2017 Food Stamp/ SNAP Advocacy Guide

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

By Patricia Baker and Victoria Negus, February 2017 Edition

An indispensable handbook for all who need to know about the Food Stamp/SNAP program in Massachusetts. The 2017 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 2017 Food Stamp/SNAP Guide has been updated to reflect significant changes in SNAP policy since January 2016. Organized for quick reference, the Guide takes advocates step-by-step through the financial eligibility rules, household composition rules, immigrant eligibility, and more. It also provides legal and technical information about the program, including detailed references to DTA state regulations and DTA procedural materials (Field Ops Memos, Hotline Q&As, DTA's new Online Guide, and federal USDA guidance).  Guide includes a SNAP calculation worksheet and sample advocacy forms.

A bound copy of this Guide is available for purchase from MCLE ($9.95). You can also download the guide in PDF format for free (see the download link).
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About MLRI, Acknowledgements, and Copyright

About Massachusetts Law Reform Institute

The Massachusetts Law Reform Institute (MLRI) is a statewide nonprofit poverty law and policy center. Our mission is to advance economic, racial, and social justice through legal action, policy advocacy, coalition building, and public information and to promote policies that meet the fundamental needs of traditionally underserved, low-income populations. We defend against policies and actions that harm and marginalize people living in poverty and advocate for systemic reforms that achieve social and economic justice. Our activities include advice, litigation, policy analysis, research, technical assistance and public information.

Acknowledgments

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

MLRI wishes to acknowledge the support from Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education, Inc. for supporting MLRI’s trainings and publications. MLRI also wishes to acknowledge the foundations that have supported our anti-hunger work in 2016 and 2017 including: MAZON – A Jewish Response to Hunger, the Wal-Mart Foundation, Tufts Health Plan Foundation and the Mass Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC). We also deeply appreciate the support and technical assistance from our national anti-hunger colleagues the Food Research Action Center (FRAC), the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) and the National Councils on Aging (NCOA).

This 2017 edition of the SNAP Advocacy Guide was written and edited by Patricia Baker and Victoria Negus. Contributions to earlier editions from Deborah Harris, Laura Gallant, Rochelle Hahn as well as many of MLRI’s AmeriCorps volunteers and Emerson Congressional Hunger Fellows.

Twenty-first & Edition
February 2017

© 2017 & by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
and Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education, Inc.
All rights reserved.
Permission to reprint must be obtained from both the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute and Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education, Inc.

ISBN 1-68345-006-X
ISSN 2158-2408
MCLE 2170245B21

 

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Introduction

SNAP benefits are federal assistance to families to help them buy food. In October of 2008, Congress changed the federal name from “Food Stamps” to “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program,” or “SNAP” – which name Massachusetts elected.

Most grocery stores, supermarkets and co-ops in Massachusetts /SNAP accept electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards. In Massachusetts, there is no asset test for most SNAP applicants, but all households must meet certain gross and net income tests. 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. And receipt of SNAP means your minor children qualify for free school meals, and your household may also qualify for a utility discount and a Lifeline phone service discount.

SNAP is a critical program in difficult economic times, especially important for low-income older adults to remain in the community, as a work support for low-wage families and individuals in economic crisis.

About the Food Stamp/SNAP Program

Congress first created the Food Stamp Program in 1964 to reduce hunger by increasing the food-buying power of low-income households.  In 2008, Congress renamed the program to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP.

SNAP benefits are widely considered the first line of defense against hunger. The federal government pays 100 percent of the cost of SNAP benefits and reimburses states for roughly half of the administrative costs (DTA workers, computers, training, office costs). Massachusetts now brings home over $1.2 billion annually in 100% federal funded nutrition assistance to needy households in the Commonwealth. Nonetheless, based on of the state’s aggregate data of very low income MassHealth (Medicaid) recipients compared with the November 2016 individual SNAP recipients, Massachusetts still has a “SNAP gap” of roughly 500K to 700K MassHealth recipients likely eligible for SNAP.

Further, for every $1 in SNAP benefits, national economists estimate that it triggers a $1.72 economic stimulus to the local economy. At the same time, it is widely acknowledged that SNAP benefits remain too low to cover a household’s basic food needs. The benefit is based on an archaic “Thrifty Food Plan” (TFP) and poverty level analysis that assumes low-income households spend 30% of their available income on food. The TFP concept does not reflect the actual cost of today’s housing, energy and food prices. It presumes more of a household’s monthly income is available to buy food, despite the costs of living in the Northeast and other areas of the U.S. with high shelter and energy costs.

Overview of key SNAP policies at the federal level:

In 1996, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (Public Law 104-193) included provisions restricting eligibility in many federal programs including Food Stamps. PRWORA brought the elimination of most safety net benefits for many legally present immigrants. From 1997 to August of 2002, Massachusetts provided state-funded food stamps to needy legal immigrants ineligible under federal restrictions. These state benefits expired in August 2002, leaving many immigrants without nutrition benefits. PRWORA also included a 3-month SNAP time limit for certain childless individuals (“able-bodied without dependents.” MA implemented this provision from 1997 until 2008, when high unemployment allowed DTA to request a waiver of the 3-month time limit rule.

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

The 2009 American Recovery and Reconciliation Act (ARRA, Public Law 111-5) provided a 13.6% increase in monthly SNAP benefits and suspended the 3-month time limit for childless individuals due to the Recession. Some of the 2009 SNAP increase expired in November of 2013. The ARRA roll back led to a 5.6% decrease in the maximum benefit allotment, the end of 2013, causing significant cuts in food access for all SNAP recipients. The suspension of the 3-month SNAP time limit ended in December of 2016.

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

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

Overview of SNAP in Massachusetts:

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

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

During 2013, the Massachusetts Legislature made changes to the state’s EBT policies affecting both cash assistance and SNAP, including a law requiring DTA to place the photo of the head of household on the front of the EBT card. Advocates succeeded in getting language in the final law that exempts almost 75% of SNAP and cash recipients from this punitive rule. Further, federal SNAP law prohibits grocers and retailers from discriminating against SNAP recipients by inspecting SNAP EBT cards or prohibiting SNAP recipients from using self-check-out lines like other customers. Federal SNAP law also requires states to ensure that all members of a SNAP household can use the EBT card to access benefits, whether or not their name or photo is on the card.

In 2014, DTA also implemented a number of “program integrity” policy changes affecting SNAP and cash assistance, including increased use of error-prone data matching and monitoring of EBT cash and SNAP purchases. MLRI and our Legal Services partners successfully challenged DTA’s flawed wage matching in state court. DTA also implemented a “business process redesign” or modernization by moving from a “case-based” system where SNAP recipients were assigned individual workers to a “task-based” system where a “first available worker” processes the SNAP case.

The combination of these hastily implemented data matching and business processing changes triggered significant problems in 2014 and early 2015, including long wait times and disconnected calls on the centralized DTA Assistance Line, chronic failure of DTA workers to find and act on documents sent to the Document Management Center, and widespread frustration for many low income clients. Between April 2014 and April 2015, the SNAP caseload in MA decreased by 10.3% or 50,513 households. This compares with a national caseload decline of 0.8% during the same time period.

In early 2015, the new Administration put the brakes on aspects of DTA’s flawed data matching and reckless termination of benefits. DTA has focused on improving the many problems with the data matching and newly modernized system, including improving the timely processing of documents and working to improve access to the DTA Assistance Line. Since the summer of 2015, the MA drop in SNAP participation decline stopped and the caseload has stabilized. DTA is now redoubling efforts to reach vulnerable households including low-income elders, a population the U.S. Census predicts will have increased by 48.8% from 2004 to 2024 in Massachusetts as the “Baby Boomers” age and struggle with diminished resources due to the Recession.

As this Guide goes to print, national and state advocates are concerned about federal proposals that might trigger significant cuts to SNAP and/or the possibility of “block granting” SNAP benefits, also called “flexibility grants.” Our national partners, the Food Research Action Center www.frac.org and Center for Budget and Policy Priorities www.cbpp.org will keep you posted as the debate unfolds.

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

For up to date information about DTA’s caseload and other metrics, see DTA’s Performance Scorecard posted monthly at www.mass.gov/DTA.

This Guide will help you understand who is eligible, how the application process works and what to do if benefits are erroneously denied or terminated.

Sources of Law:

Federal:

DTA must administer the program in accordance with the federal regulations issued by USDA and any waivers or demonstration projects approved by USDA.

State:

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

DTA policy guidance:

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

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

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

Stay informed, get involved!

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

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

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

Additional Food Stamp/SNAP Resources

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

Food Research Action Center: www.frac.org

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

Feeding America: www.feedingamerica.org

Project Bread’s Food Source Hotline and other resources: http://www.gettingsnap.org/

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

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SNAP Part I -- Application and Proofs

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

You have a number of options to apply for SNAP. You can:

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

106 C.M.R. § 361.140.

You have the right to apply for benefits – whether or not a DTA thinks you are in fact eligible. This is a fundamental right of all Massachusetts residents. 106 C.M.R. §§ 361.050-361.130. DTA still needs to determine if you are eligible, but no one should discourage you from filing a SNAP application.

You have the right to file an application with minimal information - your name, address, signature and date. You can give the rest of the information later. 106 C.M.R. §§ 361.100, 361.130. This starts the application process.  Don’t delay filing a SNAP application just because you don’t have all the information or proofs.

You can get a paper SNAP application at any local DTA office or print out a SNAP application from DTA’s web page: https://www.mass.gov/snap-benefits-food-stamps.   You can also the DTA Assistance Line (1-877-382-2363) to ask that a paper SNAP application be mailed to you. 106 C.M.R. § 361.140.  And you can also apply online!

