross income limit. See Question 89.

    Additional Guidance: 

    • The date of discovery is the date the overpayment is verified or the date the household fails to respond to an overpayment inquiry from DTA. Ops Memo 2014-35 (May 15, 2015) 
    • DTA can offset an underpayment (money DTA owes) by an established overpayment (money the client owes). Ops Memo 2011-54 (Nov 17, 2011).
    • No overpayment for changes not reported during semi-annual reporting period unless household exceeds gross income test. Transitions Hotline p.4 (June 2006)
    • Increase in threshold for overpayment recoveries from $35 to $125. F.O. Memo 2006-24 (May 19, 2006)
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    103. What if DTA says I committed fraud or an “IPV”?

    An IPV is an intentional program violation. That is when a court or hearings officer determines that you gave DTA false or misleading information on purpose, willfully hid information in order to get benefits you are not eligible for, or intentionally did not report a change that you were required to report and would have reduced your benefits. 106 C.M.R. § 367.525. Purposely giving false or misleading information or willfully hiding information in order to get benefits is fraud.

    How is the intentional overpayment calculated?

    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).

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    104. What is DTA required to do to show I committed 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. Question 21.

    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;
    • you 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 that you can show is not accurate
    • You have a mental impairment which prevented you 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.
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    105. When can my benefits be stopped for an IPV or fraud?

    If you are found guilty of an IPV by a court of law or by a DTA hearing officer – or you waived your right to an IPV hearing or signed a consent agreement in court – you will not be eligible for SNAP 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).

    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.

    • The disqualification period must start the month following the date that you received written notification of a hearing decision where the hearings officer made an IPV determination. 106 C.M.R. § 367.625. If DTA misses that date, or starts the disqualification late, you should not be disqualified for additional months that DTA missed.
    • Even if you are no longer getting SNAP at the point of the notification or during the disqualification, the SNAP disqualification period still starts the month following the month of the hearing decision. DTA cannot initiate a disqualification at some later date or suspend the disqualification until you reapply.

    Example:  A hearings officer found that Rachel committed an IPV on July15, 2014 and disqualified her for 12 months. DTA then sent her a notice of the disqualification on July 17th. Rachel was not getting SNAP at the time of the IPV disqualification. Her 12 months starts August 2014. She can reapply in September of 2015.  If Rachel has another family member, such as a child, she can still get SNAP for that child during the disqualification period, even though she is ineligible.

    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).

    Advocacy Reminders:

    • An IPV is a very serious matter. Contact legal services right away if you get notice of an IPV. See Appendix E.
    • 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. 

    Example:  Philip was disqualified from SNAP in Montana on January 2016 for 1 year. His SNAP disqualification ends January 2017, even if he is now in Massachusetts.  

    Additional Guidance:

    • Description of the “electronic disqualified recipient system” or eDRS under USDA to track individuals under IPV SNAP sanctions in other states. Households have the right to dispute the e-DRS finding and confirms an IPV disqualification does not affect other household members not disqualified (e.g. children). Ops Memo 2013-39A, August 26, 2013
    • 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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    106. What should I do if contacted by the Bureau of Special Investigations?

    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 can decide to send the case back to DTA to collect the overpayment or BSI may decide to refer the case for a criminal prosecution of SNAP fraud.

    If you do go to a BSI interview, you have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can be used against you. 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. Try to consult with an advocate before you meet with BSI or say anything.

    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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    107. Can I go to jail? Will I 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. 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.

    The federal SNAP rules permit you to ask the court to let you pay back the money through public service. 7 C.F.R. § 273.18(g)(7). 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.

    If the court finds that you committed an IPV, your benefits can be stopped under the SNAP IPV sanction rules. See Question 103. 106 C.M.R. §§ 367.900, 367.925.

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    108. How does DTA collect an overpayment if I am getting SNAP?

    If you are receiving SNAP benefits, in general DTA must collect the overpayment by reducing your benefits. 7 C.F.R. § 273.18(g)(1). See Question 102. 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.

    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 by automatically recouping some of your SNAP.

    You have the right to advance notice and an opportunity for a hearing before your benefits are reduced. 106 C.M.R. §§ 364.870, 364.880, 366.200. DTA may say you cannot challenge the overpayment at this point, so if you think the overpayment did not happen or the amount is not correct, you should request a hearing when you first get notice of the overpayment and should not wait to receive notice of the reduction before asking for a hearing. You have 90 days from date of the DTA action to request a fair hearing. See Question 94. 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.

    If you are getting SNAP, DTA can pay itself back by:

    • not paying you for an underpayment you are owed. See Question 86. This is called “offsetting.”
    • for unintentional overpayments, recouping 10% or $10 of your monthly SNAP, whichever is greater. 106 C.M.R. § 367.495(G)
    • for intentional program violation overpayments, recouping 20% or $20 of your monthly  SNAP, whichever is greater. 106 C.M.R. § 367.500(B)(2)

    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).

    Advocacy Reminders:

    • Check with an advocate 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.

    Additional Guidance:

    • DTA can offset an underpayment (benefits owed to a household) by an established overpayment. Ops Memo 2011-54 (Nov 17, 2011).
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    109. How does DTA collect overpayments if I am not receiving benefits?

    DTA has several ways of collecting overpayments from former SNAP and cash recipients.

    If you are no longer receiving SNAP, 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 other federal benefits payable to you, attach federal wages, and intercept a federal tax refund. See 7 C.F.R. § 273.18(n) and 106 C.M.R. § 367.510(E). However, needs-based benefits including SSI, TAFDC, EAEDC and veterans’ benefits cannot be reduced to repay SNAP overpayments. 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).

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

    If you have a payment plan with DTA, DTA has said they will not intercept your taxes if you are regularly making payments. However, if you miss payments, DTA may take additional action to collect money. DTA can also turn over the debt to a collection agency, which may add an additional collection fee on top of what you owe. A collection agency is not permitted under state law to harass you, and cannot threaten to take the first $500 per week you earn in gross wages. And a collection agency can only take money from your bank account if you have more than $2,500 in the account, and they can only take the excess above $2,500. For additional protections, see G.L. c. 235, § 34                         

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

    If the claim is for an unintentional program violation, DTA can also suspend collection if your household is not currently receiving SNAP  and DTA determines that the cost of collection will be more than DTA is likely to recover. 106 C.M.R. § 367.495(H).

    Advocacy Reminders:

    • If you are a SNAP recipient, or very low income, and paying back the overpayment will cause you financial hardship, make a written request to DTA to request that they “compromise the overpayment claim” to an amount that you could pay over three years. Be sure to put this in writing. If DTA refuses, you can also file an appeal and ask a hearings officer to consider your request to compromise the claim. This is an option only when the SNAP overpayment is caused by an unintentional error or agency error. If DTA or a court finds you have committed fraud, this is not an option.
    • See  the MA Attorney General’s Guide on Debt Collection, here:  http://www.mass.gov/ago/consumer-resources/consumer-information/credit-and-financial-literacy/consumer-credit/fair-debt-collection.html
    • See resources on our MassLegalHelp webpage, “I have debt. Help! http://www.masslegalhelp.org/consumer/debt

     

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    SNAP Appendices

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    Appendix A: SNAP Worksheet

    Appendix A: SNAP Worksheet

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    Appendix B: Income and Benefits Standards

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    Appendix D: Benefits for Non-Citizens

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    Appendix E: Legal Services Offices

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