An Advocate's Guide to the Food Stamp/ Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in Massachusetts
By Patricia Baker, Laura Gallant, Deborah Harris, Rochelle Hahn, and Victoria Negus, Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, January 2013 Edition
As described by MCLE:
An indispensable handbook for all who need to know about the Food Stamp/SNAP program in Massachusetts. The 2012 Food Stamp/SNAP Advocacy Guide provides practical information about how and where to apply, who is eligible, and how to appeal a denial or termination. This Guide has been updated to reflect significant changes in Food Stamp/SNAP policy since January 2009. Organized for quick reference, the Guide takes advocates step-by-step through the financial eligibility rules, household composition rules, immigrant eligibility, and more. It also provides legal and technical information about the program, including detailed references to DTA regulations and procedural materials (Field Ops Memos, Hotline Q&As, Beacon User's Guide, and federal USDA guidance). Includes a Food Stamp/SNAP calculation worksheet, index of DTA regulations, sample advocacy forms.
About Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Massachusetts Law Reform Institute is a statewide legal advocacy and support center. Our mission is to represent low-income people, elders, and persons with disabilities in their struggle for basic human needs, to defend against policies and actions that harm and marginalize people living in poverty, and to advocate for systemic reforms that achieve social and economic justice. Our activities include advice, litigation, policy analysis, research, technical assistance and public information.
MLRI dedicates this Guide to anti-hunger advocates throughout Massachusetts who work tirelessly to help low-income households obtain the nutrition benefits to which they are entitled and who work to preserve and protect basic benefits for families in poverty.
MLRI wishes to acknowledge the support from Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education, Inc. for MLRI’s publications and from the foundations that have supported our anti-hunger work over the years including MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, Nord Family Foundation, Eos Foundation, the Wal-Mart Foundation, Leaves of Grass, Roberta Thall Charitable Trust and the State Street Foundation. We also appreciate the support and technical assistance on our anti-hunger work from the Food Research Action Center (FRAC) and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP).
This 2013 edition of the Guide was written and edited by Patricia Baker, Laura Gallant, Deborah Harris, Rochelle Hahn and MLRI’s 2012/2013 AmeriCorps Member, Victoria Negus.
© 2013 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.
SNAP benefits are federal assistance to families to help them buy food. In October of 2008, Congress changed the federal name from "Food Stamps" to "Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program" or SNAP. States have the choice to call the name SNAP or use another name. For purposes of this Guide, we will mostly use the "SNAP" name.
Most grocery stores, supermarkets, and co-ops in Massachusetts accept food stamps/SNAP electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards. In Massachusetts, there is no asset test for most SNAP applicants. Most people who meet the federal income limits can get SNAP benefits. Unlike some other federal programs, you do not have to have children or be disabled to get benefits. You can also qualify for food stamps/SNAP even if your cash welfare ended because of a time limit, your income exceeds the cash benefit level, or for other reasons. Food Stamps/SNAP is a critical program in difficult economic times. All low-income individuals and families should be encouraged to apply.
Congress created the Food Stamp Program in 1964 to reduce hunger by increasing the food-buying power of low-income households.
The federal government pays 100 percent of the cost of these benefits and provides states with reimbursement for almost half of the administrative costs (DTA workers, computers, training, office costs). Massachusetts now brings home over $1.3 billion annually in direct nutrition assistance to needy households in the Commonwealth.
SNAP benefits are widely considered the first line of defense against hunger. Further, for every $1 in SNAP benefits, economists estimate that it triggers a $1.80 economic stimulus to the local economy. At the same time, it is widely acknowledged that SNAP benefits are too low to cover all of a household’s food needs. The benefit is based on an archaic “Thrifty Food Plan” concept that does not reflect the actual cost of today’s food prices, and presumes that a part of a household’s monthly income is available to buy a portion of the food, even when that is not true for families in the Northeast and other areas with high shelter costs. Advocates should screen for applicable household income deductions to maximize the amount of SNAP benefits.
In 1996, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (Public Law 104-193) included provisions restricting eligibility in many federal programs including Food Stamps. PRWORA brought the elimination of most safety net benefits for many legally present immigrants. From 1997 to August of 2002, Massachusetts provided state-funded food stamps to needy legal immigrants ineligible under federal restrictions. These state benefits expired in August 2002, leaving many immigrants without nutrition benefits.
The federal Farm Bill of 2002 (Public Law 107-171, May 13, 2002) restored some of the cuts in the program including SNAP benefits for some of the legal immigrants cut in 1996 – notably legal immigrants with severe disabilities, legal immigrant children and legal immigrants who have had status five years or more. The 2008 Federal Farm Bill (Public Law 110-246) made additional improvements to the program which included indexing (linking) the standard income deduction to inflation, uncapping the child care deduction and treating tax deferred retirement and educational savings accounts as non-countable income (as well as changing the name from "Food Stamps" to SNAP).
The 2009 American Recovery and Reconciliation Act (Public Law 111-5, February 17, 2009) provided a 13.6% increase in monthly SNAP benefits and suspended the work requirements for childless individuals due to the recession. Some of the 2009 SNAP increase will roll back in November of 2013. As of this writing, the precise drop in monthly SNAP benefits is not known.
You can find a concise description of the legislative history of this program at the USDA website.
In Massachusetts, the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) administers the SNAP program. Over the past few years, DTA has elected a number of federal options and pursued a number of waivers and demonstration projects to increase participation and allowable deductions in the program.
In September of 2000, Massachusetts had the worst food stamp participation rate (of eligible households) in the entire United States. As of September 2012, the caseload served over 900,000 individuals (496,000 households) – a three-fold increase since the beginning of state fiscal year 2002. In December 2012, USDA reported Massachusetts SNAP participation rate at 10th in the nation for 2010. The participation rate compares the number of SNAP participants to the number of low income households otherwise eligible for SNAP based on U.S. Census data.
DTA must administer the program in accordance with the federal regulations issued by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and any waivers or demonstration projects approved by USDA.
DTA issues its own SNAP regulations. The DTA SNAP regulations are printed in Chapter 106 of the Code of Massachusetts Regulations (106 C.M.R. §§ 360 and following).
A detailed index to DTA’s SNAP regulations, created by MLRI, can be found at the end of this guide in Appendix E.
State policy guidance:
DTA also issues guidance to local DTA offices that give more detail on the eligibility rules and how to calculate benefits. These instructions are contained in DTA’s “Operations Memos” (Ops Memos) which were previously called Field Operations Memos (F.O. Memo). There is also policy guidance published in DTA’s monthly “Transitions” newsletter and in a DTA computer systems manual known as the “BEACON User’s Guide.” DTA policy instructions are not posted on DTA’s public website, but the public has a right to inspect these documents at local DTA offices. MLRI also posts these documents on the Massachusetts Legal Services website, http://www.masslegalservices.org/benefits.
The Massachusetts Law Reform Institute coordinates the Food SNAP Improvement Coalition. This is a coalition of anti-hunger agencies, health providers, faith based organizations, community organizing groups, legal services advocates, DTA state agency and USDA Regional representatives. Formed in 2000, the Coalition meets monthly to discuss and strategize over state and federal food stamp 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 program policy changes, announcements of Coalition meetings or training announcements and other anti-hunger alerts, please contact Pat Baker of the Mass. Law Reform Institute: email@example.com. And you can check out the Food Stamp/SNAP Blog at: http://www.masslegalservices.org/blog/snap.
To get legal advice and representation on your individual case, contact your local Legal Services office. You can find the name and contact information for the Legal Services office in you community by going to: www.masslegalhelp.org.
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://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/
You have many options to apply for SNAP. 106 C.M.R. § 361.140. You can:
To find the address, telephone and fax number of the DTA office that serves your city or town, call 800-249-2007, or go to http://www.mass.gov/eohhs/gov/departments/dta/food-assistance.html for local DTA office locations.
To get a paper application, you can call the SNAP Benefits Hotline at 1-866-950-FOOD (3663) and ask for a SNAP application form to be mailed to you. Or you can print out a SNAP paper application (including translated forms in Spanish and Portuguese) by going to the following website: http://www.mass.gov/eohhs/gov/departments/dta/food-assistance.html This website also has a shorter application for elder SNAP applicants.
If you mail a SNAP application or go in person to a DTA office that does not serve your city or town, that DTA office must accept your application and send it to the correct DTA office. 106 C.M.R. § 361.130. A local DTA office cannot refuse to accept your application just because they do not cover the town or city where you live. And every local office must accept any documents you drop off and get them to the correct DTA office.
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).
DTA has to let you file your application the same day you contact them. 106 C.M.R. § 361.130. If you go to the local DTA office and ask for a SNAP application, the office must give you one and allow you to submit it the same day. If you ask DTA for an application by mail, DTA has to mail it to you the same day. 106 C.M.R. § 361.140.
You also 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 cannot send you away or discourage you from filing a SNAP application.
If you are approved, you will get SNAP benefits back to the date DTA first received the signed application form. 106 C.M.R. § 361.080. Even if you cannot fill in all of the information on the form, write down your name, address and phone number (if you have one). Then sign and date the form, and get it back to DTA. You can give the rest of the information later. 106 C.M.R. §§ 361.100, 361.130.
YES! You can apply for your own SNAP benefits on-line through the Virtual Gateway at www.mass.gov/vg/selfservice or by following the SNAP application steps on DTA’s webpage http://www.mass.gov/eohhs/gov/departments/dta/food-assistance.html.
This is also called a “web application.” A Virtual Gateway or web application is an electronic application for benefits and accepts an electronic signature. All the information you provide is electronically sent to DTA to start the SNAP application process. Unlike MassHealth, you do not need to go through a health care provider to file a web application. You can do this yourself—in your home, at a library, at your place of work!
On the SNAP application webpage you will find a “screening form” that asks questions about your household, your income and expenses to determine potential eligibility. This screening form is optional. You can skip this and go directly to the SNAP application questions.
If you need and qualify for expedited benefits (see Question 9 (Can I get emergency SNAP benefits?)), it may work best to go directly to your local DTA office where you can get your EBT card in person, and get screened for expedited SNAP benefits right away. By law, you are not required to go to the local DTA office for expedited SNAP benefits. But doing so cuts down on back and forth mailing time and phone tag with DTA.
Your electronic signature has the same legal weight as an ink signature. You do not need to also sign a paper application. Your electronic signature is an agreement that that the information you have and will provide is truthful and accurate, that you will report changes timely, and that you understand your rights and responsibilities as well as the penalties for not following the rules. During the phone interview your worker should go over these rights and responsibilities. See Question 6 (Does DTA have to interview me and what happens if I miss the interview?).
A SNAP application filed on the Virtual Gateway is considered filed that day if it is received before 5 PM. If an application is received after 5 p.m. or on a weekend it is considered filed the next business day. After the application is filed, a DTA worker is supposed to contact you within 2 business days to screen you for expedited or emergency benefits (see Question 9 (Can I get emergency SNAP benefits?)) and to schedule an interview.
Filing a web— or paper— application is only the first step. You still need to have an interview with a DTA worker and to send in proofs. See Question 6 (Does DTA have to interview me and what happens if I miss the interview?) and 7 (What proofs (verifications) do I need?). Be sure to list a phone number on the application where DTA can reach you or a member of your family directly (e.g. don’t list a number that is just a phone messaging system).
DTA will send you a plastic EBT card and PIN in the mail. These will be mailed to you in separate envelopes and can take between 5-10 days to arrive. Your EBT card will not have any benefits on it until you are approved. Benefits are usually loaded up on the EBT card by 11:00am on the day following your approval. You can call the phone number on the back of the card to check.
To find out the status of your SNAP application and other information, set up a My Account Page or call a special DTA number, 1-877-382-2363. See Question 13 (Is there a quick way to check the status of my application or my benefits?).
Individuals applying for or receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) have a right to apply for SNAP benefits at the Social Security Administration (SSA). 106 C.M.R. §§ 361.190, 366.926. Federal law requires SSA to take your SNAP application and sent to DTA. SSA is supposed to do this if every member of your household receives or is applying for SSI. 7 U.S.C. § 2020(I)(1). Federal law also requires SSA offices to offer a SNAP application form to Social Security (RSDI) recipients. 7 U.S.C. § 2020(J).
DTA has a short SNAP application form that SSA offices should give to SSI and RSDI clients. DTA will then contact you to get additional information if proofs are missing or information is unclear. 106 C.M.R.§ 361.190.
While the federal law requires SSA to provide SNAP application assistance to SSI applicants and recipients, SSA District Offices do not do this consistently. You can remind SSA District Office of their obligations by citing the federal rules, and you can also tell your local Congress member when SSA refuses to help you.
If you need emergency SNAP benefits – especially if you are just applying for SSI or Social Security – it may be faster to go to the local DTA office or apply on-line. See Question 9 (Can I get emergency SNAP benefits?).
Massachusetts has a special program where certain SSI applicants and recipients can automatically qualify for SNAP when they contact the Social Security office. This is called “Bay State CAP” which is a “consolidated application project” between DTA and SSA.
If you meet the following four criteria, you may be able to qualify for Bay State CAP when you are applying or recertifying for SSI:
When you apply for SSI – or when your SSI benefits are redetermined by SSA – the SSA Claims Representative is supposed to ask if you want SNAP benefits. If you do, they should ask how much you pay in shelter costs and if you purchase and prepare meals separately from others you live with. SSA should then send this information to DTA electronically.
If you are Bay State CAP eligible, you do not have to file a separate SNAP application with DTA, be interviewed by DTA, or provide any proofs. You only have to report changes (if you move or get a job) to SSA, not DTA. The SNAP benefits are certified for 36 months.
The rules for Bay State CAP are found at: 106 C.M.R. §366.910
YES! Whenever you apply or are recertified for SNAP or cash assistance, your DTA worker is required to tell you how you can register to vote and assist you with voter registration. 106 C.M.R. § 360.950. DTA is mandated by federal law to ask all SNAP and cash assistance household members – 18 years or older and U.S. citizens – if they would like to register to vote. DTA should also offer to register you any time you report a change of address too!
If you apply in person, you can get a voter registration form out at the local DTA office . DTA will send it to your local election official on your behalf. If you apply for SNAP on line or with a mail in application, DTA should mail back a voter registration card. If you return the form to DTA, they should also send it to your local election official. Both the on-line and paper applications ask if you want to register to vote.
All voter registration forms received by DTA must be mailed to local election officials within 5 days after they are received. This Massachusetts Official Voter Registration Form can be found in Appendix C.
YES. You can always ask a family member, friend, or human services agency to help you fill out an application. Helping agencies, family members or advocates can also accompany you to DTA and attend any interviews with you, with your permission.
However, you should sign the application and do the interview – not a family member or other third party. 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.
You do have the option to let someone you trust be your “authorized representative.” This person can be given the authority to apply on your behalf and receive SNAP notices and recertification forms. You can still chose to get the EBT card yourself, or you can chose to have your authorized representative receive the EBT card and buy your food for you. 106 C.M.R. §§ 361.300, 361.310.
You can also ask DTA to issue two Bay State Access cards—one for you and one for your authorized representative. Because an authorized representative has access to all your SNAP benefits, be sure you trust the person you pick. 106 C.M.R. §§ 361.300-361.370.