NO wrong door!

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

Same-day filing

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

Retroactive Benefits

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

Cash assistance applications

Your application for cash assistance (TAFDC for families with children) or EAEDC (for elders, persons with disabilities and certain children) must be treated as an automatic application for SNAP benefits at the same time. 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 later found ineligible for cash assistance. 106 C.M.R. § 365.120(A)(1), (A)(2).

Advocacy Reminders:

  • To check on the status of your application, set up a My Account Page or call the DTA Assistance Line at 1-877-382-2363. See Question 27

DTA Policy Guidance:

DTA Online Guide: SNAP > Application Processing >  

Additional Guidance:

  • Start date for application is when received by DTA or the Document Management Center and not date worker reviews application. Transitions May 2015, Quality Corner, Pg.3 
  • SNAP paper application available in 12 languages plus English. OLG Transmittal #2015-21 (April 16, 2015)
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02. Can I apply through the Internet?

YES! You can apply for your own SNAP benefits on-line through the Virtual Gateway at www.mass.gov/vg/selfservice, or by following the SNAP application steps on DTA’s webpage https://www.mass.gov/snap-benefits-food-stamps. The online “web application” is also in Spanish and Portuguese. 

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

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

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

DTA Policy Guidance:

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

Additional Guidance:

  • SNAP Web Application information automatically goes into DTA computer case file. Notice to client for interview time and date automatically mailed to applicant. OLG Transmittal #2015-47 (Oct 2, 2015)
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03. What happens next after I apply?

Signing a SNAP application is only the first step! There are two more steps:

1) an interview with a DTA worker and

2) send in proofs, if not sent with your application.

It can take about 2 business days for your application to get into DTA’s BEACON computer system. After you apply, you should hear from DTA about an interview (see Question 9) and proofs needed(See Question 11).

It is possible DTA will try to call you within a day or two of when they get your application. If they reach you and you are available to talk, a SNAP worker may do the interview then. If DTA does not call you right away (or you can’t take the call when they call you), they should send you an interview appointment letter with a date and time for the interview.

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

If you do not have a phone, or do not list a phone number on the SNAP application, DTA will send you a letter scheduling an in-person interview at your local DTA office.

Once DTA verifies identity (who you are), DTA should send you a plastic EBT card and PIN in the U.S. mail – sent in two separate envelopes. It can take between 5-10 days to arrive in the mail. Your EBT card will not have any benefits on it until DTA approves your SNAP case. See Question 80 on how to access your EBT benefits.

Policy Guidance:

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

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

If you are applying for or receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, federal and state SNAP law requires SSA to take your SNAP application and send it to the local SNAP state agency (e.g. DTA).

SSA is required to do this for single SSI clients, or where everyone in the household receives or is applying for SSI.  106 C.M.R.§§ 361.190, 366.920.  This can be a regular paper SNAP application, or through the “Bay State CAP” program. See Question 5.

If you are applying for or receiving regular Social Security benefits, federal and state SNAP law requires SSA offices to offer a SNAP application form to Social Security (RSDI) recipients. 7 U.S.C. § 2020(J). DTA has a short SNAP application form that SSA offices should give to SSI and RSDI clients. 106 C.M.R.§ 361.190, 366.920.

Advocacy Reminders:

  • If you need emergency SNAP benefits – especially if you are just applying for SSI or Social Security – it may be faster to go to the local DTA office or apply on-line. See Question 20.
  • SSA District Office Claims Representatives do not consistently offer SNAP applications to Social Security and SSI clients. You can remind SSA District Office of their obligations by citing the federal rules, and you can also tell your local Congress member when SSA declines to help you. See 7 U.S.C. § 2020(I)(1).
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05. What is Bay State CAP for SSI recipients?

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

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

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

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

When you are applying for SSI or havng your SSI redetermined, the SSA Claims Representative is supposed to ask you the following questions:

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

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

Advocacy Reminders:

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

Policy Guidance:

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

SSA Policy Guidance on SNAP Applications: The Social Security Administration provides detailed instructions to SSA Claims Representatives on their obligation to offer to take SNAP applications for SSI recipients including MA Bay State CAP protocol. SSI Policy Operations Manual, SI BOS01801.302.

Additional Guidance:  

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

Whenever you apply or recertify for SNAP or cash assistance, the DTA worker is required to tell you how you can register to vote and assist you with voter registration. 106 C.M.R. § 360.950. DTA is mandated by federal law to ask all SNAP and cash assistance household members who are over age 17 and U.S. citizens if they wish to register to vote for any federal elections. 42 U.S. Code § 1973gg–5. As of August 2016, Massachusetts law also allows 16 and 17 year olds to pre-register to vote, M.G.L. 51 § 42.

If you apply in person, you can get a Voter Registration Form at the local DTA office. DTA must accept and send the completed form to your city or town election office with 5 business days of receipt.

Voter registration is optional. DTA will not deny or close your SNAP case if you choose not to complete a voter registration form. If you apply for SNAP online or you mail in a paper application – and you check off that you wish to register to vote – DTA should mail back a voter registration form for you.

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

You can also register to vote online if you have a current MA state ID or driver license, or get a form mailed to you from the Secretary of State. To find that information, go to the Massachusetts Secretary of State’s Register to Vote web site: http://www.sec.state.ma.us/ele/eleifv/howreg.htm

DTA Policy Guidance:

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

Additional Guidance:

  • DTA informs staff of state law change to allow 16 and 17 year olds to pre-register to vote. OLG Transmittal 2016-60 (December 9, 2016).
  • Homeless can register to vote and identify location using a map on Sec. of State webpage if they do not have “conventional” address. OLG Transmittal 2015-66
  • Voter registration procedures revised under agreement with MA Secretary of State settlement in Delgado v Galvin. OLG Transmittal 2015-28 (June 26, 2015)
  • Each DTA office is required to count and record the number of Voter Registration forms received monthly, and mail the forms to local election officials within 5 days of receipt. Ops Memo 2012-34A (Oct. 25, 2012).
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07. Can someone else apply for me?

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

But You should sign the SNAP application and participate in the interview – unless you designate someone as your “authorized representative.” This is important because you are legally responsible for all the information on the application. You could end up with an overpayment, or worse, if the helping friend or agency gives DTA wrong information. 

Choosing an “authorized representative”

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

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

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

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

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

Keeping access to your EBT card

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

Giving someone permission to talk with DTA

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

You have the right to give permission to a social service agency, Legal Services, trusted family member or friend to contact DTA to find out what’s going on with your SNAP case. You should sign a written consent to allow DTA to share information about your SNAP case to the person helping you.

Appendix C has a sample Client Consent Allowing DTA to Release Information to a Helping Agency. You can also send a handwritten note (signed and dated) with the same information.

Advocacy Reminders:

  • DTA cannot force you to have an authorized representative if you do not want one. It is your choice. You can also tell DTA at any time if you want to remove this person from your SNAP case.
  • Ask to talk with a SNAP Supervisor if a DTA worker refuses to talk with you about a SNAP case, even though you sent DTA a signed statement or client consent form. There is no requirement that a specific or “correct form” must be used. A handwritten client-signed statement (with her name, DOB, address and date) is fine.   

DTA Policy Guidance:

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

Group home residents

If you live in a licensed group home for persons with disabilities, you may be eligible for SNAP benefits as a one person household even though you live with others and share common meals. 106 C.M.R. § 361.240(B). A licensed group home is one licensed by the state as a community-based residential facility and can serve no more than 16 residents at a time. 106 C.M.R. § 365.640.

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

Under SNAP rules, you cannot be forced to designate the group home your Authorized Representative unless the group home makes an individualized determination that you cannot manage your benefits due to your disabilities. 106 C.M.R. 365.620(A).  See Question 37 for your rights under SNAP as a group home resident.  

Residents of other substance abuse disorder treatment centers

If you are a resident of a licensed substance abuse disorder treatment program, the SNAP rules say that the treatment program must be your Authorized Representative. 106 C.M.R. § 365.610.  Even if you apply for SNAP, the rules say the recipient must transfer their EBT benefits to the treatment program for food purchases while you are staying there.

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

Residents of teen living programs

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

When you leave a group home, substance abuse or teen program

The group home, treatment center or teen living program must return the EBT card and remaining pro-rated amount of SNAP benefits when the resident leaves the program. Contact and advocate if they do not give you back your EBT card and benefits, or do not help you with getting your own card.

DTA Policy Guidance:

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

Additional Guidance:  

  • DTA has a special Authorized Representative Form for group homes, available at www.mass.gov/DTA/snap
  • Authorized representatives are not subject to EBT photo card requirements and will be issued “Valid without Photo” cards for the individuals they assist. Ops Memo 2014-29, pg. 2 (June 11, 2014)
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09. Does DTA have to interview me?

DTA is required to interview all applicants for SNAP benefits, 106 C.M.R. § 361.500, (except for SSI Bay State CAP households). This must be done by a DTA SNAP worker, and not a community organization. The SNAP interview is usually conducted by phone.

Scheduling the interview

DTA should try to contact as soon as they get the SNAP application to screen you for emergency (expedited) benefits. See Question 20.

If DTA does not reach you, DTA should send a written notice with a date and time a DTA worker will call. The notice will also list the phone number they will be calling. If this phone number is not correct, call DTA immediately (sometimes the computer will call old numbers in their files).

DTA recently changed how they make interview calls in October 2016.  First, a few days before your interview, DTA’s “auto-dial” system should call you at the number you listed your application to remind you about the upcoming appointment.  Second, on the day of your interview, the DTA computer system will automatically call you at the time of the scheduled interview. The “caller ID” should say “COMM of MASS”.  When you get the call, you will likely hear a recording that tells you to “press 1” to talk with a case manager.  You may then wait a few minutes for a worker. 

DTA should leave a voicemail if you do not pick up the call. DTA should then call back a couple of minutes later.  If you miss the phone call, call the DTA Assistance Line: 1-877-382-2363. 

Can I be scheduled for an in-office interview?

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

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

If you are scheduled for an in-office interview solely because DTA says you need a photo EBT card, that is not correct. See Question 29

If you are applying for DTA cash assistance benefits, you will need to go to the DTA office for an in-person interview. If you are disabled and need a home visit, DTA also has the authority to make an accommodation to send someone to your home. See Question 23 and 24.

What happens during the interview?

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

  • Screen you for expedited (emergency) benefits that can be issued within 7 days. See Question 20.
  • Confirm the information you gave on your application and   information DTA gets through government data bases.
  • Review the documents you sent in and tell you what proofs or verifications they still need and when.
  • Review the SNAP time limit and work requirements if you or a family member is aged 18-49, childless and subject to the time limit/ work requirements. See Question 55 and Question 56.
  • Tell you how long your benefits are certified for and when you need to send in an Interim Report or report changes to DTA.
  • Answer any questions you have and offer to help if you need help getting verifications or contacting a third party for information.
  • Explain your rights and responsibilities, as well as the penalties for committing fraud or for other program rules.

What happens after the interview?

You should receive a DTA letter with a Verification Checklist (also called a VC-1) if there are proofs DTA needs. See Question 7.  DTA should approve your case by Day 30 if you are eligible.

Advocacy Reminders:

  • You can call DTA any time after submitting your SNAP application for an interview. Wait at least 2 business days so DTA uploads it.
  • Before or during the interview, a DTA worker should review the documents you sent in with your application. If a DTA worker claims they cannot find the documents you sent or asks you to send in documents you sent before, see Question 26.

DTA Policy Guidance:

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

Additional Guidance:

  • Change to auto-dialing interview system and details about voicemails and follow up calls. OLG Transmittal 2016-35 (Aug 5, 2016).  
  • Workers must contact SNAP applicant within two business days to schedule an interview. F.O. Memo 2011-38 (Aug. 3, 2011)
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10. What happens if I miss the interview?

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

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

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

Advocacy Reminders:

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

DTA Policy Guidance:

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

Additional Guidance:

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

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

The SNAP rules also require that you provide proof of certain mandatory eligibility factors. This includes proof of:

  • Your Identify
  • Residence in Massachusetts
  • Earned and unearned income
  • Immigrant status if not a U.S. citizen
  • Disability, if to claim medicals expenses and/or uncapped shelter costs, and for certain legal immigrants subject to a 5 year wait.

During the interview, the DTA worker should verbally tell you what proofs are required and ask if you need their help getting them. 106 C.M.R.§§ 361.550.

DTA should them send you a verification checklist (called a “VC-1”) and give you at least 10 days to get the mandatory proofs back to them.

DTA must give you a full 30 days from the day you apply before they send a denial notice. If you had an interview but some proofs are still missing by Day 30, DTA will send you a “pending denial notice”. 106 C.M.R. § 361.930. This means you have another 30 days to get them missing proofs and not have to reapply.See Question 18 if your proofs get in late.

Proofs DTA may ask you for:

DTA cannot limit proofs to any single document. Any document that proves an eligibility factor should be accepted. 106 C.M.R. §§ 361.640(A), 361.650. If you have trouble getting any of this information, ask DTA for help!  The following are examples of what DTA needs:   

■    Identity of the head of household:  Documents with your name on it such as:

  • Driver’s license or Mass. ID
  • Birth certificate or hospital birth record
  • Other government or court documents
  • School or work records
  • Any other document that shows who you are

The head of household must verify identity. DTA can also verify your identity and the identity of other household members by doing a data check using the name, date of birth and SSN. 106 C.M.R. § 361.610(G). If you have been on SNAP before in Massachusetts DTA should not ask you to prove your identity a second time.

■    Massachusetts residence: Documents with both your name and current address,106 C.M.R.§ 361.610(H), such as:

  • Lease, rent receipt or Landlord Verification form
  • Deed or mortgage statement
  • Utility bill
  • Mass. driver’s license or Mass. ID with current address
  • Voter registration
  • Statement from someone you live with
  • Statement from someone who knows where you live

DTA cannot require a landlord statement if you have other proof of residence. DTA should also be able to confirm your residence through the Registry of Motor Vehicles if you have a MA state ID or driver’s license with your current address.

If you just came to the area, you are homeless or you are a migrant worker, you do not need to verify residence. 106 C.M.R. § 362.120.  If you moved after you applied for or were approved for SNAP, see Question 13.

■    Current earnings:  Proof of any pay you got in last 4 weeks (unless you just started work),T106 C.M.R. §§ 361.610(A), 363.210(G)(1), including:

  • Paystubs or pay envelopes
  • A letter from your employer showing gross income.
  • Other proof of gross income (before taxes)

If your employer uses “The Work Number” (aka Equifax) for employee information, DTA can get your current earnings from that source.  If DTA gets your earnings from The Work Number, you do not also have to give them wage stubs.  See: http://www.theworknumber.com/  Large employers like Dunkin Donuts, Home Depot and other businesses increasingly use this service.

If you cannot get proof of your earnings (for example your employer refuses to give it to you), ask DTA to contact the employer directly – called “collateral contact” with a third party. SNAP rules require DTA to accept the best evidence available for verification of income, which could be a self-declaration if nothing else. 106 C.M.R. § 361.610(A) and 106 C.M.R. §363.210(G)(3):

“If all attempts to verify gross income are unsuccessful because the person or organization providing the income has failed to cooperate with the household and the Department, and all other sources of verification are unavailable, the Department shall determine the amount to be used for certification purposes based on the best available information.”

DTA changed the SNAP regulation in January 2017 to require that proof of earnings must include both the amount and number of hours worked. Proof of hours is not required in the federal SNAP rules. 7 C.F.R. § 273.2(f)(1)(i).  The only time you need to prove hours of work is if you are an ABAWD or a college student claiming 20 hours/week of work. See Questions 55 and 41.

Contact Legal Services if you case is denied because DTA claims you did not prove hours of work (for example, if you do piece work or are paid by the job, not by the hour).

■    Last day of work:  If your last day of work was within 30 days before the date of your application, DTA will need to know when you were last paid and how much you were paid. This income counts for the first month of your SNAP. See 106 C.M.R. § 364.300.

If your last day of work was more than 30 days ago, in some situations DTA can ask you for proof of the last day you worked and why you left your job. This is required only for individuals subject to the SNAP work registration rules, and only if you voluntarily left your job in the past 60 days. See Question 53 for more details about voluntary quit.

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

DTA may ask for proof if they decide the information you gave on your application or during the interview is considered questionable. 106 C.M.R. § 362.340 (F).            

■    Unearned income: DTA can confirm a lot of unearned income directly through different databases. 106 C.M.R. § 363.210(G)(2). For example, DTA should confirm:

  • Social Security (RSDI) or SSI through Social Security Administration (SSA)
  • Unemployment Insurance through the Division of  Unemployment Assistance (DUA)
  • Child support you get through the MA Department of Revenue

DTA should only ask you to verify these types of income if there is an issue getting it from the database or if the information they got does not match what you reported. If they ask you for proof, ask for an explanation of why DTA could not get the information.  

      If you have other unearned income such as a pension or workman’s compensation, send DTA proof such as:

  • Benefit or award letter
  • Check or record of payment
  • Statement from agency making payments

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

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

  • Records that show business expenses, such as tax documents
  • If you have rental income:
    • Statement if you spend 20 hours or more per week managing the rental unit(s), and
    • Proof of mortgage (including principal and interest)
    • Bills for taxes, insurance, water, sewer, maintenance, and/or repairs
    • Utility bills if you pay utilities for rental unit(s)

■    No income: If you have $00.00 income, you should be able to self-declare this on the SNAP application.106 C.M.R. 363.210 (A). If DTA has a good reason to believe you may be hiding income, they can ask you for additional information to understand how you are managing. 106 C.M.R. 363.210(E) They must document their reasons in the file.

Situations where DTA may question if you have unreported income is if the living expenses you report are higher than your income, and you give no explanation about how you’re meeting your expenses.  Be sure to explain to the DTA worker if you owe back rent, are borrowing money from family or friends, running up a credit card, or other reason. Unless questionable, your statements should be accepted. 

■    Disability:  You only need to prove disability if you are under age 60 and you are claiming a work exemption, a special immigrant exemption or to claim higher shelter costs or medical expenses. You usually only need to show DTA proof if you get a disability based benefit other than RSDI, SSI or EAEDC. If you get MassHealth coverage based on a disability DTA should confirm that directly with MassHealth.106 C.M.R. § 361.210(B)(2). See Question 35.

■    Assets: VThere is NO asset test in SNAP for most SNAP households. See Question 58.

■    Immigration status: Proof of status is required if you are not U.S. citizens and are applying for SNAP for yourself. 106 C.M.R. § 361.610(B). See Question 44 for more details. Proof of immigration status includes:

  • Permanent Resident Card (“green card”)
  • Employment Authorization Document
  • Temporary Resident Card
  • Arrival-Departure Record (I-94)
  • Stamp in Passport
  • Other document showing current or pending immigration status
  • Statement from an immigration attorney about current or pending status

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

Information you can self-declare:

The SNAP rules allow you to declare certain information, unless DTA determines the information is questionable. See 106 C.M.R. §§ 361.610 (A),(K); 361.800, 363.210(D), 364.450.