An “authorized representative” is different from an individual or agency that helps you fill out an application. An authorized representative who actually signs the SNAP application must provide DTA with proof of identity, SSN and other information. If you choose to have an authorized representative also buy food for you, this person’s name must be on the EBT (Bay State Access) card to buy your groceries. See Question 62 (How do I use SNAP benefits?).
In most situations, DTA cannot force you to have an authorized representative if you do not want one. It is your choice. You will need to sign a form allowing a person to be your “Authorized Representative, Authorized Agency or Authorized Payee.” You can also revoke this form any time. See Appendix C for a copy of the DTA form.
If you live in a group home for persons with disabilities, you may be eligible for SNAP benefits as a one person household even though you live with others. 106 C.M.R. § 361.240(B). You also have the right to apply for and receive your own benefits. You cannot be forced to turn over your EBT card to the group home or appoint them as an authorized representative unless they make an individualized determination that you cannot manage your benefits due to your disability. See Question 30 (Can I get benefits if I am disabled and live in a group home?) for eligibility in group homes and your right to receive your own SNAP benefits.
If you are a resident of a licensed alcohol or drug treatment program, the SNAP rules say that the treatment program must be your authorized representative. 106 C.M.R. § 365.610.
If you live in a “sober house” or other roomer/board situation which is not licensed by the Department of Public Health, the sober house cannot take your EBT card unless you voluntarily appoint them as your authorized representative. If you live in a group home, see Question 30.
If you are living in a teen parent program, the program is given the authority to decide if it will be the authorized representative and receive the SNAP benefits, or if it will allow you to apply for and spend the benefits yourself. 106 C.M.R. § 365.620(B).
DTA is required to interview all applicants for SNAP benefits. 106 C.M.R. § 361.500. The interview is usually conducted by phone, where DTA calls you at a preset time using the number you listed on the application form.
You always have the option of an in-person interview at the local DTA office if you wish. Sometimes DTA can require you to come to the local office if they have a good reason to talk to you in person (where information is questionable), or if you are applying for cash assistance benefits in addition to SNAP.
If you are disabled and need an accommodation, DTA also has the authority to schedule a home visit if you cannot get to the local office and cannot do a phone interview. See Question 12 (What if a disability makes it hard for me to apply, get proofs, or comply with the SNAP rules?).
DTA is supposed to contact you by telephone within two (2) days of when they received your application to schedule an interview and to screen you for emergency benefits. See Question 9 (Can I get emergency SNAP benefits?). If a social services agency helped you fill out a paper or on-line application – and the agency is listed on the application as an authorized helping agency or emergency contact – DTA should contact the agency if unable to reach you.DTA should contact the agency if unable to reach you.
To protect your privacy, most of the time DTA will not leave a detailed message about who is calling and why, unless you give them written permission to do so. Be sure to pay close attention to phone calls and messages left during the times DTA tells you they will call.
If DTA has not reached you within two days, they should send you a written notice scheduling an interview by telephone. This interview should take place within seven days of your application in order to screen you for expedited benefits. If you do not hear from DTA by phone or by mail within five (5) days of filing your application (or sooner if you need emergency benefits), call your local DTA office and ask to speak with a supervisor or the office director.
The DTA worker's role is to confirm the information you gave on your application, discuss any new information that DTA has from other government databases and tell you what proofs or verifications you need to provide. If you are subject to a work requirement (see Questions 36 (Are there work rules for childless adults ages 18 to 50 years?) and 37 (Is there a quick way to check the status of my application or my benefits?)), the worker should discuss this with you.
During the interview, the DTA worker should also explain your rights and responsibilities, including when you need to report changes. In addition to the DTA worker asking you for information, the interview is a chance for you to ask questions about the SNAP program and other benefits you might be eligible to receive.
If you need emergency (expedited) SNAP benefits, the worker should screen you during their first contact with you (in person or by phone), even if there is not enough time to do the full interview. See Question 9 (Can I get emergency SNAP benefits?).
The interview must be conducted confidentially (not in a public setting where others can hear) and the information you provide must be kept private and not shared outside DTA unless you give written permission. 106 C.M.R. §§ 361.550, 360.300. If you need help getting any proofs, or you need a list of alternative proofs, you have a right to ask the worker during the interview or at any other time.
If you miss a scheduled interview, DTA is required to send you a written notice called a “notice of missed interview” (DTA calls it a NOMI). The notice must say that you have the right to another interview. 106 C.M.R. §§ 361.500, 361.540. You do not need to have or show good cause for missing the first interview. However, it is up to you to contact DTA to ask for a rescheduled interview.
If DTA does not hear back from you within 30 days of when you first applied, your SNAP application will be denied. 106 C.M.R. § 361.700(B)(1). You still have the right to reapply for benefits and the denied application will not be held against you, but the date your benefits start will be the date of your new application.
If DTA failed to send you either the notice of initial or the notice of missed interview (NOMI), they cannot deny your application. Contact the supervisor of your SNAP worker, or an advocate.
During your interview, the DTA worker should verbally tell you what proofs are needed. 106 C.M.R. §§ 361.550. You should also receive a verification checklist by mail that tells you what DTA needs and gives examples of documents they can accept as proof. You have at least 10 days from the date of the verifications checklist to get in proofs.
Some information can be self-declared such as your U.S. citizenship, household composition, non-countable income, lack of income, student status, dependent care, shelter costs. 106 C.M.R. § 361.610(K). You can self-declare most of this information on the SNAP application, recertification form or a separate piece of paper that you sign and date.
If there are documents that are difficult for you to get, you can give DTA permission to contact a third party, like an employer, to verify the information. See Question 8 (What if I am having trouble getting all the proofs, or the proofs get to DTA late?).
When you send documents to DTA, don’t send original documents and keep copies of anything you fax, or the date you mailed or dropped off proofs to the local DTA office. Put on each document your name and date of birth and your Agency ID (if you know it). That will help DTA match the documents with your SNAP file. If you bring documents to DTA, ask the DTA receptionist or your case manager to make copies and give you a receipt so you have proof you dropped it off.
If you are eligible for expedited benefits, you only need to provide proof of your identity. See Question 9.
If you left work in the last 60 days before your SNAP application, DTA may ask for proof showing your last day of work and the reason you left if the information in your application or during the interview is questionable. See 106 CMR § 362.340 (F). You should not be asked for proof if you left work more than 60 days before, or if you meet an exemption from the work rules (disability, caring for a young child, etc). See Questions 36, 39 and 40. If proof is required, your SNAP worker should offer to help you get this information if you have any difficulties getting documentation. DTA can often confirm your work history through the Department of Revenue (DOR).
Some expenses like shelter and dependent care costs can be self-declared. Other deductable expenses need to be verified. If you do not provide information on the expenses, or proofs where required, your benefits will be calculated without these deductions. 106 C.M.R. § 364.450(D).
There are important DTA rules about verifications that you should know, especially if you are having trouble getting proofs or if you think DTA is asking for too many proofs.
You can self-declare a number of SNAP eligibility factors unless DTA determines that the information you provided is "questionable" (see below).
The following can be self-declared:
A self-declaration includes any signed and dated communication from the head of household, including information you write on your SNAP application, recertification form or your change report form. It also includes any separate statement you sign and date. See Appendix C for sample self-declaration forms for dependent care and shelter.
DTA must accept any documents that reasonably prove your eligibility. The SNAP rules state that you do not have to give a specific kind of document or proof. 106 C.M.R. § 361.640. Some eligibility factors can be verified through a wide range of documents, such as your identity, where you live (your address) and your age or date of birth (if required). DTA cannot demand a specific document such as a birth certificate for identity, or statement from a landlord for residence.
Under some circumstances, DTA can ask for additional proofs if DTA determines the information or documents you provided is "questionable." 106 C.M.R. § 361.620.
"Questionable" means the information is inconsistent with other information on your application, or information you reported to your worker or known to DTA (e.g. through database checks). DTA must review the individual circumstances of a household before determining that information is questionable. DTA cannot require you to “prove a negative,” such as being out of work more than 60 days or having no assets.
If DTA rejects the proofs you offer and asks for more, the worker must document in your case record the reasons for rejecting a proof. 106 C.M.R. § 361.660. If you think you have given DTA enough proof, or if you think your DTA worker is unreasonably requiring a specific type of proof, ask to speak to a supervisor or contact a legal advocate.
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. This reasonable explanation should not be “questionable” and DTA should not make Clara provide additional verifications.
Sandy is age 48 and stopped working over months ago when she got injured on the job. After using up her savings, she applied for SNAP. Since it’s been more than 60 days since she left work, Sandy should be able to self-declare the lack of work. She should not be required to get a statement from the employer, even if she quit for no good reason.
DTA workers are supposed to help you get proofs if you tell DTA you are having difficulty. For example, if you need a document from another state, from an employer or for proof of a disability, your DTA worker should offer to help you. If you have a disability that makes it hard for you to get proofs or comply with other DTA rules, your worker must make reasonable accommodations for you. See Question 12 (What if a disability makes it hard for me to apply, get proofs, or comply with the SNAP rules?).
“Collateral contact” is when you give your DTA worker permission to call or write to a third party – such as an employer or other agency – to verify information. 106 C.M.R. § 361.640(B). Appendix C: Important Advocacy Forms has a sample of DTA’s collateral contact form. It is up to you to give your worker the names of people to contact, and to give DTA permission to contact them by signing a collateral contact form. Signing this form is voluntary. Also, DTA cannot require proof from a particular person if you can verify the information in a different way. Your privacy is important and must be respected. 106 C.M.R. § 360.400.
You cannot be denied SNAP just because you are having trouble getting proofs. But you can be denied if you refuse to cooperate with getting the proofs, refuse to be interviewed, or do not meet the other eligibility rules. 106 C.M.R. §§ 361.400 and 361.650.
DTA must give you a full 30 days from when you applied before they can deny your SNAP application for missing proofs or failure to have an interview. If the proofs they need are still missing by day 30, DTA will send you a denial notice. 106 C.M.R. § 361.930.
The denial notice should list the specific proofs or verifications missing, and tell you that you have another 30 days to bring in these proofs (for a total of 60 days from the date you first applied). If you get the proofs to DTA within this second 30 day period, your case should get opened back to the date you first applied. You do not need to reapply.
If you think DTA is taking too long to reopen your case, or DTA lost the proofs you sent in before, contact an advocate.
YES! If your income, cash, and savings are very low, you can get emergency, or “expedited,” benefits. The SNAP rules require DTA to screen all applicants for expedited service. 106 C.M.R. § 365.800. If you are eligible for expedited service, DTA must get you your benefits within seven (7) days after you apply.
You are eligible for expedited service if:
If you meet one of these criteria and you provide proof of identity (who you are), you can get your benefits within 7 days. 106 C.M.R. § 365.830. If you do not have other proof of identity, your social security number (SSN) is sufficient proof of identity if DTA is able to confirm the SSN through the State Verification and Exchange System (SVES). To get SNAP benefits for more than one month, you will have to provide proofs of all the other eligibility factors. 106 C.M.R. § 365.850(B). See Question 7 (What proofs (verifications) do I need?).
Example: Stella earns $200 a week pre-tax earnings at her part time job, for a total monthly income of $866 (weekly x 4.333). Stella pays $400 rent and pays separately for electricity, including for air conditioning. Her total shelter costs are $1,008 (rent of $400 plus the $608 heating/cooling standard utility deduction). Because her gross income is less than her shelter costs, Stella is eligible for expedited SNAP.
Expedited SNAP benefits are not extra benefits—they are just a way to get your first month’s benefits faster. The amount you get in expedited SNAP benefits is based on the income you have already received (or anticipate receiving) in the thirty days prior to application. DTA counts income even if it comes from a terminated source, such as the last paycheck from your former employer. 106 C.M.R. § 365.840. Regular, ongoing SNAP benefits do not count income from a terminated source.
If you do not qualify for emergency benefits, DTA has to decide on your application and make sure you get your SNAP benefits within 30 days of your application date. The amount you get should be retroactive to the date you applied if you are found eligible. 106 C.M.R. § 361.700(A).
If DTA cannot decide on your application within 30 days of the day you applied because some required proofs are missing, DTA will deny your application and send you a notice of pending denial. If you give DTA the missing proofs within 60 days of applying, DTA must "reopen" your case. DTA cannot make you start a new application. See Question 8 (What if I am having trouble getting all the proofs, or the proofs get to DTA late?).
If English is not your primary language, upon request DTA must provide you with a bilingual DTA worker (or communicate through a translation service). If you are applying for SNAP online through the Virtual Gateway (see Question 2), you should indicate your primary language in the “Personal Information” section on the drop-down menu labeled “Spoken Language”. On the paper application, DTA asks “What is your preferred language?” in the first section labeled “Information About You.” In addition, while the online application is only in English, DTA has paper applications in Spanish and Portuguese. You can download and print them out by going to http://www.mass.gov/eohhs/gov/departments/dta/food-assistance.html
When you communicate with DTA by phone, the worker or receptionist should do a three-way call with you and the interpreter or tele-language service to ensure you are able to communicate with DTA and receive the same services as English-speaking clients.
Under federal law, DTA is required to send written notices and materials to you in your primary language, if you do not speak English. DTA currently translates its notices and forms only into Spanish. The failure of DTA to send notices in your primary language could violate federal food stamp law. Contact an advocate for assistance.
If you are deaf or hard of hearing, DTA must communicate with you through interpretation services. 106 C.M.R. § 360.510. The Recipient Services Unit can be contacted by TTY at 617-348-5599 or 1-888-448-7695 for questions about application status and eligibility. Case information can also be found online using My Account Page. See Question 13 (Is there a quick way to check the status of my application or my benefits?).
Both the printed and online SNAP applications ask if you need support services or have a special situation for which you need interpretation services. You should indicate that you are hearing impaired and/or you need interpretation, CART, or sign language interpretation to communicate with your case manager.
The federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires DTA to provide equal access to programs and services to qualified people with disabilities. 42 U.S.C. § 12132; see also 106 C.M.R. §§ 360.250, 701.390.
Under the ADA you are a person with a disability if you have a physical or mental disability that substantially impairs a major life activity, such as learning, understanding, walking, working, breathing, or caring for yourself. A temporary health problem like a broken leg may not be a disability under the ADA. You can be disabled under the ADA even if you are not receiving any benefits on the basis of disability.
If a disability makes it hard for you to do things DTA asks you to do to keep benefits, to meet DTA rules or use DTA services, you can ask DTA to grant exceptions to the rules or modify the services. These are called "reasonable accommodations" under the ADA.
Example 1: Because of your disability, you need extra time or help getting information to DTA. DTA should give you the extra time or help.
Example 2: You have trouble reading because of a learning disability. DTA should call and explain its notices to you.
Example 3: Because of your disability, you should get a waiver of the face to face interview, and you should be able to communicate with your DTA worker through appropriate communication devices (e.g., a TTY, CART services, or other devices). DTA can also schedule a home visit.
If you need special help or an exception because of a disability, you can ask your worker, the local office director, or any member of the "Accommodation Team" in each DTA local office. DTA should then help you fill out a form called a "Request for Accommodation." DTA may ask for verification of your disability and why you need the accommodation. If DTA asks for medical verification and you are not currently seeing a medical provider, they should refer you to one. Many of the commonly needed accommodations are things that DTA can agree to right away; others could take up to 30 days to decide. DTA will give you a written decision, and if you disagree with it, you can file an appeal.