You can self-declare:

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

You can declare the information above on your SNAP application, recertification form, an interim report or any separate sworn statement you sign and date.  See Appendix C for a sample form to declare shelter and dependent care costs.

Advocacy Reminders:

  • Proof of U.S. citizenship is not required unless DTA determines that your U.S. citizenship is “questionable.” 106 C.M.R. § 362.210(A).  See Question 17.
  • DTA should not ask for permanent verifications (eligibility factors that never change) you already gave them, such as a driver license or birth certificate.
  • Missing wages and last day of work can sometimes be verified by DTA through an employee verification system, including The Work Number or Equifax. DTA should access this data for current wage information if available.  If not, DTA can still help you get information from your employer using a Request for Employment Information form, see Appendix CIf there is a missing wage stub, but your pay stubs show year-to-date gross income, DTA can often figure out the missing week of income from other pay stubs.
  • DTA can also accept a reasonable explanation from the household regarding any discrepant information. See 11/13/08 FNS guidance

DTA Policy Guidance:

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

Additional Guidance:

  • Extensive and still current DTA guidance on permanent verifications, optional and alternate verifications, self-declarations and worker assistance including instructions on missing wage information. F.O. Memo #2010-55 (Nov. 23, 2010).
  • Local DTA office staff must review documents hand-delivered to DTA and assign an “urgent” or “non-urgent” status.  Urgent documents (e.g. for expedited) must be processed by first available worker before sending them to EDMC, non-urgent documents batched and sent by local DTA to the EDMC. OLG Transmittal #2015-16 (May 1, 2015)
  • DTA workers should not ask client to resubmit permanent verifications unless information is questionable, detailed discussion on how workers should avoid “over verification.” Transitions FYI, March/April 2015
  • RMV data can verify MA residency if address provided by client matches address on RMV database. Ops Memo 2014-39 (June 11, 2015), OLG Transmittal #2015-35 (Aug 7, 2015).  
  • MA residency must be verified but worker can accept range of proofs including those used for identity, utilities, shelter. No specific verification can be imposed. (Hotline Q&A, August 2014)
  • Employment information available through The Work Number (Equifax) can be used verify earned income for clients whose employers using this service. Ops Memo 2013-33 (July 19, 2013)
  • Instructions to workers on how to get Unemployment Insurance benefits information through DUA’s “UI Online.”  Ops Memo 2013-29A (Dec 12, 2013)
  • SNAP denial notice must identify specific verifications missing and which household member the verification is for; SNAP workers must enter verifications as received; workers must send additional VC-1 for any new documents needed not on original VC-1; case cannot be denied or closed without adequate time (10 days) to submit verifications nor if missing proofs are optional (e.g. for a deduction) Ops Memo 2012-17 (April 25, 2012)
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12. What proofs do I need to claim living expenses?

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

■    Shelter costs – can be self-declared. Be sure to write down the amount of your shelter costs on the paper SNAP application or a separate piece of paper you signed and dated. 106 C.M.R. §§ 361.610(K).  If not written down when you apply, see sample declaration in Appendix C.

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

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

Dependent care includes what you pay for day care, after-school programs, summer programs as well as transportation to and from the child care location. You can also claim the costs of care needed for an elderly or disabled household member. 106 C.M.R. § 361.610 (K). See Question 72 for more about dependent care costs.

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

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

■    Child support paid to children outside the household – proofs required.  You will need to show two things: proof that you have a legal obligation to pay support, and the amount that you pay. 106 C.M.R. §§ 361.610(J), 364.400(E).  See Question 71.

DTA Policy Guidance:

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

Additional Guidance:  

  • Shelter expenses may be self-declared unless questionable, including self-declarations on the SNAP application or recertification forms. F.O. Memo 2010-29 (June 16, 2010
  • Child care expenses can be self-declared, unless expenses claimed are questionable. Transitions Hotline Q&A, (July, 2011) and F.O. Memo 2007-19 (March 15, 2007
  • Child support obligation can often be verified though the Department of Revenue as well as canceled check, wage garnishment or UI withholding statements. Transitions Hotline Q&A (May 2008)  
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13. If I move, how do I report my new address?

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

First, you can check to see what address DTA has on file for you by following the prompts on the DTA Assistance Line or by checking DTA Connect, DTA’s mobile app. See Question 27.

You can report an address change by:

  1. Calling the DTA Assistance Line at 877-382-2363.  Follow the prompts to report your address change through the interactive phone system (You don’t have to talk to a live DTA worker).
  2. Changing your address through DTA Connect. See Question 27.
  3. Verbally reporting the change to a DTA worker on the Assistance Line or at a local DTA office, OR
  4. Sending DTA your new address by fax or mail. Be sure to write down what your new rent amount is, and if you have heat, AC or other utilities separate from rent. See Question 74.

Depending on your reporting requirements, when you report a change of address DTA may send you a letter asking for verification of the address, amount of rent and if anything else changed in your household. Most households should not be asked to verify a new address or other changes until doing an Interim Report or recertification. You might get more SNAP if your rent goes up and you tell DTA, or if someone has moved out or your income has gone down. See Question 89.

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

DTA’s returned mail policy

DTA usually instructs the U.S. Post Office not to forward mail to a recipient’s new address. As a result, DTA letters may get returned back to DTA with your new address or as “undeliverable.” If DTA gets a new address for you, they will update the address in your case and in most cases will send you a letter at the new address asking for more information.

If you are on change reporting (see Question 89) and DTA doesn’t hear back, DTA may take steps to close your SNAP case if they do not know where you are living.

If you get a notice saying you have moved when you have not moved and your SNAP is delayed or stopped, or you have problems because DTA says they do not know where you are living, contact an advocate.

Important: If you do move and you do not tell DTA about your new address, you risk not receiving the required Recertification or Interim Reporting Forms, and your SNAP might stop.

DTA Policy Guidance

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

Additional Guidance:

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

DTA has one document processing unit known as the Electronic Document Management Center or “EDMC” in Taunton, MA. All documents sent are scanned electronically and uploaded into your DTA case. DTA clerical workers identify the documents and link them to your case file. The EDMC staff do not make decisions about your eligibility.

You can send your documents to DTA four ways:

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

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

  • Hand-deliver documents to a local DTA office.
  • Send in through DTA Connect. If you send in a document through DTA Connect it goes straight into your DTA case record. See Question 27.

Advocacy Reminders:

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

DTA Policy Guidance:

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

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

The DTA Assistance Line

DTA has one central phone number for all SNAP households called the DTA Assistance Line. 1-877-382-2363.

This DTA Assistance Line allows you to: 

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

DTA’s Interactive Voice Response (IVR):

When you call the DTA Assistance Line, you will first get an automated recording with menu options. This is DTA’s Interactive Voice Response or “IVR” system.

The automated IVR can be used to get specific information about your SNAP case, provided you have the SSN and year of birth of the SNAP head of household. You can also use the IVR to report two changes to DTA – a change of address and a new phone number.

Once you enter your SSN and year of birth, the IVR will tell you some details about your case, such as: 

  • Status of an application or your benefits including the date approved or denied.
  • Date that DTA last received a document from you (but it will not tell you what type of document DTA received, or if it has been reviewed by a worker).
  • Amount of your benefits and next date you will have SNAP or cash deposited on your EBT card.

You can also use the IVR to:

  • Get the street and city address of your local DTA office.
  • Get general information about DTA’s SNAP and cash programs.
  • Request a DTA “Income Verification Letter” that shows the amount of your DTA benefits.
  • Request DTA mail you a paper SNAP application.

Reaching a live DTA worker:

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

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

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

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

If the DTA call volume is high, you may also be given the option to request a “courtesy call back” from a DTA worker.  DTA says it provides this call back option at certain times depending on how many calls they are getting. If you choose to get a courtesy call back, make sure to leave a phone number where DTA can reach you in the next 24-48 hours.  If a call back is offered, it is your choice if you want to ask for a call back or wait on hold.

When you reach a live DTA worker:

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

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

Advocacy Reminders:

  • When you call the DTA Assistance Line, the DTA worker should give his or her name and office location. Write this down.  If the worker does not volunteer this information, ask the worker directly. If the worker refuses, ask to talk with a supervisor.  DTA workers have been instructed by DTA Central to identify themselves.
  • If you do not get the help you need, you can ask to speak with a Supervisor or the DTA local office manager where the worker is stationed. Or you can call the DTA Ombudsman Office. See Question 26.
  • If you are a helping agency or advocate calling on behalf of a client, first let the DTA worker know that a signed client consent authorizing you to speak with DTA was faxed or mailed to DTA. The workers should not refuse to look up that information in the BEACON Scanned Document History. See Appendix C for sample consent form.
  • Individuals and families getting TAFDC or EAEDC cash assistance (and SNAP), have an assigned DTA worker at their local DTA office and will be referred to that worker if they call the Assistance Line.
  • Certain “free” cell phones – such as Lifeline, SafeLink and Assurance – use up limited cell phone minutes for toll free phone calls, including DTA’s Assistance Line.  If possible, try to use a landline or the phone of a social service agency line if you have limited cell phone minutes.

DTA Policy Guidance:

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

Additional Guidance:

  • DTA guidance on handling of domestic violence situations and protocol for referrals to DTA DV specialists. Transitions Policy Mailbox, pg 4, Sept. 2015 
  • DTA overview of first available worker (FAW) model and other “business process redesign” changes. Ops Memo 2014-66 (Oct 16, 2014) 
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16. Should DTA help me if I am having trouble getting proofs they need?