As a result of a lawsuit brought by legal services, DTA will be making significant improvements to its system for providing accommodations in the coming months. Among other changes, DTA will appoint a “Client Assistance Coordinator” in every DTA office. The role of the Client Assistance Coordinator is to talk with clients who may have problems with DTA because of their disabilities, to explain disability rights, including accommodations, and to help clients request accommodations. Clients may choose whether to discuss disability issues and accommodations with their worker or the Client Assistance Coordinator. If you run into difficulties working on accommodation with your worker, it is a good idea to ask if there is a Client Assistance Coordinator in the office yet, and if not, to ask for the local office director.
If the DTA Central Office Accommodation Appeal Committee denies your request for accommodation in whole or in part or fails to issue a decision within 10 days from your request, you can request an administrative hearing by filling out the back of the form and sending it to the Division of Hearings.
Yes! There are two ways you can check the status of your SNAP application or ongoing benefits without having to call your SNAP worker:
If you have access to the Internet, an email address, and already 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 not have an email, it is a simple process to create a free email through Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, etc.
Step 2: Look out for an email sent back to you from the MAP with a link. This is just a couple of minutes. Check the spam filter if you do not get an email.
Step 3: Click on the link in the email you receive from the MAP. You will be asked to create a password and answer two security questions for the account. The next screen will show you an assigned “username”---usually first letter of your first name followed by last name and possibly a number---for example, Msmith2. Be sure you write this down—the username will not be repeated again.
Step 4: The three steps above set up the MAP account. To get access to your personal case information, you now need to log-in, click on the “My Account Page” link in the middle of the screen and enter the following four pieces of information:
This information is required each time you log-on to the MAP. As of the date of this Guide, DTA does not allow a MAP to be set up without an EBT card. See Question 62 regarding how to get a card.
Once you have a MAP account, you can find the status of your SNAP or cash case, household information, the monthly benefit amount, the date you will receive benefits; the name and phone number of your SNAP worker (case manager), the date your next recertification is due and links to copies of most of the notices and forms that DTA has sent you in the 12 months. You can even download and print out a recertification form from the MAP!
You can call a special DTA automated phone line to get information on your SNAP benefits: 1-877-382-2363. This “interactive” phone number allows you to find out the status of your SNAP application, the amount of your monthly benefits if approved, the next payment date for your benefits, the date your next recertification is due and the name of your DTA worker. It does not give as much case information as the MAP.
You do have the option to speak to a live person by pressing 1 to indicate that you are a current SNAP client and then pressing 9 to speak with a representative. However, be prepared to wait until one is available.
To access your case information through this process you will need to give your SSN, year of birth, zip code and your EBT card number (even if the card is not active).
BEACON is DTA's computer system. The DTA worker puts information about each client into BEACON. BEACON is programmed to decide eligibility and benefit amounts, create a list of proofs you need to give to DTA, keep track of when you have to meet with your worker, and create notices to send to you about your benefits.
DTA workers follow instructions in the BEACON User’s Guide to conduct interviews and put information into BEACON. The BEACON system changes to meet SNAP program requirements. When the system is upgraded, DTA issues guidance to case managers through Operations memos and through the DTA intranet. BEACON can make mistakes for several reasons. The worker may enter incorrect information or the system programming may be incorrect. Sometimes BEACON tells the worker to ask for information or proofs you should not have to give. BEACON is only a computer system. It does not set the rules or make policy.
BEACON can make mistakes for several reasons. The worker may enter incorrect information. The system programming may be incorrect. Sometimes BEACON tells the worker to ask for information or proofs you should not have to give. BEACON is only a computer system. It does not set the rules or make policy.
Your DTA worker should not refuse to fix a problem because it may have been caused by BEACON. If you have any questions about BEACON, or you get notices from DTA you think are wrong, talk to your worker or your worker's supervisor. If the problem is not fixed right away, you should contact an advocate and appeal. See Part VI: Appeal Rights.
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 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 these other needs-based programs.
This SNAP “household rule” applies even if the people you live with are not related to you, or do not have any legal obligations to you. If you live with a group of people, they are part of your SNAP “household” when you buy and share food together most of the time. For example, you must be in the same SNAP household if you all share more than 11 out of 21 meals each week or you consume most of their food purchased in common.
The SNAP household rules also say that if you live with your spouse or you are a child under age 22 and live with your parents, you must be in the same SNAP household. This is true even if you do not buy food and prepare meals together, or even if your parents or your spouse do not want any SNAP benefits. See Question 17 (Who cannot be a separate SNAP household?).
In joint custody situations, children are usually part of the SNAP household of the parent who provides the most day-to-day care and control. Both parents cannot receive SNAP benefits for the same children.
Note: Federal regulations use the term "household." 7 C.F.R. § 273.1(a). DTA uses both the terms "household" and "assistance unit." This Guide uses the term "household."
If people live with you but buy their own food and prepare the majority of their own meals separately, 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. You can self-declare your living situation on the application form. You should only have to provide proof of your situation if the information you provide looks questionable to your case manager. See Question 8 (What if I am having trouble getting all the proofs, or the proofs get to DTA late?).
Example: Jane and Steve are roommates who share an apartment. Both have jobs, Jane works part-time. They sometimes eat dinner together, but they buy, prepare and consume most of their 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: Sally is a single mother with one child. She is 25 years old and shares an apartment with her sister. Sally pays half of the rent and she purchases and prepares most of her own food for herself and her child. She uses her sister’s kitchen. Sally can be a separate SNAP household.
If you buy and prepare most of your food yourself, it is usually better to get your own SNAP benefits. The amount you get will be higher than if your allotment is part of another SNAP household. It also means that you cannot be cut off or denied if the other person does not comply with program rules. 106 C.M.R. § 361.200(A). See Question 17 (Who cannot be a separate SNAP household?).
If you are elderly or have a disability which prevents you from purchasing and preparing your own food, and you live with someone who is not your spouse (or someone who is not your parent, if you are under 22) who does those tasks for you, you can get your own separate household status. Special rules also apply to persons who are both elderly and disabled. See Question 18 (What if I am elderly or disabled and live with other people but I cannot buy and cook my own food?).
Some people cannot be a separate household even if they buy and prepare their food separately. Here are three important exceptions:
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. Kelly cannot get her own SNAP benefits and must apply with her parents. She is eligible as a separate SNAP household when she turns 22.
Example 2: Katherine is 65 years of age and receives Social Security. She cares for her two grandchildren, ages 8 and 12, and receives TAFDC for them. Katherine cannot get separate SNAP benefits for her grandchildren because they are minors and she provides financial and parental supervision for them.
There are special rules for households with foster children and foster adults. A household can choose to include or exclude the foster child or disabled foster adult from the SNAP unit. 106 C.M.R. § 361.240(F). The household may get more SNAP benefits if the foster child/adult is excluded because then the foster care payments do not count toward the SNAP household income.
For more details on the right to opt out a foster child or foster adult, see Question 33 (What if I am caring for a foster child or for a disabled/elder foster adult?).
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.
Related persons – other than spouses or children under age 22 – who purchase and prepare most food separately.
Spouses who live together and unmarried parents who live with their children in common.
Persons under 22 years who live with their parents, or children under 18 living with financially/legally responsible adults
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 (more than half of a weekly 21 meals) of the food you consume is purchased with your income and prepared for you separately. In contrast to Option 2, you do not have to be both elderly and have a disability, and you do not need to get proof of the income of the people you live with. However, if the person buying and cooking food for you is your spouse, or your parent if you are under age 22, you cannot get separate benefits.
There are many reasons why persons with disabilities may have meals prepared separately. For example, they may have a special diet, may need to eat meals at different times from others, or otherwise may need to manage their income and expenses separate from others. Having a disability that prevents you from buying and cooking food for yourself does not prevent you from getting your own SNAP benefits.
Example: Thomas is a 35-year-old adult who has a disability. 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 meals Thomas consumes at home are purchased and prepared separately from Joe’s. Thomas could name Joe as his authorized representative so that Joe could use Thomas’s EBT card to purchase food for Thomas. Either way, Thomas qualifies for his own SNAP household and Joe is not required to disclose his income to DTA.
Option 2: If you are 60 or older and have a permanent disability that prevents you from buying and preparing food, you may be able to get SNAP separately for yourself. This is true even prepared and consumed for everyone in the household. To qualify as a separate SNAP household you must be permanently disabled, over age 59 and the gross income of the other people living with you must be less than 165 % of the federal poverty level (FPL). 106 C.M.R. § 361.200(B)(4). See Appendix B: Income and Benefits Standards, Chart 5.
Example: Bertha is a 75-year-old disabled woman. She receives $1,000 per month in Social Security benefits. She lives with her 40-year-old daughter Mary and Mary’s two children. Mary’s gross income is $1,200 per month and there is no other countable income in the household. Mary purchases food and prepares the meals for the entire family, including Bertha. Since Bertha is both disabled and over age 59 years of age, she can still be a separate SNAP household because her daughter’s gross income is below 165 percent of the federal poverty level for a family of three (Mary and her two children). Mary can also be a separate SNAP household for herself and her children. The two separate households will receive more in SNAP benefits than if they were in one combined SNAP household.
DTA should accept a self-declaration that you are unable to purchase and prepare your meals separately but your roommate or assistant provides that service for you. Note, if your spouse or children under age 22 live with you, you must all be in the same SNAP household (as described in Question 17 (Who cannot be a separate SNAP household?).
Note: Households that are caring for frail elders or persons with disabilities and who receive adult foster care payments can exclude (“opt out”) the foster adult. This excludes the foster care payments as income and can increase the SNAP benefits. 106 CMR § 361.240 (F). See Questions 17 (Who cannot be a separate SNAP household?) and 30 (Can I get benefits if I am disabled and live in a group home?). Adult foster care is a special program through MassHealth which pays someone for in-home care of a low-income adult with a disability or a frail elder who might otherwise be institutionalized.
Yes! If you are elderly (for SNAP purposes, 60 years of age or older) or have a disability you can benefit from special program rules. 106 C.M.R. § 361.210.
You are considered elderly when you turn age 60 or older. You must show proof of your age, if questionable. Often, age will be verified as part of verifying your identity or Social Security number, as the Social Security database also contains age information.
You are considered to have a disability if you receive one of the following:
If you receive EAEDC or TAFDC cash assistance, in order to meet the SNAP disability criteria, you must meet the SSI standards of disability as determined by the Disability Evaluation Service (DES). DES codes cases that meet SSI standards as decision code 100, 110, 120, or 130 on the "Disability Determination Tracking Form" it sends to DTA. Many EAEDC and TAFDC recipients with disabilities meet SSI standards even though they have not been approved for SSI benefits.
For elder immigrants who do not get a DES evaluation, DTA has developed a form on which a doctor can certify that the immigrant meets the SSI standards. This is especially important for legal permanent residents subject to the 5-year waiting period. See Question 23 (If I am a legal immigrant adult, how do I prove disability so I do not have to wait five years?).
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 has derived citizenship. An individual born abroad also has "derived citizenship" where both parents naturalized to U.S. citizenship before the child turned age 18. 106 C.M.R. § 362.210. These individuals do not need to petition for U.S. citizenship or naturalize in order to be considered a U.S. citizen eligible for SNAP benefits.
Under the SNAP program, you are not required to verify U.S. citizenship unless the DTA finds the information provided is questionable. 106 C.M.R. § 362.210. The program rules allow you to self-declare, under penalty of perjury, that you are a U.S. citizen. See Question 8 (What if I am having trouble getting all the proofs, or the proofs get to DTA late?). The recent changes in the federal Medicaid law which require verification of U.S. citizenship do not affect the SNAP program.
The eligibility rules for immigrants and refugees (immigrants) are very complicated and sometimes require the advice of an experienced advocate. It is also important to note that the SNAP eligibility rules affecting immigrants are different from cash assistance and MassHealth rules. The chart in Appendix D: Eligibility Chart by Immigration Status highlights the differences.
There are basically three groups of immigrants who qualify for benefits under the SNAP rules. 106 C.M.R. §§ 362.220-362.240.
You qualify under the SNAP eligibility requirements if you are:
If your immigration status falls under one of the above, you qualify for SNAP benefits without the five-year waiting period. You are also eligible without the waiting period if you previously had one of these statuses, even if you are now an LPR, parolee or battered non-citizen.
You may qualify under the SNAP requirements if you are:
If you are one of the above immigrants, you also must have five years in qualified status unless you meet one of the following:
You also meet the SNAP eligibility requirements, without any waiting period, if you are:
For an excellent guide with copies of U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Service-issued documents and a key to the codes, see materials produced by the National Immigration Law Center (NILC).
Unless you fall within one of the above three groups, you are not eligible for SNAP. See 106 C.M.R. § 362.220(D)-(G). You can still apply for benefits for U.S. citizen or qualified immigrant dependents who meet the eligibility rules but you will not receive benefits for yourself.
Examples of ineligible immigrants include:
See Question 25 (Can my children get benefits if I am an ineligible immigrant?) for how ineligible immigrant parents can apply for eligible children, and Question 27 (How does DTA count the income of an ineligible immigrant who lives with eligible persons?) for a description of how income of ineligible immigrants is counted to the rest of the household.
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. . 106 C.M.R. 362.220(B)(7)(f) and (g). If you are an LPR adult who is not disabled and you are told you must wait five years for to qualify for SNAP, it is important to determine if you have countable work history. Establishing sufficient work history may also qualify you for TAFDC benefits, certain MassHealth benefits as well as federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits if you become severely disabled or reach age 65 or older.
You can get credit for work history even if the work was not continuous or the wages not high. For example, for 2012 SSA counted pre-tax earnings of $4,520 as four (4) quarters of qualifying work history, regardless of whether the work was completed in one quarter or during the entire year (the minimum amounts are lower for years prior to 2012).
Under the federal rules, the LPR adult or child cannot get credit for work done after December 31, 1996, if the wage earner also received TAFDC, Medicaid or MassHealth, SCHIP (special Medicaid benefits for children), SNAP benefits while working. If the wage earner was not on the benefits but was simply the grantee for an eligible child, the wage earner should not lose the right to count the work quarters for his/her own benefit.
Example: Clara has been in the United States for just three years but recently lost her job in a factory. Her husband Jose, from whom she is separated but not divorced, has been here eight years. They both have been working consistently, and paying taxes, since they arrived in the U.S.. Clara has 12 quarters of work (three years with four quarters in each year). Jose has 32 quarters of work (eight years with four quarters in each year). They have never received SNAP, Medicaid or other federal means-tested benefits. Clara can count her 12 quarters and her husband’s 32 quarters for a total of 42. She can apply for SNAP and is not required to wait five years.
Even if Clara or Jose have a U.S. citizen or LPR child for whom they received SNAP or Medicaid while they were working, these benefits should not affect their right to claim the work quarters as long as they (the parents) were not on the benefits too.
Example: Siobhan is 25 years of age and finally got her LPR status. Her mother and father both lived and worked (and paid taxes) in the U.S. for 6 years when Siobhan was 10 years old. She stayed in Ireland with her grandmother. Siobhan can count her parent’s work history before Siobhan turned age 18 (24 quarters/parent equals 48 quarters) before Siobhan turned age 18. Even though she is age 25 and just got her LPR status, she can qualify for SNAP.
How DTA confirms work history
DTA can get information about work history through the SSA Quarters of Coverage History System (QCHS). DTA sends an inquiry to SSA to find out whether you have enough qualifying quarters. DTA can also request from SSA the work records of a spouse or parent if you are able to provide enough information on that person. If you think your spouse (or parent before you turned 18) may have work history, be sure to tell DTA so they can inquire about this person’s work history as well.
If you are a legal permanent resident adult, you are exempt from the five-year wait if you receive a disability benefit because of a severe disability. 106 C.M.R. § 362.220 (B)(7)(e). Unlike cash assistance and MassHealth, the SNAP program relies on a disability determination made by another benefit program.
If you receive MassHealth benefits or EAEDC based on a disability, you may be eligible without the five-year wait. For both programs, your disability must be as severe as the SSI disability criteria. DTA is supposed to check with the UMass Disability Evaluation Service (DES) to find the severity of your disability. See Question 19 for an explanation of disability under the SNAP program.
If you are age 65 or older and you receive EAEDC cash assistance, DTA will let you prove disability with a signed one-page statement from your doctor, nurse practitioner, physician assistant, or psychologist. The disability needs to meet the SSI severity levels that apply to seniors (which does take advanced age into account for SSI purposes).
If you are an LPR who is elderly or has a disability, but you are not receiving EAEDC cash assistance, contact an advocate. Some persons who are LPR and are elderly or have a disability may not qualify for EAEDC for financial reasons (e.g., spousal income or assets above the low EAEDC limits, or they do not want/need EAEDC benefits.)
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:
Battered immigrant adults are, unfortunately, subject to the same five-year waiting period as LPRs and parolees. 106 C.M.R. § 362.220(B)(8). This rule does not apply to children under the age of 18, or immigrants who have a disability and who receive a disability-based benefit. 106 C.M.R. § 362.220(B)(8)(e).
However, when calculating the five-year period for battered immigrant adults there are some important points to remember: If you are a battered immigrant with a relative visa petition (Form I-130), the five year period starts the date it was filed (or the date the you entered the U.S. after filing, if later). If you are a battered immigrant who self-petitioned under VAWA, the start date for the five year period is the date that a “prima facie” determination was made by immigration officials for the VAWA petition (Form I-360).
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).
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. However, even if you choose to not apply or are not eligible, as a person legally responsible for your children, you must still provide DTA with information on your income and expenses.
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 unless you give written permission. The information on your application is private. 106 C.M.R. § 360.400.
In some cases, an immigrant may be in the United States "unlawfully"— but it is not up to DTA to make that determination. The only circumstance where DTA can determine that you are "known to be in the U.S. unlawfully" is when DTA has seen a copy of your final order of deportation or other formal document that proves you are not here legally. 106 C.M.R. § 362.240(B). In that limited situation DTA is authorized to report you to the Department of Homeland Security without your permission. 106 C.M.R. § 362.220 (first section).
You cannot be reported just because you do not have any documents showing a status or because you chose to not provide information on your status. If you are not sure about your status or need legal advice, consult an immigration specialist.
Some ineligible immigrants live with other people who are eligible for SNAP, such as an immigrant parent with U.S. citizen children. There are two different calculations depending on the immigration status:
Calculation for households with legally present, ineligible immigrants
If you are lawfully residing in the U.S. but are ineligible for benefits – or you choose not to be part of the SNAP household – your SNAP benefits for the family members you live with are calculated using a special calculation. 106 C.M.R. § 365.520(B)(2).
The SNAP regulations define a broad group of immigrants who are considered “lawfully residing.” See 106 C.M.R. § 362.240(A). This list includes legal permanent resident adults (some of whom must wait five years from entry to be eligible) as well as immigrants with work authorization or other proof of pending status, such as asylum applicants. It also includes lawfully residing immigrants who choose for other reasons to not apply for SNAP benefits.
The SNAP calculation for households with lawfully present immigrants involves three steps. DTA initially calculates benefits with the opting-out immigrant and their income as a household member, then calculates benefits for the household excluding the immigrant and his or her income, and finally selects the result with the lower amount of benefits. 106 C.M.R 364.600(C).
Example: Juana is an applicant for asylum. She has official work authorization (I-688) but is not eligible for benefits until the asylum status is granted (which can take years). Juana has two young children born in the United States. She earns $1,250/month gross income and pays $700 rent plus heat and cooling costs. Her children have no income of their own. Here’s how DTA calculates her benefits:
Step 1: DTA calculates the benefit amount the family would receive if the immigrant were included in the household. DTA uses the total household income (including the income of the ineligible immigrant and all allowable deductions).
In Juana’s case, DTA first calculates the benefits for a household of three including Juana and her two children. DTA counts all of Juana’s income and allows all applicable deductions (in her case, the 20% earnings disregard, the $152 standard deduction and a shelter deduction maxed at $478).
Juana has countable income of $370 a month. The maximum benefit for a household of three is $497 a month. After subtracting 30% of net income, her family will receive $386/month.
Countable net income after deductions: $370 Maximum benefits for household of 3 persons: $497 Subtract 30% of countable net income: –111 Benefit for this HH ($526 less 1/3 net income): $386
Step 2: DTA then calculates the benefits for the eligible household members excluding the ineligible immigrant and his/her income. If the household members have countable income (for example, child support), that income is counted to determine the SNAP benefits.
In Juana’s case, the children have no countable income, so the benefit for the children at Step 2 would be $347 a month.
Countable income of children: $0 Max benefits for household of 2 persons: $347
Step 3: The two amounts are compared and the household is eligible for the amount in Step 1 or Step 2, whichever is lower. In Juana’s case, the benefit for the children is the amount in Step 2 ($347) because that is lower than the amount in Step 1 ($386).
The policy reason for granting the lower amount is one of fairness—an immigrant-headed household should get no more SNAP benefits than they would receive if all were eligible U.S. citizens.
However, if Juana had no countable income, the family’s SNAP benefit would still be capped at the maximum amount for two persons, or $347 (as opposed to the higher amount of $386 for three persons), because Juana is not herself eligible.
Calculation for households with undocumented or undetermined status members
If you are an undocumented immigrant or are unwilling to provide immigration status information, the benefit calculation is even less favorable. DTA will count all of the ineligible immigrant's income toward the eligible members without considering the ineligible immigrant's needs. 106 C.M.R. § 365.520(A). This calculation is identical to the way that income is counted for sanctioned household members (individuals who have committed fraud or been sanctioned for work violations). See Question 50 (How does DTA count the income of someone who lives with me but is not part of my SNAP household?).
DTA does one calculation counting the income of the ineligible individual but excludes him or her in determining the household size and benefit amount as follows:
Example: In the case of Juana, above, it turns out she does not have any proof of legal status. She has exactly the same income, expenses and household circumstances as above.
Because Juana has “undetermined legal status,” DTA counts all of her income against a SNAP benefit level for the two children only. The children will receive only $236 in SNAP benefits, as this is the maximum monthly benefit level for a household of two with countable net income of $370. All of Jane’s countable income is subtracted against a household of two persons.
Countable net income after deductions: $370 Maximum benefits for household of 2 children: $347 Subtract 30% of countable net income: –111 Benefit for this HH ($347 less 1/3 net income): $236
There is no counting or “deeming” of a sponsor’s income to indigent or low income legal permanent residents seeking benefits. “Deeming” involves counting income from a source, such as a sponsor, that is not received by the LPR but is assumed available. There is also no deeming of sponsor income in the TAFDC, EAEDC or MassHealth programs.
It is important to note that any financial support you actually receive from the sponsor for living expenses, including vendor payments, is counted and treated as unearned income in calculating your benefits. 106 C.M.R. § 363.230 (C)(2). For example, if your sponsor provides you with $500 per month in income, DTA will calculate your SNAP benefits counting $500 of unearned income.
There is an exception to this sponsor deeming rule. DTA will count sponsor income when a household member is sanctioned for failure to comply with the SNAP work rules, the TAFDC monthly reporting rules, or has committed fraud (intentional program violation). 106 C.M.R. § 362.270.
You do not need to have a permanent address or a regular place to live to get SNAP. 106 C.M.R. § 362.100. You do not need to have cooking facilities. You can get benefits if you live on the street. You can also receive benefits if you are staying at a homeless shelter or a shelter for victims of domestic violence, even if you get free meals at the shelter on a regular basis. 106 C.M.R. § 361.240(B).
You must provide something to prove your identity. 106 C.M.R. § 361.610(G). There are many different ways you can prove who you are, including a statement from someone who knows you, such as a staff person at a soup kitchen, food pantry, detox program, or shelter. 106 C.M.R. § 361.640(B). See Questions 7 (What proofs (verifications) do I need?) and 8 (What if I am having trouble getting all the proofs, or the proofs get to DTA late?).
If you do not have an address where you can regularly pick up mail, you can choose to have mail about your SNAP benefits sent to the address of your local DTA local office, a local organization such as a shelter that accepts mail for clients, or a P.O. Box.
You may be entitled to emergency SNAP if you have less than $150 in gross income and less than $100 in cash or savings or meet other rules for "expedited" SNAP. See Question 9 (Can I get emergency SNAP benefits?).
If you live in a licensed group home for persons who are disabled or blind, you are eligible for SNAP benefits at the one-person benefit allotment, even if you share common meals at the home. 106 C.M.R. §§ 361.240(B), 365.620. The group home must be licensed by the state as a community-based residential facility and serve no more than 16 residents at a time. 106 C.M.R. § 365.640.
You may be able to apply and manage your own SNAP benefits or the group home may decide to be your authorized representative. See Question 5 (Can someone else apply for me?). The group home must make this decision based on an individualized determination of your “physical and mental ability to handle your own affairs.” 106 C.M.R. § 365.620(A).
You cannot be forced to automatically turn over your benefits or forced to appoint the group home as your authorized representative. You also have the right to challenge their determination if you want to keep your own SNAP benefits. However, if you get prepared meals at the group home, they may ask you to contribute some of your SNAP benefits toward the cost of these meals.
Since 2004, DTA has made a major effort to reach group home residents through the Department of Mental Health, Department of Developmental Services, and Mass. Commission for the Blind facilities. DTA has simplified the SNAP application and verification process. Group homes are also encouraged to identify a portion of the residential shelter costs for heating/cooling expenses in order to maximize benefits. If you are a residential facility provider, contact DTA about maximizing SNAP benefits for your residents.
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).
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:
If you live in someone else's home and you pay that person for more than half your weekly meals, you are considered to be a boarder and not eligible for SNAP benefits as a separate household. 106 C.M.R. § 361.240 (D).
If you pay a reasonable amount for meals, the household providing the meals can choose to include you and your income in their SNAP benefits or the household can choose to exclude you in calculating their benefit allotment. If excluded, DTA will then count your payments (after certain deductions) as income to the host household. A “reasonable” amount is an amount that equals or exceeds the SNAP benefit level for your household size (for example, $189/month for someone getting three meals per day). 106 C.M.R. § 361.240(D).
If you do not pay a reasonable amount for meals, you must be included in the SNAP household of the person who provides the meals and your income and assets will be counted in figuring the eligibility of the whole household. 106 C.M.R. § 361.240(D).
Example: Janet and Joe are 23 years old. They move into Janet's mother's house. Janet's mother receives SNAP benefits. Janet's mother does all of the shopping and makes all of the meals for Janet and Joe. Janet and Joe pay $150 a month towards food and $200 towards lodging. Because $150 is less than the benefit amount for a household of 2, Janet and Joe must be part of Janet's mother's SNAP household and their income and assets count. However, if Janet and Joe bought their food separately instead of giving Janet's mother money for food, they would not be required to be in her household.
If you are elderly or have a disability and you live with others who provide meals for you, see Question 18 (What if I am elderly or disabled and live with other people but I cannot buy and cook my own food?).
If you rent a room or space in someone else’s home and do not pay for meals, you are considered to be a roomer. As a roomer, you can apply for SNAP as a separate household, so long as you purchase and prepare the majority of your meals separately from the other people in the house. 106 C.M.R. § 361.230(A). See Questions 15 (What is a SNAP household or assistance unit?) and 16 (Can I get benefits separately from other people I live with?).
Unlike other situations where a child under 18 must be part of the household, a SNAP household can choose to include or exclude the foster child from the SNAP unit. 106 C.M.R. § 361.240(F). If the foster child is excluded, the foster care payments and any other income received for the child, such as child support, will not count as income to the household. For this reason, it is usually better to exclude the foster child to maximize the SNAP/food stamp benefits for the rest of the household. The foster child, however, cannot get benefits as a separate household.
Example: Sam and Susan have two children of their own. They also care for a foster child, Jimmy, and get foster care payments of roughly $600 per month for him. They can apply for SNAP for themselves and their two children (family of four), excluding the monthly foster care payment from income. Alternatively, Sam and Susan can apply for SNAP for a family of five including their two children, and their foster child, Jimmy. In that case, their income, plus the foster care payments they receive for Jimmy will be used in the calculation of benefits for five people. Households usually get more SNAP/food stamp benefits excluding the foster child since the foster care payments are then excluded from countable income.
A SNAP household also has the choice to include or exclude adult foster care members, even if they share family meals with that person. 106 CMR 361.240(F). Adult Foster Care (AFC) is a program for frail elders and adults with disabilities who cannot live alone. 130 CMR 408.000. MassHealth pays qualified AFC caregivers up to $18,000 a year to provide in-home care to MassHealth recipients who are elder or have disabilities and who would otherwise be institutionalized. However, the caregiver and other family members may still be low income and qualify for SNAP benefits.
If the foster adult is excluded from the SNAP household, none of the foster care payments paid to the caregiver nor income of the fostered individual count for SNAP purposes. By excluding the adult foster care payment and other income received by the fostered adult, such as SSI or Social Security, the care giving household often qualifies for much higher monthly SNAP benefits based only on their income and portion of living expenses.
Example: Frank and Emma are foster caregivers for an 88 year old woman, Margaret. Emma provides the daily foster care and Frank works part time earning $1,000/month. The Adult Foster Care Program pays the Wilsons $1,500 a month. Margaret also receives $800 in Social Security. Under the SNAP rules, Frank and Emma can apply for SNAP benefits for a 2 person household, excluding Margaret from the SNAP household. Only the $1,000 income earned by Frank is countable income for SNAP purposes. This is true even though the couple purchases and prepares the food jointly for themselves and Margaret. .
A foster family or adult foster caregiver can request that DTA remove a foster child or foster adult from the SNAP household at any time. In cases of adult foster care, if the head of the SNAP household is also the fostered adult, that person must put the request to be removed from the household in writing to the DTA and a new account should be opened with the caregiver as head of the SNAP household. Contact an advocate for assistance in making these changes.
Many low-income college students may be eligible for SNAP benefits but not realize it. The college student rules can be very confusing.
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:
106 C.M.R. §§ 362.400-362.420 lists all the conditions that qualify college students. Appendix C: Important Advocacy Forms includes an FAQ and a form for community colleges to sign if you are in a career or technical education degree or certificate program, or if your course of study will lead to employment.
Example 1: Jane is a single parent and a full-time college student with one child age 10. Jane qualifies for SNAP, even though a student, because she is a single parent with a child under age 12.