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

  • DTA contacting an employer for missing wage information.
  • DTA contacting another state to confirm the date your out-of-state SNAP case closed.
  • DTA should provide you with additional accommodations if you have a disability that makes it hard for you to get proofs or comply with other DTA rules. See Question 24.

Collateral contact is when DTA contacts a third party for information, as long as you have given written DTA permission to do so. 106 C.M.R. § 361.640(B).  It is up to you to give DTA the names of people to contact and written permission to contact. But DTA cannot require you to agree to a third party contact if you can verify the information in a different way. Your privacy is important and must be respected. 106 C.M.R. § 360.400.

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

DTA Policy Guidance:

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

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

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

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

DTA should not require you to “prove a negative,” such as requiring proof you were out of work more than 60 days, or the address of an absent parent not living with you. If you are asked to prove something that you cannot, or that seems unreasonable, contact a legal advocate. See Appendix E.

If DTA rejects the proofs you offer, the DTA worker must document in your case record the reasons for rejecting that proof. 106 C.M.R. § 361.660. If you think you have given DTA enough proof, you can ask to speak to a Supervisor to review, or contact a legal advocate.

Example 1: Clara has been unemployed for a year and has no income when she applies for SNAP. She claims rental costs of $850 per month. Clara reports to DTA that she has been borrowing money from friends after running up debt on her credit card and falling behind on her rent. This reasonable explanation should not be “questionable” and DTA should require additional verifications. 

Example 2: Sandy is age 55 and separated from her husband 6 months ago. She applied recently for SNAP. An RMV check shows that her husband still has his car registered at the same address. Sandy has no control over her husband and should not be required to prove where he lives or to get the RMV to change the listed address of his car.

DTA Policy Guidance:

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

Additional Guidance

  • Extensive guidance on verification options, and obligation of worker to assist and offer to do a collateral contact. F.O. Memo 2010-55 (Nov. 23, 2010)
  • Living expenses that exceed income are not questionable if household has reasonable explanation, proofs not required. Transitions Hotline Q &A (May 2012, March 2010)
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18. Can I get my SNAP case reopened if I am denied for lack of proofs?

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

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

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

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

DTA Policy Guidance:

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

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

If DTA denies your SNAP benefits for missing proofs, but you sent DTA the missing proofs within 30 days of the denial, DTA should reopen your SNAP application. You do not need to reapply.  However, your SNAP benefits will only be approved as of the date DTA received proofs. Starting your SNAP benefits at a later date is called “pro-rating” your benefits.  Your SNAP benefits should not be “prorated” if the reason for the delay in getting proofs to DTA is not your fault.  

The SNAP regulations, 106 CMR 361.910 and 920, state that DTA can pro-rate the benefits only if it is the fault of the household.  But it is NOT your fault if a) DTA did not timely tell you the proofs needed, or b) did not offer help if you had trouble getting the proofs. If you cannot get a document DTA requests, ask DTA for help – by phone or in writing.

In many cases, DTA’s “BEACON” computer system automatically determines “fault” and will pro-rate the benefit if it appears that DTA followed all the steps. But if you asked a DTA worker for help – and they did not offer to help – BEACON may not pick that up. Or if DTA asked you for a document you already sent in, BEACON may not see the document was not processed.

If DTA pro-rates your SNAP and you believe it was not your fault, call the DTA Ombudsman office or file an appeal. See Question 26 and Question 94.   

Example: Vicky applied for SNAP on June 1 but had trouble proving how much money she made because her boss did not want to talk to her or give her copies of her pay stubs. She got a “pending denial” notice on June 30th. Vicky was finally able to get a send DTA the missing pay information on July 10th. DTA approved her case but only gave her SNAP starting July 10th.  This means she missed 40 days’ worth of SNAP. You learn Vicky actually had asked the DTA worker for help getting the missing wage information because her employer was uncooperative. DTA made a note in the case record, but did not offer to contact the employer, DTA denied the SNAP on Day 30. Vicky got an advocate to contact the employer who sent the missing wage information in July, but DTA failed to offer to help her back in June. DTA incorrectly prorated the SNAP benefits. DTA should pay Vicky SNAP retroactive to June 30 when she first applied.

Advocacy Reminders:

  • If you submit verifications to DTA within 30 days after you got a pending denial notice, call the DTA Assistance Line and ask them to check your case record. Once a SNAP case is denied, DTA workers may not automatically process the documents you sent them.
  • If you were denied or terminated from SNAP within the last 90 days, you still have a right to appeal that denial or termination. The hearing officer should accept any proofs you provide at the hearing under special “de novo” appeal rules for applications. See Question 99. You should also reapply for benefits (to get back on quickly) even if you file an appeal for retroactive (back) benefits.
  • Federal SNAP rules say DTA must inform the household of the missing verification, offer to assist in obtaining that verification, and allow the household extra time to get the missing paperwork. 7 C.F.R. §273.2(h)(1)(i)(C). If DTA has not done all of those things, the SNAP regulations says the delay is the DTA's fault.
  • Federal SNAP regulations require DTA to schedule a timely interview, and notify the household if they missed the interview. DTA must reschedule the interview if the household contacts them within 30 days of the application. If DTA fails to schedule another interview requested by the household, the fault is DTA’s and not the household. 7 C.F.R. §273.2(h)(1)(i)(D).

DTA Policy Guidance:

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

Additional Guidance:

  • SNAP application denied for failure to submit verifications in error where QC found no evidence that client was scheduled for an interview, no NOMI was sent and no verification checklist sent. Transitions, January 2015, QC Corner.
  • Describes detailed DTA procedures for determining client “fault” versus DTA “fault”. Ops Memo 2014-30 (June 11, 2014). (Policy may violate federal SNAP regulations, which require state agencies to have taken multiple steps before assigning fault to SNAP applicant.)
  • Denial notice must identify missing verifications. SNAP case cannot be denied or closed if applicant has not had the minimal 10 days to submit verifications. Case also cannot be denied for lack of verifications needed for certain deductions. Ops Memo 2012-17 (April 25, 2012)  
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20. Can I apply for expedited (emergency) benefits?

You are eligible for expedited SNAP if:

■    you have $150 or less in monthly gross income and $100 or less in liquid assets (cash and money in the bank), or

■    your shelter costs are higher than your combined gross monthly income and cash and savings (DTA adds the value of the standard utility allowance or SUA to your rent or home ownership costs), or

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

See 106 C.M.R. §§ 365.810-365.830

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

Example: Stella earns $200 a week in gross wages (before taxes) at her part time job, for a total monthly income of $866 (weekly x 4.333). Stella pays $500/month rent and separately pays heating costs. Her total shelter costs are $1,121 based on her rent of $500 plus the $621 heating/cooling standard utility deduction (SUA). Because her gross income is less than her shelter costs, Stella is eligible for expedited SNAP for one month. 

The SNAP rules require DTA to screen all applicants for expedited service upon receiving the application. 106 C.M.R.§ 365.800. Expedited SNAP benefits are not extra benefits—they are just a faster way to get your first month of SNAP benefits.  You only need to verify your identity to qualify. See Question 11. If you qualify, you should get SNAP benefits and an EBT card within 7 days from the date of your application.

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

The amount you get in expedited SNAP benefits is based on the income you have already received and the income you anticipate receiving in the “cyclical month” of your SNAP application. DTA will count the earnings from your last pay check in that cyclical month, even if that job has ended. 106 C.M.R. § 365.840.

Advocacy Reminder:

  • It is often faster to get expedited SNAP by going in person to a local DTA office, especially if it is hard to reach you by phone.
  • DTA cannot delay expedited benefits if you are required to have a photo EBT card. DTA must issue you a photo-less EBT card. See Question 29.
  • DTA can refuse to issue expedited benefits more than once in 12 months if you did not provide all the mandatory SNAP proofs the last time you applied. You cannot apply month after month for expedited SNAP.  But if you did verify everything, or it’s been at least 12 months since your last got expedited benefits, you may qualify again.

DTA Policy Guidance:

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

Additional Guidance:

  • Case managers can process expedited and ongoing SNAP at the same time if all necessary verifications provided. OLG Transmittal #2016-4 (Jan. 4, 2016).
  • If applicant appears expedited eligible and contests amount of bank balance in DOR bank match, (e.g. money was used for rent), expedited rules allow worker to accept asset information verbally reported by applicant unless questionable. Transitions Hotline Q&A, (August 2013)
  • Expedited benefits can be issued more than once if the applicant previously verified required information, or if more than 12 months has elapsed since receipt of expedited. Transitions FYI (Dec 2010).
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21. What if I do not speak English?

If English is not your primary language, DTA must provide you with a bilingual DTA worker or communicate through a translation service. When calling the DTA Assistance Line, DTA has a recording with the prompts you can push to get service in your language.

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

If you select a language other than English, then:

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

Applying for SNAP in another language

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

DTA currently has paper applications in 12 languages beyond English: Spanish, Portuguese, French, Haitian Creole, Chinese, Vietnamese, Khmer, Korean, Russian, Italian, Polish, and Arabic. You can download and print these applications at https://www.mass.gov/lists/dta-documentsforms  Be sure to write down the language you prefer in the first section of the SNAP application that says: Information About You.

DTA notices in another language

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

Advocacy Reminders:

Under federal law, DTA must provide you with an interpreter if you need one. DTA should not tell you to bring your own interpreter. See Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d. DTA should not tell you to have a family member interpret for you.