Example 2: George is a full-time college student with no dependents. He has a work-study job on campus for 5 hours a week. George meets the SNAP rules for college students because he is doing work-study. He does not need to work 20 hours per week.
Example 3: Suzy is majoring in communications at the local community college. Because she is in a public college and in a program that is expected to lead to employment, according to the college, she meets the student eligibility requirements.
Note: College students enrolled less than half-time do not need to meet the conditions above to get SNAP benefits. 106 C.M.R. § 362.400(A). Depending on your situation, however, you may be required to do work search unless you meet the employment and training exceptions. See Question 36 (Who must register for work and do job search, and who's exempt?).
If you live on campus and get most of your meals through your meal plan, you do not qualify for SNAP.
If you live with your parents and you are under age 22, you must be part of their SNAP household even if you meet the student eligibility rules, and even if you purchase and prepare food separately. See Question 17 (Who cannot be a separate SNAP household?).
There are specific rules on what income is countable for eligible college students. It is important to remember the following:
For more information on the income counting rules and what is countable or non-countable, see Questions 44 (What income is not counted?) through 50 (How does DTA count the income of someone who lives with me but is not part of my SNAP household?). Non-countable income does not need to be verified. To help verify your countable school income, DTA uses an "Educational Income and Expense Form" (EDUC-1). By signing this form, you are giving permission for your college financial aid office to release information to DTA. Use of the form also makes it easier for the financial aid office to report non-federal financial aid you receive and indicate if any of it is designated for your living expenses. You are not required to use this form but it may help in getting the exact information DTA needs.
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:
The 2008 Farm Bill, Section 4112 directs states not to disqualify individuals whose names happen to appear on a criminal database until the state has confirmed that the individual is actually “fleeing prosecution” and that they are being “actively pursued by law enforcement.” USDA has issued preliminary guidance that that for a SNAP applicant to be considered “fleeing,” the applicant must be aware that a warrant has been issued for his or her arrest. If you see any households denied or terminated for SNAP benefits on this basis, contact an advocate.
Additional USDA Policy Guidance on Fleeing Felons:
Any member of your family who is age 16 to 60 and is not exempt must register, search for work, and accept any suitable job offer. This is called the SNAP Employment & Training (SNAP/ET) Program. 106 C.M.R. § 362.310. DTA will have you sign a work registration form where you agree to do certain activities and report your job search efforts.
After you register (by signing a DTA SNAP work registration form), you have two options:
DTA will give you a “Job Search Activity Log” on which to list either 18 job contacts or the hours you spent (and types of activities) to add up to 24 hours. See Appendix C. You need to start your job search within 30 days of when you register and finish it by day 60. Completion of the job search paperwork satisfies program requirements for the next 12 months. 106 C.M.R. § 362.310(E).
You also have the option of going to an employment and training program or career center to find out about other services. If DTA refers you to an SNAP/ET vendor for help with career or training skills, you have the choice whether or not you want to accept the referral. However, if you are offered a job during your job search or from a training program, you must take it unless you have a really good reason to refuse the job, and you cannot quit the job unless you have a really good reason. 106 C.M.R. § 362.310(D)(3), (6), (7) & (8).
The SNAP regulations provide for a wide range of exemptions from the job search and the SNAP/ET requirements. 106 C.M.R. § 362.310(B). You are exempt if you are:
If you do not comply with SNAP/ET work registration or job search rules after you apply and do not have “good cause,” you may be “sanctioned” and ineligible for benefits. See Question 38.
If DTA determines that you did not meet a work requirement without good cause, you will be ineligible for three (3) months for the first finding, six (6) months for the second finding, and twelve (12) months for the third finding. 106 C.M.R. § 367.800(E)(1). For the first two offenses, only the household member who does not comply loses benefits.
On the third offense, and if you are the "head of household," your whole household is ineligible for six months and you also lose your portion of benefits for 12 months. See 106 C.M.R. § 361.220 for a definition of who is the "head of household." Further, if you are sanctioned and have income, DTA will count all of your income to the rest of the household members while excluding you from the SNAP benefits paid to the household. See Question 49 (Do the SNAP rules count money I don't receive?).
There are no mandatory community service/work requirements for persons age 18 to 49 under current law. The work requirements were suspended under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and remained through September 30, 2013, and possibly longer.
Able-boded adults without dependents (ABAWDS) have historically been required to a) register for work, b) do job search and c) work 20 hours a week or do unpaid community service hours based on the amount of SNAP benefits they received.
Unpaid work was known as the “work rule” and was imposed on these able-bodied individuals after three months of benefits. While Massachusetts got waivers to exempt ABAWDs in some geographic areas with high unemployment, ARRA suspended the rule nationwide in April of 2009 as the economy worsened. These work rules remain suspended. If you are a member of ABAWD household, you cannot be denied or disqualified for failure to meet the work program rules. Bu you can be denied for failure to do register for work and do job search.
Even though the work rules for able-bodied adults without dependents are suspended, you are still required to comply with the work registration and work search rules (sometimes called SNAP/ET rules). 106 C.M.R. § 362.310(D)(5), (E)(5). See Question 36 (Who must register for work and do job search, and who's exempt?).
Because of the suspension of the ABAWD work rules, if you are an able-bodied individual, your SNAP benefits should be put on semi-annual (interim) reporting if you have any earned or unearned income, a history of income (within the past five months) or you are homeless. This means you have less reporting of changes during the six month period. If the work rule were in effect, ABAWDs would likely be on change reporting. 106 C.M.R. § 366.110(C)(1)(d). See Question 72 (What is semi-annual reporting?).
You should not be sanctioned or lose SNAP if you had good cause for not complying with work registration or job search. See 106 C.M.R. § 362.330(A). Good cause reasons for failure to comply with the FS/ET and FS/Work Program rules include:
These SNAP good cause rules also apply to the ABAWD Work Program rules for childless adults when the work rules are in effect. These rules are currently suspended. See Question 37.
DTA can deny your SNAP benefits—or cut you off —if you are subject to the SNAP work requirements and you voluntarily quit a job without good cause.
Here’s how the rules on voluntary quit work:
DTA should only ask you to verify work you had within 60 days prior to application. DTA does not need to know about or verify jobs you had more than 60 days prior. If you need help getting information from a past employer, you can give DTA permission to make a "collateral contact" with the employer directly. See Question 8 (What if I am having trouble getting all the proofs, or the proofs get to DTA late?) and Appendix C. 106 C.M.R. § 361.640(B).
Here’s how the rules on strikers work:
If the reason you need SNAP benefits is because you are on a work strike, you and your household cannot get SNAP unless you were income-eligible for SNAP before you went on strike. If you were eligible before the strike, DTA will count either the value of your current income or your income before you went on strike, whichever is higher. 106 C.M.R § 361.240(E)(2).
You are not considered on strike if:
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 are not subject to the voluntary quit rules if you are exempt from the FS/ET requirements. 106 C.M.R. § 362.340. See Question 36 (Who must register for work and do job search, and who's exempt?). You also should not be disqualified from benefits under the voluntary quit rules— and do not need to prove "good cause"— if you left employment because the employer fired you or asked you to quit, if you reduced your hours of work but did not leave your work, if you stopped a self-employment business or if you quit a job for a new job that fell through. 106 C.M.R. § 362.340(D).
You must be financially eligible to get SNAP benefits. That means your countable gross income must be within the program limits for your family size. After certain allowable deductions, a portion of your countable net income is compared to the maximum SNAP allotment for your household. Your monthly benefits are determined based on subtracting a portion of your net countable income (30%) from the maximum monthly allotment. Since June 2008, there is no asset test for most Massachusetts households. There is no asset test for most Massachusetts households. See Question 42.
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.
However, there are four situations when DTA may ask about your assets:
If your household includes a disqualified household member, you are also subject to the $2,000 asset limit. The asset limit is $3,250 if your household has a member who is elderly or has disabilities. Once the household member is back in compliance with the work or reporting rules (or the IPV sanction period has ended), the regular financial rules apply.
If you are one of the few SNAP applicants subject to the asset limit, vehicles are no longer a countable asset. This includes licensed and unlicensed vehicles such as cars, trucks, vans, motorcycles, and boats. 106 C.M.R.§ 363.140(D).
If you own a car – and you have child care or medical expenses – you can claim the mileage expenses for transporting your children for care or trips to medical appointments or the pharmacy. See Questions 53 and 55.
DTA looks at total monthly income to decide if you are eligible for SNAP benefits and how much you will get— but not all income counts. DTA is supposed to calculate your income based on what you anticipate receiving in the future.
The following items are examples of income that do not count:
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).
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 wages or stipends paid to AmeriCorps, VISTA, Youthbuild, SCSEP and other persons doing service work. See Question 43.
Note: Gross income is your earnings before taxes, FICA or other mandatory payroll deductions. Gross income does not include the value of employee "credits" for employee benefits such as health insurance that cannot be taken as cash by the employee. See Question 44 (What income is not counted?). Special rules apply to individuals who pay child support. 106 C.M.R § 363.230(O). See Question 54 (What is the child support deduction?).
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.
See 106 C.M.R. § 365.940. If these expenses are verified, DTA will allow them as part of the costs of doing business in calculating your countable gross income before the 20% earned income deduction.
Example: June sells cosmetics from her home. She buys the product from the manufacturer and then sells it to her customers. She can deduct the amount that she paid for the cosmetics and her costs of reaching customers (phone, mailing costs, website) from any income that she earns from selling the cosmetics.
Example: Sarah provides day care in her own home. Because she has young children inside most of the day, she pays more for oil and electricity to heat her home than she would otherwise use. Sarah also buys food for snacks and diapers, and pays a day care license. A portion of her heat/utility costs can be claimed as a business expense, as well as the cost of snacks, license and other supplies for her business.
You can also claim business expenses incurred setting up your business before you applied for SNAP benefits. 106 C.M.R. § 365.030(B). However, you cannot claim net losses on your business or the money you set aside for income tax or retirement funds (which expenses are considered part of the 20% earnings disregard). 106 C.M.R. § 365.950.
Rental income is treated as unearned income unless you spend least 20 hours a week managing the property. 106 C.M.R. §§ 363.220(B)(5), 365.930(A). See Question 47 (What is unearned income?) on how to calculate net rental income.
Self-employment is usually averaged over a 12-month period unless the income is intended for a shorter period (e.g., summer income). Tell your SNAP worker you wish to have it cover a shorter period of time because of anticipated changes. 106 C.M.R. §§ 364.340(B), 365.960. If you report that there has been a major change in your self-employment for the current year, DTA should not use the prior year tax returns.
After DTA determines your pre-tax "gross" monthly self-employment income, after business expenses, DTA deducts 20% of that gross as an earnings disregard— just like if you had regular wages or employment. 106 C.M.R. § 364.400(B).
Example: Millie netted $10,000 last year from her taxi service, after expenses. Millie does not expect this income to change this year. DTA will average this $10,000 over 12 months to get a monthly figure of $833 per month "gross" income. DTA then subtracts 20% earnings disregard from this gross figure, which reduces her earned income to $667 per month (and then other deductions apply).
Self-employed households are usually put on "change reporting" because the income is often unsteady and fluctuates. 106 C.M.R § 366.110(C)(1)(e). See also Question 75: When do I have to report changes if I am on change reporting?. Change reporting does not require you to report every change, but you must report changes that will affect the amount DTA has averaged as income for your certification period. So, if you experience an unusual or unanticipated change in business net income or expenses, you need to report this change within 10 days to DTA.
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.
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 =
2/3 of Verdina’s home ownership costs (2/3 of $1,290) =
Countable rental income for Verdina ($1000 less $860) =
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 $1200, or $400) and not the full amount of the total homeownership costs. Her portion of the water/sewer and the trash collection are covered by standard utility allowance (SUA), which is added to her third of the mortgage/insurance costs.
Your SNAP monthly benefit is based on how much income you and the worker are "reasonably certain" you will receive for the period you are on benefits (your certification period). 106 C.M.R. § 364.310.
If you have earned income, DTA will ask you for proof of income from the four-week period prior to your application. If you cannot get this information from your employer, or you are missing a wage stub, tell your worker. Your worker may be able to help you get the information by calling the employer with your permission ("collateral contact") or by helping you access online payroll information such as The Work Number. See Question 7 (What proofs (verifications) do I need?).
If you are no longer working at your old job when you apply for SNAP benefits, the income from the terminated source (a lost job, or cash benefits or child support payments that have stopped) should not be counted in calculating your benefits. DTA should calculate your financial eligibility prospectively, which means looking at what your anticipated income will be in the coming months. 106 C.M.R. § 364.310. The only time income from a terminated source counts is in the month of application for expedited service, for example, where you receive a final paycheck after you apply for benefits but within the month of application. 106 C.M.R. § 365.840.
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 semi-annual reporting and it is not clear either when or how much income you will receive. See Question 72 (What is semi-annual reporting?). If you do not anticipate receipt of the income in the first 30 days of your certification period, it should not count until the next semi-annual reporting period (or unless your total household income exceeds the gross income test during the six-month period).
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.
Yes. The SNAP rules sometimes count money you do not get as income when it is:
The money taken out of your cash grant for a program sanction is counted as if it were still paid in calculating your SNAP benefits.
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:
The rules require DTA to count the disqualified person's income in figuring whether your household meets the lower (130% of federal poverty level) gross income eligibility test and in figuring the amount of household benefits. Even if the household includes children, an elder, or a member with disability, the SNAP rules require DTA to use the lower 130% gross income test. See Question 51 (Are there gross and net income tests I must pass before I can get SNAP benefits?). Further, the rules require DTA to exclude the disqualified person in the household size. 106 C.M.R. § 365.520(A)(4). The earned income, child support, dependent care or medical costs do apply.
Example: Mark, his wife and two children reapplied for SNAP recently, but Mark was disqualified for benefits for 12 months after a hearings officer ruled that he had committed an intentional program violation (IPV). Mark is now working 20 hours a week. He understands that he is not eligible for SNAP benefits for himself until the period of disqualification expires. However, all of his income along with the rest of the household must fall under the lower 130% FPL gross income limit for three people (his wife and two children). 100% of Mark’s income after deductions is counted but the benefit amount is calculated for a household of three (not four). Mark is excluded in the household size.
Yes. Most SNAP applicants only need to pass a gross income test. Some households need to also pass a net income test. And some of these households, in limited circumstances, also need to pass the asset test.
Gross income is your monthly income before any deductions for taxes, or any of the allowable deductions. There are currently TWO gross income tests that affect most households:
These are the monthly gross income levels (as of October 1, 2013) by household size, also included in Appendix B: Income and Benefits Standards, Charts 2 and 3.
Gross Income Test
Gross Income Test
*Effective until January 2014. ** Effective until October 2014, then increases.
If an elder/disabled household has income above the 200% gross income test, the household must meet the net income test and asset test. All other households above 200% gross income (or 130% gross income if no children and not pregnant) are simply ineligible.
If a member of a household pays legally obligated child support, the child support is not counted in the gross income test for the household. 106 C.M.R. § 363.230(O). See Question 54 (What is the child support deduction?).
Net income is what's left after all the allowable deductions under the SNAP rules, including the 20% earnings deduction, standard household deduction, dependent care expenses, and medical expenses for elder/disabled persons, child support paid out, and the shelter deduction. See Question 52 (What deductions are allowed against my income?).