Federal SNAP law also requires DTA to have written materials in languages other than English if there are at least 100 households in the area served by the welfare office that speak that language. 7 C.F.R. § 272.4(b)(3). A written notice reducing or stopping your benefits is not valid if it is not in your primary language, you do not read English, and there are 100 or more households in the area served by the welfare office that speak your language.

For more information on the federal and state government’s duties to persons with limited English proficiency (LEP), see www.lep.gov and https://www.justice.gov/crt/executive-order-13166.  For SNAP eligibility and benefits information in 35 languages, see https://www.fns.usda.gov/documents-available-other-languages.

DTA Policy Guidance:

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

Additional Guidance:

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

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

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

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

DTA Policy Guidance:

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

Additional Guidance:

  • Detailed guidance on use of “auxiliary aids” to effectively communicate with clients who may have a hearing impairment, vision impairment or other condition that interferes with client’s capacity to communicate. Ops Memo 2013-64 (Dec. 19, 2013)
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23. What if a disability makes it hard for me to apply or comply with DTA rules?

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

Under the ADA you are a person with a qualifying disability if you have a disability that substantially impairs a major life activity, such as learning, understanding, walking, working, breathing, or caring for yourself.  Disabilities include physical or mental health impairments, and intellectual disabilities. A temporary health problem like a broken leg may not be a disability under the ADA.

You can be disabled under the ADA even if you are not receiving any benefits on the basis of disability and even if DTA has decided you do not qualify for an exemption because of disability. See Question 24.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advocacy Reminders:

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

DTA Policy Guidance:

DTA Online Guide: Cross Programs > Harper/ADA

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24. How do I ask DTA for an accommodation?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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26. How can the DTA Ombudsman Office help?

DTA has a special DTA Ombudsman Office to handle client complaints and concerns you can call any time you need help fixing your SNAP case.

DTA Ombudsman Office: 617-348-5354.

If you get an answering machine, leave a detailed message with your full name, your Agency ID or SSN, and a phone number where you can be reached. If you do not get help with your case, contact an advocate.

You also have the right to appeal any decision made by DTA. See Part 6

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27. Can I get information about my SNAP online (My Account Page) or on a smartphone (DTA Connect)?

DTA Connect

DTA Connect is a new mobile app for DTA clients. It is free and can be downloaded for iPhones at the App store or for Androids on Google play. DTA Connect can be used on a smartphone or tablet (such as an iPad).

Once the app is downloaded, you can log in with your Social Security Number (SSN) and year of birth to see information about your case. You cannot use DTA Connect if you have a heightened level of security on your case.

DTA Connect includes information on your case, including:

  • Case status, monthly benefit amount, next benefit issue date, EBT card balance and recertification due date.
  • Alerts including upcoming appointments or deadlines. 
  • Copies of DTA notices sent in the previous 90 days.
  • Whether documents submitted in the previous 90 days have been processed.

You can also use DTA Connect to send DTA information:

  • Send DTA verifications or documents by taking a picture in the app. These documents will go directly to your case record!
  • Ask for a letter verifying the amount of benefits you get from DTA.
  • Tell DTA about a new address or phone number.
  • Opt-in or opt-out of text messages from DTA.
     

Note: DTA Connect also lets you enter an email address and sign up for eNotification. We do not encourage this. See Question 28.

My Account Page (MAP)

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

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

Step 2: Look out for an email sent back to you from the MAP with a special web link. This takes just a couple of minutes.

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

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

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

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

What information will I find on my MAP Account?

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

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

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

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

How is DTA Connect different from the MAP?

  • There is no need to create an account, remember a password or know the EBT card number to log in! Just log in with SSN and year of birth.
  • You cannot update your contact information or send in documents through the MAP.
  • Unlike the MAP, DTA Connect does not have information about the history of SNAP deposited onto the EBT card. This is important when checking if, for example, a SNAP case was incorrectly pro-rated. See Question 19.
  • Unlike the MAP, DTA Connect only includes documents received and notices sent going back 90 days. The MAP has notices going back 12 months and document information going back 18 months.

DTA Policy Guidance: 

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

Additional Guidance:

  • Information on Phase 1 and Phase 2 of DTA Connect. OLG Transmittal 2016-40 and 2016-66
  • DTA update removing zip code for MAP log in, adds info on status of scanned client documents to MAP. OLG Transmittal 2015-20 (April 15, 2015)
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28.Should I agree to get text alerts or electronic notices instead of DTA paper notices in the mail?

Other than DTA Connect and the MAP, there are other ways you can get information from DTA. You have a choice about these options – you do not have to opt into them.

Text Messages

 A Text Message is a short message sent to your cell phone. As of the writing of this guide, DTA says they will send text messages about interview appointment reminders, DTA office closings and program changes.

Text messaging is a fast way to get some information about your benefits. If you tell DTA you want to get text messages, you will still mail you DTA notices and forms.

Message and data charges may apply. Speak to your cell phone provider if you have questions about these charges.

eNotification

eNotification is a faster way to see information about your DTA benefits.  You will not have to wait for notices and forms to come in the mail. But, DTA will stop mailing you notices if you sign up for eNotification. DTA will still send by U.S. Mail the SNAP paper forms you need to fill out and sign, such as Interim Reports or Recertifications.

IMPORTANT: To sign up for eNotification, you must have a MAP and regular internet access, be comfortable using the MAP and using on-line accounts (like on-line banking). It is extremely difficult to log into the MAP and view notices through a smart phone or similar mobile device.

If you enroll in eNotification DTA will send you an email each time you have a DTA notice on your MAP. The DTA email does not tell you what the notice says. 

To see the DTA notice, you must log on to your MAP to look at or print the notice. You also cannot respond to DTA notices by email.

Advocacy Reminders:

  • If you choose eNotification, log onto your MAP and read the DTA notices as soon as you get DTA’s email alert. You can also opt out of e-notify at any point, if you want to start getting paper notices again.
  • MLRI does not recommend eNotification for persons who are limited English proficient, have literacy challenges or are not comfortable using computers. The MAP is only in English. Some DTA notices require action so that you don’t lose your SNAP benefits.

DTA Policy Guidance

  • Online Guide Sections: DTA Assistance Line > DTA Alerts
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29. What is a Photo EBT card and who needs to have one?

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

Regardless of what your card looks like, all EBT cardholders and their household members have the same rights when using the EBT card to buy food.  There are three types of valid EBT in Massachusetts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Important rights to know:

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

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

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

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

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

How and when does DTA issue photo EBT cards?

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

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

If you get a notice for a photo EBT appointment, you can reschedule the photo appointment if you have a conflict. You can also go to any DTA office to have your photo taken. DTA cannot hold up or delay or close your SNAP case while scheduling your photo appointment.

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

Advocacy Reminders:

  • Federal rules protect the right of all authorized members to use the EBT card and to not be discriminated against:  7 C.F.R. §274.7(A), 7 C.F.R. §274.8(b)(5)(iv) and 7 §C.F.R.. 278.2(b).
  • Retailers cannot treat SNAP recipients differently from other shoppers. A store clerk cannot inspect your EBT photo card unless they routinely ask everyone using credit or debit cards to show a photo ID. The PIN is your electronic signature that protects the card, just like a debit card. Stores that accept EBT cards cannot set up “SNAP-only” checkout lines or refuse to let you use self-checkout lines.
  • Effective January 12, 2017, USDA issued regulations requiring states to follow certain rules if implementing photo EBT. (F.R., Vol. 81 # 239, December 13, 2016). The federal rules confirm that all household members have the right to use the card and that retailers cannot treat SNAP recipients differently that other customers. For states that elect photo EBT, the new rules require states to have a hardship policy for individuals who cannot get to a SNAP local office (such as lack of child care or transportation). 7 C.F.R. 273.8(f)(5); to issue an EBT card to expedited (emergency) applicants without delay; and not deny or withhold SNAP to an entire household if the head of household does not comply. 7 C.F.R. 274.8(f)(7).
  • See 2015 Urban Institute report assessing the merits of photo EBT laws, with a focus on Massachusetts and Maine: https://www.urban.org/research/publication/assessing-merits-photo-ebt-cards-supplemental-nutrition-assistance-program.

Contact MLRI if you have an issue with a photo EBT card.

DTA Policy Guidance:

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

Additional Guidance:

  • DTA reminder that immigrant-ineligible heads of households and “authorized representatives” are exempt from photo EBT requirements. DTA PPER Email #2015-23 (July 1, 2015), see also PPER Email #2014-11 (March 21, 2014)
  • DTA instructions on implementation of Photo EBT, including mailing and deactivation of RMV photo EBT cards, in-office appointment procedures and EBT photo exemptions. Ops Memos 2014-29 (June 11, 2014) Ops Memos 2013-55, 2014-39 (June 11, 2014) and 2014-29 for initial implementation.

 

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SNAP Part II -- General Eligibility Rules

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

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

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

This SNAP “household rule” applies even if the people you live with are not related to you, or do not have any legal obligations to support you.  If you live with a group of people, they are part of your SNAP “household” when you buy and share food together most of the time (for example, you share commonly bought food for more than 11 out of 21 weekly meals).

The SNAP household rules also say that if you live with your spouse or you are a child under age 22 and live with your parents, you must be in the same SNAP household. This is true even if you do not buy food and prepare meals together, or even if your parents or your spouse do not want any SNAP benefits. See Question 32.