The net income test applies to the following households:
Summary of the gross and net income tests, and the asset test rules:
Net (100% FPL)
|Family with children,
|Elder/disabled household||NO||200% FPL||NO*|
gross income > 200% FPL
|Persons age 18-60,
no kids, no disabilities
|Household under sanction
(work, IPV, sanctioned member)
* See Advocacy Reminder below. Application of the net income test to these households may violate federal categorical eligibility requirements.
Five deductions are available to all household types. 106 C.M.R. § 364.400. Households with an elder or person with a disability can seek the medical deduction and higher shelter deductions. See Question 53 (What medical expenses can I claim if I am elderly (60+) or disabled?).
The following deductions are allowed for all household types:
|for households of 1-3 persons,|
|for households of 4 persons,|
|for households of 5 persons, and|
|for households of 6 or more persons.|
The result is your monthly net income. Your benefits are based on this amount. The following questions include examples of how the deductions work to reach net income.
Any member of your household who is elder (age 60+) or disabled is allowed to claim un-reimbursed medical and health-related expenses as an income deduction. This applies to disabled children as well as adults. The more expenses you can claim, the lower the household’s countable income will be. The lower your countable income, the higher the SNAP benefits your household will receive.
Remember—under the SNAP rules, someone is “elderly” at age 60. To be considered “disabled,” the adult or child must receive a disability-based benefit. 106 C.M.R. § 361.210. See Question 19 (Are there special rules for elders and persons with disabilities?).
There are two ways un-reimbursed medical expenses can be claimed. 106 C.M.R. § 364.400(C):
For example: Esther is 78 years old. She has MassHealth coverage, but the combination of small co-pays plus her over-the-counter pain relief and skin treatments add up to $36 per month. In calculating Esther's SNAP benefits, DTA will allow the $90 standard medical deduction. If Esther was billed substantially higher out-of-pocket expenses—more than $125/month— she could claim actual, verifiable expenses above $35/month.
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 $90 standard medical expense deduction.
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:
These are just examples! Appendix C: Medical Expense Flier and Screening Form contains an FAQ and Medical Expense screening form.
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.
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. § 364.610(J).
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.
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).
Families can claim the cost of care for either minor children or a disabled adult member while the household member is working, attending education or training programs, or looking for work. 106 C.M.R. § 364.400(D). The 2008 federal Farm Bill eliminated the cap on dependent care expenses.
Dependent care includes the cost for supervision of teenage children (under 18), as well as for the care of a child or disabled adult that is not part of your SNAP household (for example, a foster child or non-citizen child).
You can self-declare your dependent care expenses by writing the expenses on your signed SNAP application or recertification form. You can also send DTA a separate signed statement. See the FAQ and sample self-declaration form in Appendix C: Child Care Flier and Self-Declaration Form. You do not need a statement from the child care provider.
DTA can ask for more verification if the information you provide about your dependent care costs is determined "questionable"— meaning inconsistent with other statements on your application or in the interview, or information known to DTA. 106 C.M.R. § 361.620. For example, it might be questionable if you claim child care costs significantly higher than the going rate, or the hours of care claimed are significantly greater than your work and commuting hours. In such circumstances, DTA may request more verification.
If you need to pay for care for an adult who has a disability so you can work or attend training, you can claim this as a dependent care cost. If a member of your household with a disability pays for adult care for any reason unrelated to your needing to work, DTA will likely treat these costs as medical expenses, not dependent care expenses, assuming the household is eligible to claim medical expenses. 106 C.M.R. § 364.400(C)(12). See Question 52 (What deductions are allowed against my income?). Either way, adult dependent care of a person with disabilities is a deductible expense.
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:
You do not have to prove your actual costs to get the SUA. You get the full SUA even if you live with another household and pay only part of the utilities. Except for Fuel Assistance payments, you cannot claim the SUA for utility costs paid by a third party. 106 C.M.R. § 364.410(B)(2).
In 2007, DTA and the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) established a program called H-EAT (Heating and Eating Fuel Assistance program). This program helps thousands of SNAP households get higher monthly benefits and access to fuel assistance.
Twice a year (usually April and October) DTA scans the SNAP caseload and determines which households are eligible for the H-EAT benefit. They identify current SNAP recipients who are not already getting the higher heating/cooling SUA, not on Bay State CAP benefits, and not homeless. SNAP recipients who are found eligible are sent a letter about the H-EAT benefit (and information on regular Fuel Assistance, weatherization and other important benefits).
In addition to increased benefits, the H-EAT program relieves the household of having to provide proofs of heating or air conditioning costs. Through receipt of benefits, the household is also enrolled in the utility discount programs. A household receiving H-EAT may also be eligible for regular Fuel Assistance benefits available from local fuel assistance agencies, if they pay more than 30% of their income for rent.
The SNAP rules allow you to deduct shelter expenses that exceed half of your net income. This is called the "shelter deduction." 106 C.M.R. § 364.400(G). For example, if your allowable shelter expenses are $700 per month, but your net income after other deductions is $1,500 per month, you will get no shelter deduction. That's because half of your net income ($750) is more than your shelter expenses of $700.
Shelter costs may be self-declared by the household unless questionable. This includes shelter information on the application form, recertification form or a signed and dated statement by the household. See Question 7 (What proofs (verifications) do I need?). Questionable information is that which is inconsistent with other statements on your application, in the interview, or information known to DTA.
The SNAP shelter deduction is complicated because Congress wanted to target SNAP benefits towards households that have the highest shelter costs in relation to their incomes and therefore have the hardest time paying for food. After Section 8 and public housing, it is the biggest source of federal assistance to low-income households based on their housing needs.
Two types of shelter deduction:
Regular shelter deduction: The shelter deduction is currently capped at $478 per month for households that do not include an elder, disabled adult or disabled child.
There are four steps to calculate your shelter deduction:
In other words, allowable Shelter Costs (Step 2) minus half of Preliminary Net Income (Step 3) equals Shelter Deduction (up to the cap if applicable).
Example: Carl earns $1,500 per month. He lives with his wife Cindy and their child. He pays $100 per month in child support for a child who does not live with him. The family pays $500 per month in rent, and pays for heat and utilities.
$1500 Gross earned income of Carl (including child support paid to a child outside the household (HH)) - $300 20% earnings deduction from gross - $152 Standard deduction for HH of 3 - $100 Child support deduction = $948 Preliminary net income
Shelter deduction calculation $500 Rent + $608 SUA = $1,108 Shelter expenses - $474 One-half preliminary net income = $634 Shelter expenses
$948 Preliminary net income - $478 Maximum shelter deduction (capped) = $470 NET INCOME for Carl's family
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(D) for the definition of homeless.
Example: Paul is a homeless individual who receives $400 per month in Veterans’ benefits. Sometimes he stays at a shelter for adult individuals, and sometimes he is on the street. Paul gets the $152 standard deduction and the $143 homeless deduction. His net monthly income for SNAP is $105 per month.
You cannot be denied SNAP benefits for lack of proof of deductions, but your benefits may be higher if you provide proofs. 106 C.M.R. § 364.450(B). Question 7 (What proofs (verifications) do I need?) and Question 8 (What if I am having trouble getting all the proofs, or the proofs get to DTA late?) have detailed information on verifications, self-declarations, worker assistance and more. As a reminder:
To get your SNAP benefit amount, multiply your net monthly income by 0.3 (30 percent). Round up this amount to the nearest dollar.
Take this amount and subtract it from the maximum benefit level for a household of your size. The result is the amount of your monthly benefits. 106 C.M.R. §§ 364.600, 364.980. See "Maximum SNAP Allotments," Appendix B: Income and Benefits Standards, Chart 1.
Example: Carl and his family in Question 57 have $500 in net income after allowable deductions. To determine the family’s SNAP benefits, take 30% of the “net income” (30% of $500) and subtract it from the maximum benefit, as follows:
$500 Net Income for Carl's family x .30 (Multiply by 30%) $150 Countable Income $497 Maximum SNAP for 3 persons - 150 Countable income (round up) $347 Monthly SNAP benefits for Carl's family
For the first month you apply, you will get benefits only for the days left in the SNAP month from the date you apply. This is called prorating of benefits. 106 C.M.R. § 364.650. For example, if you apply halfway through your SNAP month, you will get only 50 percent of the monthly benefit. See Question 64 (When will I get my SNAP benefits?) for an explanation of "SNAP month."
If you are a household of one or two and your gross income is below the gross income test for your situation, you should receive a minimum of $15 a month in SNAP benefits. 106 C.M.R. § 364.600(A).
Strange as it may seem, a household of three or more persons can get "approved" for zero SNAP benefits even though gross income is below the 200% gross income test. This happens when thirty percent of your net income is greater than the maximum benefit amounts. 106 C.M.R. §§ 364.600(A), 365.100. DTA will put your case in "suspended" status.
The reason you are "approved" for zero benefit is so you can quickly get benefits without reapplying if you have a decrease in your income, increase in expenses, or change in household size that makes you eligible for benefits. DTA will send you a notice stating that your SNAP case is "open" in the system, but you will not receive any benefits. If you report any changes during the certification period that make you eligible, you do not need to go through a whole reapplication with verifications and an interview. You only have to verify the change (drop in income, increased expenses, a new household member).
DTA counts as income money that is being taken out of your TAFDC, EAEDC, or other needs-based benefits because you intentionally failed to comply with a program requirement— even if you are not sanctioned under the SNAP rules. 106 C.M.R. § 363.220(C)(5). See Question 49 (Do the SNAP/food stamp rules count money I don't receive?). This rule applies if you were sanctioned for an intentional program violation (fraud) or because you intentionally failed to comply with a TAFDC program requirement, such as the child support or work rules. DTA will calculate your SNAP benefits as if your household is still getting the full amount of the cash benefit grant amount.
Example: Vicky lives in private housing and receives $418 in TAFDC for her child. Vicky was getting $518 but DTA reduced the benefits due to a sanction for her failure to comply with the child support rules without good cause. DTA will calculate the SNAP benefits as if Vicky receives the TAFDC of $518 per month.
This rule does not apply if your cash benefits are reduced for other reasons, or if the entire cash grant case closes due to a sanction. In these situations, the SNAP should be calculated using the household’s actual income. 106 C.M.R. § 363.220(C)(5).
Getting and using SNAP Benefits.
SNAP benefits are no longer “stamps” or coupons used to buy food. This is one of the reasons Congress changed the name to SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) in the 2008 Farm Bill. SNAP benefits are kept in an electronic account for you to use at a store. You use your benefits with your Bay State Access card, usually referred to as an EBT (electronic benefits transfer) card, at any grocery or convenience store that has the Quest logo. 106 C.M.R. §§ 364.900, 364.910.
Unless you apply in person, DTA usually has the EBT card mailed to you after you have a phone interview and verify your identity. There will not be any benefits on your EBT card until your case is approved.
The card and PIN are mailed from out-of-state vendors and come in separate envelopes. DTA will automatically assign a PIN. You can change your PIN by telephone by calling the Massachusetts EBT Customer Service number: 1-800-997-2555.
You also have the option to pick up the card at your local DTA office. Going to the local DTA office can often be the fastest way to get the EBT card, especially if you may qualify for expedited benefits and need the benefits sooner.
If you pick up the card in person, you can select a Personal Identification Number (PIN). The PIN is the key that unlocks your account.
Choose a PIN that is easy for you to remember but hard for other people to guess. Keep your PIN a secret and never write your PIN on your card.
There is no limit on the number of times per month you can use your EBT card to buy food. There is no charge or fee when you use your EBT card to buy food. If you lose your card, see Question 64.
No! You do not need to continuously use your benefits to qualify. DTA will terminate your account if you have not used the SNAP benefits in your account for more than 270 days. DTA will identify cases where the EBT benefits have not been active for 90 days and contact you. DTA will send you a letter before they take action and then DTA will "purge" your account and prevent you from getting benefits. 106 C.M.R. § 364.900(E).
Your SNAP benefits are put in your Bay State Access account on the same day each month based on the last digit of your Social Security Number.
Last Digit of SSN
Benefit Deposit Date
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.
You can buy any edible food except hot foods prepared for eating immediately. 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 DV and homeless shelters, congregate meal sites for elders or delivered by Meals on Wheels. It depends on whether the agency serving the meals is an approved EBT vendor. 106 C.M.R. § 360.120. You cannot use SNAP at restaurants.
You are allowed to use your EBT card for food purchases out-of-state at grocers and farmers markets that participate in the SNAP EBT program. There is no prohibition against out-of-state purchases. 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.
DTA has information on how to use your EBT Bay State Access Card, and USDA has helpful information on what you can buy with SNAP benefits.
To report a lost or stolen Bay State Access EBT card, call EBT Customer Service at 800-997-2555. DTA will replace your card, but DTA will not replace any SNAP benefits that are stolen from your account. 106 C.M.R. § 364.900(D). Once you report a lost or stolen card you can get a new PIN (Personal Identification Number) so benefits cannot be stolen from your account.
You can wait for a card in the mail, or you can go directly to your local DTA office to pick up a new card. Any DTA office can issue you a replacement EBT card. Your old card will become deactivated and the value of your SNAP benefits will be transferred to the new EBT card.
As of October 2012, SNAP and cash (TAFDC or EAEDC) recipients that have received more than four replacement EBT cards within twelve months will be required to contact the DTA case manager to talk about how use of the EBT cards. However, no request for a replacement card can be denied even if DTA suspects fraud. If you are in this situation, contact a legal advocate.
If you receive both cash and SNAP benefits and you lose your EBT card, DTA may also charge you $5.00 for replacement of a replacement EBT card by deducting the $5.00 from your cash benefits. DTA will not charge your cash benefits if the card was lost in the mail, you never transacted the card that was sent to you, the 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 or other exceptions. If you do not get any cash benefits, DTA does not currently charge for replacement of your EBT card from your SNAP benefits.
When the President of the United States or the Food and Nutrition Service declares a major disaster, families and individuals who live in the disaster area may be eligible for SNAP benefits as long as they meet special (higher) income limits. 106 C.M.R. §§ 366.600-366.620. These emergency SNAP benefits are called Disaster SNAP, or D-SNAP and are provided to families who are not SNAP recipients at the time.
To receive D-SNAP, the only proof required is proof of your identity (who you are). Other proofs may be requested, but are not mandatory. You do not need to be eligible for or receiving SNAP already to qualify.
If you are already getting benefits and you lose food due to a federally declared disaster, you may also be eligible to receive additional SNAP benefits. Normally the federal government will provide second SNAP payment of benefits because of the disaster. 106 C.M.R. § 366.620.
In other situations you may lose food due to a fire, flood or power outage in your home or neighborhood. If you lost food that you bought with SNAP benefits and that food is now 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 includes local emergencies where you lose electrical power (generally for four hours or more) and the food in your refrigerator or freezer has spoiled. Again, DTA will only replace the food that was purchased with the EBT benefits.
You must contact DTA within 10 days of when you lost the food. You can self-declare the loss of food but you need confirmation of the power loss or disaster. See Appendix C for a copy of the DTA form “Statement of Loss/Request for Replacement due to Household Misfortune” and for a FAQ about replacement SNAP benefits. You have 10 additional days after you report the loss of food to provide confirmation of the power loss or misfortune. You do not need to bring your spoiled food to DTA as evidence of your loss.
Additional Policy Guidance:
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:
DTA must correct any under-issuance that happened during the 12 months before DTA first discovered or was told about the mistake. 106 C.M.R. § 366.520.
You can get back SNAP benefits even if you are not on benefits anymore. 106 C.M.R. §§ 366.500, 366.570. For example, if you or an advocate discover a mistake after your benefits have ended, you can still ask DTA for the underpaid benefits.
If you are owed back SNAP benefits, send a letter to DTA requesting the underpayment correction (keep a copy of this letter for yourself). DTA must send you a notice about your request, the amount it will give you back if DTA agrees, how it calculated the amount (including any amounts DTA keeps to offset benefits you may owe), and your right to appeal. 106 C.M.R. § 366.530. You have a right to appeal any denial of a correction of an underpayment as well as appeal the amount DTA offers to pay you. You need to do this within 90 days of the date of notice from DTA. See Question 79 (What are my rights if DTA denies or cuts my benefits?).
Sometimes the store will make a mistake by taking money out of your EBT account even though you did not get your groceries. If this happens, the store must file a "merchant mis-dispense claim" with DTA. It may take several days or weeks for you to get your SNAP benefits credited back to your account. You may be able to get your benefits back sooner if you can get the store to contact DTA directly to verify the mistake. Call the EBT Customer Service line for immediate help: 800-997-2555.
Additional Policy Guidance on under/overpayments:
Once DTA decides you are eligible for SNAP benefits, it will approve or "certify" you for a certain number of months. This is called your "certification period." You need to reapply or "recertify" at the end of this time frame to continue getting benefits.
Certification periods are based on your household situation:
The rules vary on when you need to report changes that occur during your certification period. It depends on whether DTA puts you on change reporting, interim reporting, or if you are getting TAFDC benefits or just lost your TAFDC benefits. Questions 71 (When do I have to report changes during a certification period?) through 75 (When do I have to report changes if I am on change reporting?) discuss when you need to report changes in income, expenses, household composition.
When your certification period ends, your SNAP will stop unless you reapply or "recertify" for benefits. About 45 days before the end of your certification period, DTA will send you a notice and a recertification form to fill out. 106 C.M.R. § 366.310. The form will be pre-filled with the information DTA has about your household including the names, SSN, citizenship and date of birth of all members, your address, your shelter costs and medical expenses. You need to tell DTA if you have new household members, if people have left, if you have moved, if your expenses have changed. You also need to tell DTA about your current income and dependent care expenses.
When it is time to recertify, you need to take three steps:
DTA should give you enough time (usually 20 days) to complete and return the recertification paperwork to continue getting SNAP benefits. 106 C.M.R. § 366.320(A). If you do not return the form, your benefits will end. There are no additional notices from DTA. If you get the form back but after the DTA deadline, you may have an interruption in benefits.
If you complete the recertification (with the required verifications and interview) on time, DTA must make sure your benefits continue on the usual schedule without interruption. If for some reason your deadline to recertify is after the end of your current certification period, you will get benefits for the full month, not just a portion of the month, once you are recertified. 106 C.M.R. § 366.330 (B).
Suppose you completed your recertification form and had an interview, but you did not get all of your proofs in before your recertification deadline (for example, you did not send any wage stubs). If your case closes because of the missing proofs, you can ask DTA to reopen your case as long as:
You do not have to start a new application. 106 C.M.R. § 361.700(B)(2). This reopening rule applies to both applications and recertifications since a recertification is, in fact, a new SNAP application. If more than 30 days has elapsed since the end of your certification period, it's best to reapply.
Most households are required to be interviewed by a SNAP worker when the benefits are recertified. 106 C.M.R. §§ 366.320(B), 366.330(A). The DTA office should schedule the interview, usually done by phone, after they receive your recertification form. DTA should send you a letter scheduling the interview and, if they cannot reach you, they should send a notice of missed interview. This is the same interview process done for initial application. See Question 6 (Does DTA have to interview me and what happens if I miss the interview?).
DTA was granted a federal waiver in 2009 that allows the DTA worker to completely skip the recertification interview for households where all adults are either elder or have disabilities and meet the following conditions:
Under those conditions, DTA will send out a verification checklist for any missing optional verifications and should call the household of elders or persons with disabilities to see if it needs help. DTA will not conduct a regular interview unless the household requests an interview or unless the information provided in the recertification form is questionable.
There are four different reporting rules, depending on your situation:
“Semi-Annual Reporting” and "Interim Reporting” are basically the same thing. SNAP recipients approved for a one-year certification period with semi-annual or interim reporting need only report changes to DTA twice a year (semi-annually). While some households have to report changes within 10 days of when they happen, households certified with a semi-annual or “interim” reporting period do not.
There is one very important exception to this rule: You must report during the six-month period if your income— including income of anyone who moves into your household— goes over the gross income limit for your household. 106 C.M.R. § 366.110(C)(3). See Appendix B: Income and Benefits Standards, Charts 2 and 3, for the gross income limits. If your income goes above the gross income limits, you must report this change right away—within ten (10) days after the change occurs. When you are approved for semi-annual/interim reporting, DTA will send you a notice explaining the rules and what level of income you must report.
The households usually assigned semi-annual/interim reporting are households that have earned or unearned income or a history of income—other than income from TAFDC or EAEDC cash assistance or self-employment—and homeless households. 106 C.M.R. § 366.110(C).
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)(4)(a)(2). On the other hand, if you report an increase in income or decrease in rent or other expenses, DTA will not reduce your benefits during the semi-annual/interim reporting period. Your benefits will continue at the initial amount for the reporting period, as long as income remains below the gross income limit. 106 C.M.R. § 366.110(C)(4)(a)(1). This is the best of both worlds! Again, the only time DTA can stop benefits is when your gross income goes above the gross income test for your household.
Example: Suzyn is put on interim reporting and is not required to report any changes on her SNAP case for the next five months. The first month of her semi-annual period, she was working 30 hours a week. The second month, her employer reduced her time to 20 hours a week. If Suzyn reports the drop in earnings, DTA will recalculate her SNAP benefits using her lower wages. Suzyn will get more benefits because she reported the change in income. Her benefits will stay at the higher level, even if her employer increases her hours next month.
Example: Suzyn (above) is still working 30 hours a week but takes on another job for an additional 10 hours a week. Suzyn is also paying less rent as she was just approved for a subsidy. Her total gross earnings are still below the gross income test (200% FPL) for her family of four. She reports to DTA both the increased income and reduced shelter cost changes. DTA will not reduce her SNAP benefits until the start of the next interim reporting period. DTA will then recalculate her benefits at the next reporting period using the income and expenses she reports at that time.
Before the end of your six-month semi-annual/interim period, DTA will send you an interim reporting from to update your case. This form will be preprinted with the information about your household that DTA has in its records. You should update the information in the form, fill in any blanks (like your earnings) and send it back to DTA with required proofs (including your most recent pay stubs). You do not need any interview during the interim reporting unless DTA decides something is questionable.
If you do not send this form back or your benefits may stop. If you send in the interim report form late, DTA will treat it as a new application and can reopen your SNAP case - but the benefits will be prorated as of the date they received the report. However, if you got the interim report in on time, but you don't get the proofs in on time - you can still get your SNAP case reopened back to the date it was closed as long as you get the proofs in within 30 days. Bottom line: send in the report even if you don't have all of the proofs.
If you are a TAFDC recipient and someone in your household has income from a job or worked in the past two months, you may have to turn in a report form every month to keep getting cash and SNAP benefits. 106 C.M.R. §§ 366.110(D), 702.900-702.980. Your monthly SNAP and TAFDC benefits are then calculated based on the income reported on these forms. There is no monthly reporting in SNAP if you are not getting TAFDC.
DTA mails these forms directly to you. They have to be filled out completely and turned in with pay stubs within 20 days of when they were mailed to you for you to keep getting your benefits on time. Be sure to ask for help from DTA if you do not understand the forms. See MLRI's TAFDC Advocacy Guide for more information on monthly reporting.
If your family was receiving TAFDC and your benefits end—due to earnings, voluntary case closing, or most reasons other than a TAFDC program sanction—you will automatically get five months of SNAP benefits. The amount of SNAP you get will be calculated using only the income you had in the month your TAFDC benefits stopped, excluding your TAFDC cash grant. DTA will also not count new income you receive after your TAFDC case closes, such as new earnings or child support. This special benefit is called the Transitional Benefits Alternative or “TBA.” See 106 C.M.R. § 365.190.
Example: Aisha receives $433 monthly in TAFDC for herself and her two children, plus $300 in Social Security Survivors Benefits. They have no deductions other than the standard deduction. Their SNAP benefits are $352 a month. Aisha starts working at a job that pays $800 a month and asks DTA to close her TAFDC case. Under TBA, DTA recalculates Aisha's benefits counting only the $300/month in Social Security Survivors Benefits. DTA excludes the terminated TAFDC income and excludes the new income from her new job. Their benefits will be $482 a month for five months.
During the five-month TBA period, you are not required to report any changes in your household. However, you have the option to report changes and if you report a change that could increase your benefits (such as loss of income or the addition of a household member), DTA is required to act on that change and recertify your benefits to the higher amount. You will no longer be a TBA household. See 106 C.M.R. § 366.110(B).
Once the five-month TBA period ends, DTA should switch your household to semi-annual reporting.
"Change reporting" means you are required to report any changes within ten (10) days of when you learn of the change. 106 C.M.R. § 366.110(A). Most households with elders or persons with disabilities are certified for 24 months of SNAP benefits and put on "change reporting" because they tend to not have a lot of changes in terms of moving around, household members or income.
Change reporting requires you to report changes in income (of earned income of more than $100 per month, or unearned income of more than $50 per month); changes in source of income (e.g., you switch jobs); and changes in shelter costs, household composition, and child support payments. You must report these changes that might affect your eligibility for, or the amount of, your benefits (if you are not sure, it is safer to report).
If you are on change reporting, you can report changes by mailing or faxing a change report form or letter to DTA, by telephoning your DTA worker, or going to DTA in person. Be sure to keep a copy of what you send and make a note about any telephone call or meeting. If you fail to report a change that would result in a decrease in benefits, you may face over-issuance and a fraud sanction. See Part VII: Overissuances and Fraud.
In some cases, DTA receives information about a change in your household due to returned mail, information from the Department of Revenue regarding income or a new job, unreported unearned interest income through the Internal Revenue Service, a Registry of Motor Vehicle check, or through other sources. As a condition of receiving benefits, DTA checks your information with other government sources available to them. Your case may also be subject to random quality control reviews by USDA. 106 C.M.R. § 360.600. If DTA receives information that you did not already report, you should be contacted before DTA makes a change to your benefits.
NO. Your SNAP benefits should not stop just because your cash assistance stops. If everyone in your household was receiving TAFDC, and the TAFDC stops, you may qualify for Transitional Benefits Alternative. See Question 74 (What are "TBA" benefits and reporting rules for former TAFDC recipients?).
If you were getting other cash assistance that stops— like EAEDC or SSI— DTA should recertify your SNAP based on the new circumstances, if DTA has enough information and you are financially still eligible for benefits.
If DTA does not have enough information to recertify you after your cash assistance stops, they should send you a notice closing your SNAP case the month after the month they send the notice, and tell you that you need to recertify (reapply) for benefits. 106 C.M.R. § 365.170(B). The notice DTA sends you must also say that if you recertify (reapply) 15 days before your benefits stop, your benefits will continue without interruption. You may be able to recertify by mail. You may be subject to different work rules if you are no longer receiving cash assistance. See Questions 36 (Who must register for work and do job search, and who's exempt?) through 38 (What if I have a "good cause" for not meeting the SNAP work registration or work search rules?).
If your SNAP benefits are supposed to go up because of a change in your household circumstances, DTA must increase your benefits by the next month after the date you reported the change to the Department. 106 C.M.R. § 366.120(B).
You will need to give DTA proofs of your new income, expenses, or other changes. However, DTA should not wait until it receives these proofs to increase your SNAP. 106 C.M.R. § 366.120(D).
For example, if you usually receive your benefits on the 1st of the month, and on December 18th you tell DTA that your income is going down by $40 a month, your January 1st benefits should be higher. You will need to give DTA proof of your change in income by the middle of January, or else your February food benefits will go down again. If you didn't tell DTA about your change in income until December 26, your benefits would not increase until February.
You may be eligible for supplemental SNAP benefits in addition to increasing your ongoing benefit amount in the future. If your net countable income after deductions drops to zero, you are eligible for supplemental SNAP in the same month you report the change. 106 C.M.R. § 366.120(A)(1).
If you report a new household member or a change in income of $50 or more, DTA must adjust your SNAP benefits effective with the first payment you are due ten days after you reported the change. If you report the change after the 20th of the month and it is too late in that month to increase the next month's payment, DTA must authorize supplemental SNAP so that you get the increase by the tenth day of the following month or on your normal issuance date, whichever is later. 106 C.M.R. § 366.120(A)(2).
If you receive TAFDC and are on monthly reporting and your income from any source other than TAFDC stops, the income from the terminated source should not be counted in figuring your SNAP. If you report the change fewer than ten days before you are supposed to get your next benefit payment, DTA may count the income in figuring your regular payment that month, but must issue you extra SNAP for that month. 106 C.M.R. § 366.120(D).
If your SNAP benefits will go down or end because of a change in your circumstances, in most cases DTA should send you a written notice within ten days of the date that you reported the change. 106 C.M.R. § 366.120(C). DTA must give you at least ten 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 ten days notice of a change. See 106 C.M.R. §§ 366.210, 106 C.M.R. § 366.215. In these 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 VI: Appeal Rights.
If DTA denies your SNAP benefits or stops or lowers your monthly amount, you can ask for a "fair hearing." A fair hearing is a formal meeting at the local DTA office or a formal telephone or video conference. A hearing officer runs the hearing and decides who is right. 106 C.M.R. §§ 367.375, 343.110. You can ask for a fair hearing to challenge any DTA decision or action you disagree with. 106 C.M.R. §§ 367.125, 343.230.
You can ask for a fair hearing if your application is denied, or if any other request is denied, such as a request to correct a SNAP under-issuance, or a request for an increase because your income has gone down or someone else has moved into your household. You can ask for a hearing if DTA denies your request to accommodate a disability. See Questions 12 (What if a disability makes it hard for me to apply, get proofs, or comply with the SNAP rules?) and 13 (Is there a quick way to check the status of my application or my benefits?). You can ask for a hearing if the worker says you have been denied but never sends you written notice. You can also ask for a hearing if the worker just ignores your request. 106 C.M.R. § 343.230.
You can ask for a hearing if your benefits are stopped or reduced. See Question 80 (How long do I have to ask for a fair hearing?) on how to keep your benefits while you are waiting for a hearing decision. 106 C.M.R. §§ 343.230, 367.300.
You can ask for a hearing if your worker threatens you, makes unreasonable demands that do not follow the rules, violates your privacy, or does not treat you with dignity and respect. 106 C.M.R. § 343.235.