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

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

DTA Policy Guidance:

DTA Online GuideSNAP > Eligibility Requirements > Household Composition

Additional Guidance:

  • Same-sex spouses living together must be part of same SNAP household. PPER Email 2014-22
  • In joint custody, parent who exercises most supervision gets SNAP benefits for child, even if the court order awards custody to other parent; if equal supervision, parents decide which parent receives SNAP for child. Hotline Q&A (Feb. 2012).
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31. Can I get benefits separately from other people I live with?

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

On the application form, if you live with other individuals, you will be asked to answer the following question about the people you list on the application “Do you purchase and prepare food together?” You must answer this question truthfully, but the fact that you do not have money to buy food is not questionable. You may be getting food from food pantries, getting free meals from a church or soup kitchen, or borrowing money for food. DTA should ask for proof of the living situation only if the information you provide appears “questionable” to the DTA worker, but lack of money to buy food is not questionable.  See Question 17.

Example 1: Jane and Steve are roommates who share an apartment. Both have jobs, but Jane only has part-time work. They occasionally share a meal together, but they buy, prepare and consume the majority of their food separately. Jane and Steve can be separate SNAP households.  Unless they are a legally married couple, they can be separate SNAP households.

Example 2: Sally is a single mother with one child. She is 25 years old and shares an apartment with her sister. Sally pays half of the rent. She purchases and prepares most of her own food for herself and her child, even though she uses her sister’s kitchen. Sally and her child can be a separate SNAP household. 

Advocacy Reminders:

  • If you buy and prepare most of your food yourself, you can get your own benefits anf EBT card. Getting your own SNAP also means you cannot cut off or denied if the other person does not comply with SNAP program rules. 106 C.M.R.§ 361.200(A).
  • If you are disabled and someone purchases and prepares your food for you – other than your spouse or your parent if you are under age 22 – you may also qualify for separate SNAP benefits.  See Question 33.

DTA Policy Guidance:

DTA Online Guide: SNAP > Eligibility Requirements > Household Composition

Additional Guidance:

  • Battered woman who moves to a domestic violence shelter can be own SNAP household even if still part of the SNAP household she fled from. Transitions Hotline Q &A (May 2012)
  • Applicant need not verify “household composition” (e.g., that the applicant purchases and prepares separately) unless situation is questionable. Transitions Hotline Q&A, (May 2008)
  • Roommate subletting not required to get a “shared housing verification form” filled out; roommates can be separate households without verification unless questionable. Transitions Hotline Q&A, (July 2007)
  • DTA clarifies the majority of meals concept in a Bay State CAP mailing to SSI recipients living with others but preparing most meals separately, as follows: “most means 11 or more meals per week.” F.O. Memo 2005-50, Attachment B (Oct. 3, 2005).
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32. Who cannot be a separate SNAP household?

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

  • A child under age 22 who lives with a parent or stepparent must be in the same SNAP household as the parent. 106 C.M.R. § 361.200(A)(3).

  • A child (other than a foster child) under age 18 who lives with a responsible adult (regardless of relationship) must be in the same household as the adult. 106 C.M.R. § 361.200(A)(2).

  • A legally married couple who live together must be in the same household, even if they never share meals together. 106 C.M.R. § 361.200(A)(1).

Example 1: Kelly is a single parent, age 20, who lives with her parents and her 1 year old baby. Kelly receives TAFDC for herself and her baby. However, due to her age, Kelly cannot get her own SNAP benefits and must apply with her parents. She and her baby are eligible as a separate SNAP household when she turns 22. 

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

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

Separate SNAP HH?

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

YES

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

YES

Spouses who live together, regardless of food purchase/preparing. Unmarried parents who live with their children in common who live together.

NO

Persons under 22 years who live at home with their parents. Children under 18 living with adults who supervise them.

NO

Households with a foster adult or child

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

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

Advocacy Reminders:

  • The TAFDC and SNAP rules differ in the treatment of teen parents. Although a teen parent age 18 or older can get her own TAFDC grant for herself and her baby when living with her parents, the SNAP rules do not allow the teen to get her own SNAP benefits separate from her parents until she turns age 22. If her parents do not wish to apply for SNAP, the teen parent is not SNAP eligible. Her TAFDC benefits should continue. 
  • The TAFDC and SNAP rules also differ in the treatment of children living with relatives. A grandparent, stepparent, aunt, or other relative can receive separate TAFDC for a dependent child, without being on the TAFDC grant  or having his/her income count, 106 C.M.R. § 204.320.  In the SNAP program, a relative who cares for a child in the home cannot get separate SNAP for that child, even no legal guardianship or adoption.
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33. What if I live with others but I have a disability that makes it difficult to prepare my food?

There are two options, even if you are unable to prepare your 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. This option as long as the majority of the food you consume is purchased with your income and prepared for you separate from the people you live with. This option does not apply if the person buying and cooking food for you is your legal spouse, or your parent if you are under age 22.

There are many reasons why persons with disabilities may have meals prepared separately. You may have a special diet, need to eat meals at different times from others, or keep your income and living expenses separate from others. This should not prevent you from getting your own SNAP benefits. 

Example 1: Thomas is a 35-year-old disabled adult. He shares an apartment with a roommate, Joe. Because Thomas is unable to buy and cook his own food due to his disability, Joe does that for him. Thomas gives Joe money to buy food and Joe cooks it for him. Joe also cooks and prepares his own food separately. Sometimes they share a meal but the majority of food Thomas consumes is purchased and prepared separately from Joe’s. Thomas could chose to have Joe as his authorized representative and have Joe use Thomas’s EBT card to purchase food for Thomas or he can accompany Joe to the store. Either way, Thomas qualifies for his own SNAP household.

Option 2: If you are 60 or older and have a permanent disability, you may be able to get SNAP separately for yourself even though you share food bought and cooked with the people you live with.  106 C.M.R. § 361.200(B)(4).

To qualify for your own SNAP benefits, you must meet three criteria:

  • Be severely disabled,
  • Be age 60 or older, and
  • The gross income of the household you live with must be less than 165 % of the federal poverty level (FPL). 

Example 2: Bertha is a 75-year-old disabled woman. She receives $1,000 per month in Social Security benefits. She lives with her 40-year-old daughter Mary and Mary’s two teenage children. Mary’s gross income is $1,200 per month. Mary purchases food and prepares the meals for the entire household, including Bertha. Since Bertha is both disabled and over age 59 years of age, she can qualify for a separate SNAP benefit. That’s because her daughter’s gross income is below 165% of the federal poverty level for a family of three (Mary and her two children). Mary may also wish to apply for SNAP as a separate SNAP household for herself and her children. The two separate households will receive more in SNAP benefits than if they were in one SNAP household of four persons.

Note:  Households that are caring for frail elders or persons with disabilities and receive adult foster care payments can exclude (“opt out”) the foster adult. This excludes the foster care payments as income and can increase the SNAP benefits. 106 C.M.R. § 361.240 (F)See Question 40.

Adult foster care is a special program through MassHealth which pays someone for in-home care of a low-income disabled adult or frail elder who might otherwise be institutionalized. See MLRI FAQ in Appendix C.

DTA Policy Guidance:

DTA Online Guide: SNAP > Eligibility Requirements > Household Composition

Additional Guidance:

  • A person too disabled to purchase and prepare for him/herself and gets assistance with food preparation can still qualify for separate household status. Transitions FYI (Dec. 2007).
  • USDA clarification that a disabled adult unable to purchase and prepare his or her own food can still be a separate SNAP household where the food is bought and prepared by a third party for that person. The disabled person need not be over age 60 or live with persons under 165% gross income test. USDA FNS memo, June 12, 2006
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34. Are there special rules for seniors and persons with disabilities?

If you are disabled or elderly (meaning age 60 or older) you may benefit from special rules including: 

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

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

  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits or social security disability benefits (sometimes called "RSDI"),
  • EAEDC cash assistance benefits, based on a severe disability,
  • certain disability retirement pensions, if you have a servere disability
  • railroad retirement disability benefits,
  • veteran’s disability benefits, depending on severity of disability, or veteran’s benefits for a spouse or children,
  • MassHealth (Medicaid) for persons with disabilities or
  • TAFDC benefits where you are exempt from the TAFDC time limits and works rules based on a severe disability.

Cash Assistance Disability Determinations

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

Be sure to ask DTA what the DES decision code is on your case if it would make a difference in your qualifying for SNAP or in the SNAP math. 

MassHealth Disability Determinations:

MassHealth does not regularly conduct disability evaluations unless required for a higher level of health care coverage.  When MassHealth needs a disability evaluation, depending on the coverage, they use DES disability standards to upgrade persons from MassCare Plus to MassHealth Standard and for CommonHealth. 130 C.M.R. § 505.002(F), § 519.007(B) and (C). 

MassHealth recipients often do not need a disability determination because the scope of health benefits is adequate to meet their needs. Individuals tend to apply for a disability determination if their income exceeds 133% FPL and they need more coverage under CommonHealth, or if they need long term nursing care services or other services not included in CarePlus. 

Even if you do not need more health coverage, you can still seek a disability determination. You may wish to do this if you are severely disabled, do not receive SSI or DTA cash assistance, and the DES disability determination allow you to claim your out-of-pocket medical expenses and actual shelter costs that can boost your SNAP benefit. 

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

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

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

For more information on the difference between MassHealth Standard and MassCare Plus, see MLRI’s chart describing the programs here:

/content/careplus-table-comparing-benefits-standard

 

Immigrants and Disability Determinations:

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

DTA Policy Guidance:

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

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36. What if I am homeless or live in a shelter?

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

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

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

You may also qualify for emergency or expedited SNAP, Question 20. And the $143 homeless deduction should be used to calculate your countable income. See Question 75.