You have 90 days from the date of notice to ask for a fair hearing on any DTA SNAP actions or denials. 106 C.M.R. § 367.100. You have 120 days in worker bad conduct cases and cases where DTA does not act on a request. 106 C.M.R. § 343.140. You also can ask for a hearing to challenge the amount of your benefits any time during your certification period or whenever you discover an error. 106 C.M.R. § 367.100. See Question 68 (What if DTA makes a mistake and owes me money?).
If your benefits are being reduced or stopped before the end of your certification period, you can keep your benefits at the same level while you are waiting for a hearing decision. In most cases, DTA must give you at least ten days notice before the date of the reduction or termination. 106 C.M.R. § 366.200. The Division of Hearings must receive your appeal request within ten days of the date DTA mailed the notice or by the day before the date on which the action is to take place, whichever is later. (Be sure to save the envelope the notice comes in.) Benefits will continue until the fair hearing referee makes a decision or until your certification period ends, whichever is first. 106 C.M.R. §§ 366.220, 367.275.
Example: Judy's SNAP benefits are usually deposited to her Bay State Access account on the 11th of each month. She receives a notice dated January 25 which tells her that her benefits will be terminated on February 10 (the day before her next benefits are due). Judy disagrees with this decision and decides to appeal. The Division of Hearings must receive her fair hearing request by February 9, the day before the termination is to take place, for Judy to continue to receive benefits while waiting for the hearing decision or for her certification period to end. She can still request a hearing after February 9 (until April 25) but her benefits will not continue while she is waiting for the hearing decision.
You can ask for a hearing by writing to: Division of Hearings, DTA, P.O. Box 120167, Boston, MA 02112
You can also fax the hearing request to: 617-348-5311
Call 617-348-5321 or 800-882-2017 to see if DTA got your hearing request.
DTA has forms you can use to ask for a hearing. If you got written notice of DTA's decision, you can ask for a hearing by filling out the back of the notice. You can also just write your own letter.
You can ask on the hearing request for:
Be sure to fax or mail your hearing request to the Division of Hearings, not your local DTA office.
You should always ask for a hearing if your SNAP benefits are denied or stopped due to missing proofs, even if you now have the proof your worker wanted. If your worker approves your case while you are waiting for the hearing, you can withdraw (cancel) your fair hearing request so you do not have to go to the hearing. You must withdraw your hearing request in writing, explaining that your worker has agreed to approve your case.
If you can bring in the missing proofs within 60 days of the date you applied for SNAP benefits, or within 30 days of the date your certification period ended, and DTA accepts the proof, your benefits should be approved or reinstated. 106 C.M.R. § 361.700(B). You may also be able to get your worker or supervisor to approve your case if you bring in the proof after this time. 106 C.M.R. § 367.225(A).
Also, if your SNAP benefits were denied, stopped or reduced because of a missing proof, and you bring this proof to the hearing, the hearing officer should consider it and make any adjustments to your benefits back to the date that the proof shows you were eligible for the right amount of benefits. This is called the "de novo rule." 106 C.M.R. § 343.500(A).
The hearing is your last chance to make sure DTA has the facts supporting your position, including any documents.
The hearing usually takes place at your local DTA office in a separate room. Only the people who need to be there are allowed in— the DTA worker(s), you, your representative if any, any witnesses, and the hearing officer. Everyone who is testifying must do so under "oath or affirmation." The hearing is audio-recorded. 106 C.M.R. §§ 343.450, 343.500, 343.550.
If you believe that the 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 referee think twice about relying on this information. Also, if you lose the hearing and appeal to court, the court can consider whether the hearing officer made a mistake by admitting the evidence you objected to.
If you are not receiving benefits, you can ask the hearing officer to decide your case right away with an "interim" (not final) decision.
Note: DTA sometimes holds hearings by telephone or video. This may make it hard to understand what is being said, to see the evidence, and to object. If DTA schedules you for a telephone or video hearing and you want a face-to-face hearing, call and write the Division of Hearings (if you have time before the hearing) and make sure to state on the record that you want a face-to-face hearing.
The hearing officer must decide your case within 60 days after you appeal. 106 C.M.R. § 367.450.
If you win an increase in SNAP benefits, DTA must include the increase in your next regular payment, if the payment is due within 60 days of when you first requested a hearing. If your next payment is due more than 60 days after the date you asked for a hearing, DTA must get you your increase within ten days of the decision. 106 C.M.R. § 367.450(A). DTA must also give you any SNAP benefits you missed while you were waiting for your hearing decision because your SNAP case was denied or your SNAP amount was too low. 106 C.M.R. § 366.500.
If you lose your fair hearing, don't give up. Reapply for benefits. You have 14 days to ask for a remand and 30 days 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 Find Legal Aid on the Massachusetts Legal Services website. See Appendix G. Be sure to allow time to get the court papers ready.
If you lose the fair hearing, DTA may ask you to repay SNAP benefits you got while you were waiting for a hearing decision. See Question 86 (What if I am overpaid food stamp/SNAP benefits?). If you are no longer receiving benefits, DTA cannot recover SNAP benefits by reducing your cash assistance benefits, but DTA may be able to pay itself back by attaching your wages or other income. See Questions 92 (How can DTA collect an overissuance?) and 93 (When can DTA cut my benefits to pay back an overissuance?).
You can try to fix problems by calling your DTA worker. Start by trying to figure out what happened in your case, when your benefits started or stopped, and what notices you were sent. Question 13 (Is there a quick way to check the status of my application or my benefits?) tells you about the new My Account Page ("MAP") to get information on your benefits, or you can call DTA's automated information line at: 1-877-382-2363.
You can also call DTA Recipient Services for help. DTA Recipient Services can answer questions and can ask the local DTA office to take the correct action to resolve your case. DTA Recipient Services can be reached at 1-800-445-6604.
If you want to try to fix your benefits, you also have the right to speak to the Supervisor of your SNAP worker or the local office management Director or Assistant Director. You can also file a complaint with the Department. If your benefits are being reduced or stopped, it is always best to file for a hearing to protect your rights. 106 C.M.R. § 343.350. DTA staff may be willing to fix your case without going to a hearing (since it uses up their time as well as yours and the hearing officer's). If they do not fix the problem, you can still go ahead with the fair hearing.
If you were denied benefits for lack of proofs but bring them in within 30 days of the notice of denial or termination, DTA should reopen your case. See Question 8 (What if I am having trouble getting all the proofs, or the proofs get to DTA late?).
If you believe you have been discriminated against based on your race, gender, national origin, disability, age, religious creed, national origin, or political beliefs, you have a right to file a complaint with either the Secretary of Agriculture (Administration of Food and Nutrition Service, Washington, DC 20250) or the DTA Director of Equal Opportunity (DTA, 600 Washington Street, Boston, MA 02111). 106 C.M.R. §§ 360.200-360.220. You need to include your name, address, and phone number as well as information on what happened (date, office, name of person you interacted with, whatever you know). You need to file this complaint within 180 days of the incident.
For legal help, call the nearest Legal Services office. See Find Legal Aid for a list of Legal Services offices.
Getting more SNAP benefits than you are eligible for is an "overissuance." 106 C.M.R. § 367.490.
An overissuance can happen because of a DTA mistake or overpayment, or a mistake on your part. These mistakes are considered unintentional program violations (UPVs). 106 C.M.R. § 367.495. A UPV overissuance can also happen because you got SNAP while waiting for a hearing, which you then lost.
An overissuance can also happen because of something you did on purpose. This is called an intentional program violation (IPV) or SNAP "fraud." An IPV is purposely giving false or misleading information, hiding information to get benefits you are not eligible to receive, or intentionally failing to report a change that would reduce your benefits. See Question 88 (What must DTA do to establish an intentional program violation or SNAP fraud?). Other IPVs include altering your Bay State Access card to get more benefits, using your card to buy alcohol, tobacco, or other non-food items, using someone else's Bay State Access card for yourself, or selling the use of your Bay State Access card to someone else. 106 C.M.R. § 367.525. These acts are also considered fraud. DTA has the authority to recover incorrectly issued SNAP as a result of an IPV and can impose penalties or sanctions on the household.
It is important to remember that DTA receives information, through data matches, about SNAP recipients from a number of sources, including the Department of Revenue regarding income or a new job, the Internal Revenue Service about unreported unearned interest income, the Department of Social Services and Department of Youth Services regarding a child in custody, the Veterans Administration regarding receipt of federal veterans benefits, the Department of Corrections regarding incarcerated persons, etc. As a condition of receiving benefits, you are required to give DTA permission to check information about you.
However, sometimes the information from these data matches is not up-to-date, accurate, or you appropriately reported the change when it happened (for example, you reported to DTA you got a job) but your DTA worker did not record it in BEACON properly. Be sure to find out the source of information when DTA claims you are no longer eligible or have been overpaid. Also remember to always report changes timely.
For an overissuance that you got 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 overissuance unless it is $125 or more. 106 C.M.R. § 364.870.
For an overissuance that you got on purpose (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 overissuance 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 overissuance. 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 overissuance. 7 C.F.R. § 273.18(d)(1).
Example: Jane Smith is self-employed as a tax-preparer and is subject to change reporting. She gets her SNAP on the 8th of the month because her SSN ends in "5." On March 7 she gets an unusually large payment from a client. She loses track of time and doesn't report the change until March 20, more than ten days after the change. However, even if Jane had reported on or before March 17th, Jane was not overpaid in benefits for March because DTA would not have reduced her March benefits. Her April benefits would have been adjusted instead.
DTA must give you written notice of the SNAP intentional program violation (IPV) penalties each time you apply. The notice must be in English, Spanish or other languages spoken by 100 or more households in the area served by the DTA office. 106 C.M.R. § 367.550. See Question 11 (What if I do not speak English or I am deaf?).
To establish an IPV, DTA has to prove that you knew the SNAP rules and your responsibilities and that you purposely violated the rules. DTA must prove with "clear and convincing evidence" that you "willfully, knowingly and with deceitful intent committed an IPV." 106 C.M.R. § 367.750. Simple mistakes and misunderstandings between you and your worker that result in your getting too many benefits are not IPVs. In calculating the amount of the overissuance, 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:
If you are found guilty of an intentional program violation (IPV) by a court of law or a hearing officer, or you sign a waiver declining your right to a hearing, you will not be eligible for benefits for yourself for:
The disqualification penalties are more severe for people found guilty, in court, of trading SNAP benefits for drugs or firearms, trading more than $500 in benefits, or getting multiple benefits with a fake identity or address. 106 C.M.R. § 367.800(B), (C).
DTA has to follow special notice and hearing rules if it has charged you with an IPV. Be sure to check the rules. 106 C.M.R. §§ 367.600-367.750.
BSI is the Bureau of Special Investigations. If DTA thinks you got too many benefits or too much cash assistance because of your mistake or because you committed fraud, it may refer your case to BSI. 106 C.M.R. §§ 706.230-706.270.
BSI may tell you to come in for an interview. You do not have to go the interview. Your benefits won't stop just because you don't go to the interview. But, if you don't go, BSI may decide to send the case back to DTA to collect the overissuance or to prosecute you for 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 haven't done anything wrong. You do not have to give BSI names of people to talk to.
Do not sign anything unless BSI has shown you how it figured the overissuance, 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.
If BSI decides that you committed SNAP fraud, and that the overissuance 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 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. You may have to pay back the money the court decides you owe. You can ask the court to let you pay back the money through public service. 7 C.F.R. § 273.18(g)(7). If the court finds that you committed an IPV, your benefits can be stopped. See Question 89 (When can my benefits be stopped for an intentional program violation?). 106 C.M.R. §§ 367.900, 367.925.
Sometimes the court will delay a final decision as long as you pay back the money according to the schedule set by the court. This is called "continued without a finding." Be careful not to agree to a repayment schedule you will not be able to keep. If you pay the money back or pay the claim through public service, you may be able to get the case dismissed so you don't have a criminal record.
If you are receiving SNAP benefits, DTA must collect the overissuance by reducing your benefits unless the claim is being collected at a higher amount some other way. 7 C.F.R. § 273.18(g)(1). See Question 93 (When can DTA cut my benefits to pay back an overissuance?).
If you are no longer receiving benefits, DTA will ask you to sign a repayment agreement and agree to pay a certain amount of money each month. If you do not agree to do this, DTA can refer your claim to the U.S. Treasury, which can reduce Social Security and most other federal benefits payable to you, attach federal wages, and intercept a federal tax refund. See 7 C.F.R. § 273.18(n). SSI, TAFDC, EAEDC and veterans' benefits cannot be reduced to repay benefits.
A criminal court can order you to pay back the SNAP benefits you received if it finds you committed fraud.
In addition, DTA says it can collect by civil court action, intercepting your unemployment compensation, attaching your wages, or using other "reasonable" means. 106 C.M.R. § 367.510. Federal rules say that DTA can intercept your unemployment compensation only if you agree or if a court orders interception. 7 C.F.R. § 273.18(g)(6).
If the full amount of the claim cannot be collected in three years without causing you financial hardship, DTA can compromise the claim by reducing it to an amount that can be collected in three years. 106 C.M.R. § 367.510.
If the claim is for an unintentional program violation, DTA can suspend collection if your household is not receiving benefits and DTA determines that the cost of collection will be more than DTA is likely to recover. 106 C.M.R. § 367.495(H). For current recipients, DTA will not reduce the claim below the amount that could be collected by reducing your benefits. 106 C.M.R. § 367.510.
Check with an advocate especially if DTA uses any means other than reducing current benefits to collect an overpayment. Also check with an advocate if collection will cause your family hardship. Do not agree to repayment terms that you will not be able to meet or that will cause your family hardship.
Unless the amount of the claim was set at an intentional program violation hearing, you have a right to request a fair hearing. You have 90 days from date of the DTA action to request a fair hearing. See Question 79 (What are my rights if DTA denies or cuts my benefits?). 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.
DTA can cut your current SNAP benefits to recover benefits that you got by mistake or because you committed an intentional program violation. 106 C.M.R. § 367.510. This includes recovery of benefits that you got while you were waiting for a hearing decision and you lost the appeal. 106 C.M.R. § 367.275.
To recover SNAP benefits, DTA can automatically reduce the amount of monthly benefits you get now. If the overissuance was because of a mistake (either yours or DTA's), DTA can reduce your benefits by ten percent or $10, whichever is greater. 106 C.M.R. § 367.495(G). If the overissuance was because you committed an intentional program violation (IPV), DTA can reduce your benefits by 20 percent or $20, whichever is greater. 106 C.M.R. § 367.500(B)(2). Before reducing your benefits, DTA will send you a letter asking you to the pay the claim, and may try to get you to sign an agreement. You do not have to pay or sign an agreement to pay more than DTA could recover through automatic reduction (10% for mistakes, 20% for IPVs, or at least $10).
See Question 79 (What are my rights if DTA denies or cuts my benefits?) on your right to request a hearing if DTA claims you were overpaid benefits.
Note: DTA cannot take money for a SNAP overissuance out of your TAFDC or EAEDC. See M.G.L. c. 118, § 10; 7 C.F.R. § 273.18(g)(1)(v).
Additional Policy Guidance on Overpayment Recovery:
Appendix A: SNAP Worksheet
Appendix B: Income and Benefit Standards
Appendix C: Important Advocacy Forms
Appendix D: Cash and SNAP Benefits for Noncitizens
Appendix E: Index to DTA SNAP Regulations