Three-month “ABAWD” time limit and exemption for homeless individuals

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

DTA Policy Guidance:

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

Additional Guidance:

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

If you live in a licensed group home for persons who are disabled or blind, you are eligible for SNAP benefits at the one-person benefit amount, even if you share common meals at the group home. 106 C.M.R. §§ 361.240(B), 365.620.

You may be able to apply and manage your own SNAP benefits or the group home may decide to be your Authorized Representative. See Question 7 and 8. 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 also have the right to challenge their determination if you want to keep your own EBT benefits.

You cannot be forced to automatically turn over your EBT benefits or forced to appoint the group home as your Authorized Representative. However, if you get prepared meals at the group home, they may ask you to contribute some of your SNAP benefits toward the cost of these meals.

Advocacy Reminders:

  • If you leave the group home to live on your own in private or public housing, your SNAP benefits should still continue without interruption. The group home should turn over any remaining benefits for the month you leave. Be sure to report the change in address, living situation and expenses. DTA should not require you to file a new application unless your certification period is ending.
  • If the group home insists you appoint them as your “authorized representative” to receive your EBT card, and you do not agree, contact an advocate.
  • “Sober houses” typically provide room and meals for adults who have substance abuse issues and may be homeless, transitioning from a treatment program and/or referred by a court or probation officer. Sober houses may be regulated at the local level but usually are not licensed or regulated by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. If you live in a “sober house” or other roomer/boarder situation that is not licensed by the state, you cannot be forced to turn over your EBT benefits without your written agreement. If this has happened to you, contact an advocate.

DTA Policy Guidance:

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

Additional Guidance:

  • When group home indicates a portion of the resident’s fee is used toward  heating or cooling expenses, the SNAP benefits are calculated with the heating/cooling SUA. Transitions Quality Corner (January 2011)
  • Interagency agreement with DMH, DDS to designate 10% of residents’ shelter costs as a heating expense. This  leverages heating/cooling SUA in SNAP calculations. Transitions FYI, (Sept. 2007)
  • Representative payee administrative fees charged for SSI or RSDI recipients should be treated as dependent care expenses. Transitions FYI, (Sept. 2006)

 

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38. Am I eligible for if I live in a hospital, school, or other institution?

Residents of institutions that provide residents with a majority of meals (e.g. more than half) do not qualify for SNAP benefits. Institutions include hospitals, boarding schools, nursing homes, mental health facilities, and prisons. 106 C.M.R § 361.240(A) and (B). Children placed in foster care or youth services are also not SNAP eligible if their absence from the home will last more than 30 days. See Question 40

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

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

Advocacy Reminders:

  • If you are sentenced by a court to “home detention” (for example, you wear an electronic or prison bracelet at home), you are not jailed or incarcerated.
  • If you move from live in a drug/alcohol treatment centers or teen living program, you should receive your SNAP benefits directly once you move into a permanent residence. The residential program should immediately report the change of address to DTA to ensure your SNAP benefits continue if you are still SNAP eligible. 

Additional DTA Guidance:

  • Program fee for clients living in certain temporary housing types, including sober houses, transitional living programs and Teen Parent Programs do not generally count as shelter expenses. If shelter costs are claimed, verification must be submitted that includes amount paid for shelter. PPER Email 2015-9 (Feb 6, 2015)
  • DTA match with DYS to identify and terminate SNAP of youth removed from home in custody of the state.  Ops Memo 2013-36 (July 26, 2013)
  • Battered woman who moves to DV shelter can receive own SNAP benefits even if still on SNAP grant of abuser. Transitions Hotline Q &A (May 2012)
  • Children home on summer break are eligible for benefits, but not while at school. Transitions Hotline Q&A (July 2006)
  • Receipt of school meal plan at college does not disqualify student if meal plan does not provide majority of meals consumed. Transitions Hotline Q&A (Nov. 2006)
  • Home detention (electronic bracelet) does not render an applicant ineligible. Transitions Hotline Q&A (Aug. 2001)
  • Social Security or other income received for a child in an institution is not countable to rest of household. Transitions Hotline Q&A (June 2000).

 

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39. What if I am a boarder or I live in someone else’s home?

If you live in someone else’s home and you pay that person for a room and at least half your weekly meals, you are considered to be a “boarder.” You are not eligible for SNAP benefits as a separate household. 106 C.M.R. § 361.240 (D).  Special rules apply for boarders.

If you rent a room in someone else’s home and do not get or pay for meals, you are considered to be “a roomer.” As a roomer, you can apply for SNAP as a separate household, so long as you purchase and prepare the majority of your meals separately from the other people in the house. 106 C.M.R. § 361.230(A). See Question 31

How SNAP Treats Boarders

If the household where you are boarding is getting SNAP, DTA may include or exclude you (and your income) in their SNAP benefits based on what you pay for food. If excluded, DTA will then count what you pay for room and board (after certain deductions) as income to the host household.

If you do not pay a “reasonable amount” for meals, you must be included in the SNAP household of household providing meals. That means your income and assets will be counted in figuring the eligibility of the whole household. 106 C.M.R. § 361.240(D).  A “reasonable amount” is an amount that equals or exceeds the SNAP benefit level for your household size (for example, $194/month for someone getting three meals per day). 106 C.M.R. § 361.240(D).

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 rent. They are considered “boarders.” Because $150 is less for food than the SNAP benefit amount for a household of 2, Janet and Joe must be part of Janet’s mother’s SNAP household and their income and assets count. However, if Janet and Joe bought their food separately, instead of giving Janet’s mother money for food, they would not be required to be in her household.

If you are elderly or disabled and live with others who provide meals for you, see Question 33.

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

Foster Children:

In general, children under age 18 and under the supervision of an adult must be part of the adult’s SNAP household. However, a SNAP household hosting a foster child can choose to include or exclude the child from the SNAP household. 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 SNAP household. It is usually better to exclude the foster child to maximize the SNAP benefits for the rest of the household. But, the foster child cannot get benefits as a separate SNAP 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 $600 per month for him. They can apply for SNAP for themselves and their two children (family of four), excluding the monthly foster care payment from income. Alternatively, Sam and Susan can apply for SNAP for a family of five including their two children, and their foster child, Jimmy. In that case, their income, plus the foster care payments they receive for Jimmy will be used in the calculation of benefits for five people. Households usually get more SNAP benefits excluding the foster child since the foster care payments are then excluded from countable income.

Fostered Adults:

A SNAP household also has the choice to include or exclude adult foster care members, even if they share family meals with that person. 106 C.M.R. 361.240(F). Adult Foster Care (AFC) is a special MassHealth program for frail elders and adults with disabilities who cannot live alone. 130 C.M.R 408.410-438.   MassHealth pays qualified AFC caregivers up to $18,000 a year to provide in-home care to elder and disabled MassHealth recipients who would otherwise bein a long-term care facility. However, the caregiver and other family members may still be low income and qualify for SNAP benefits.

If fostered adult is not included as a household member in the SNAP application, none of the AFC payments paid to the caregiver or the income of the disabled adult counts for SNAP. By excluding the AFC payment and other income of the fostered adult, such as SSI or Social Security, the care givers often qualify for higher SNAP benefits.

Example: Frank and Emma Wilson AFC caregivers for an 88 year old Margaret. Emma takes care of Margaret daily including all meals. Frank works part time earning $1,800/month gross income. He helps Emma on weekends. The AFC 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 their SNAP household. Only the $1,800 income earned by Frank is countable income for their SNAP application. The $1,500 AFC payment and Margaret’s $800 Social Security are not counted as income. This is true even though the couple purchases and prepares the household food all together. 

Advocacy Reminders:

  •  A SNAP household can request that DTA remove a foster child or foster adult from the SNAP household at any time. If you discover a family getting lower SNAP because a foster child or fostered adult is in the household, they can ask to change the household composition anytime.

DTA Policy Guidance:

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

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41. What if I am a college student?

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

Eligible college students

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

  • you are younger than 18 or older than 49;
  • you receive either federal or state work-study during the school year (for any amount of work-study hours);
  • you work for pay for 20 hours or more per week;
  • you are enrolled full-time in a school or training program not considered an “institution of higher education” such as GED, Adult Basic Ed, HiSET, or you are enrolled in a ESL program;
  • you are going to school under a DTA-approved SNAP education or training activity or another government-sponsored education and training program;
  • you are attending a community college and pursuing a degree or certificate program that is in a career or technical education field or similar program that the college determines will increase your employability;
  • you have a child under age 6;
  • you have a child under age 12 and you are a single parent in school full time or you are a parent and do not have enough child care coverage to both attend school full time and work 20 hours;
  • you receive TAFDC cash benefits as a pregnant woman or for dependent children;  
  • you are disabled and receive disability-based benefits such as SSI, MassHealth as disabled or EAEDC;
  • you are “physically or mentally unfit for employment” and have a reduced capacity to support yourself as verified by your health care provider; OR
  • you are in a vocational, mental health or substance abuse rehabilitation program

The SNAP regulations at 106 C.M.R. §§ 362.400-362.420 lists the conditionsor "exemptions" that qualify college students.

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

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

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

College students enrolled less than half-time do not need to meet the conditions above to get benefits. 106 C.M.R.§ 362.400(A)

Massachusetts Community College Students:

You may be SNAP eligible if you are a community college student enrolled in degree or certificate programs that is considered a “career or technical education program,” or other course of study that the community college determines is likely to make you more employable.

This state SNAP policy is especially important if you cannot get work study, find a part-time job while in school or meet the other student exemptions to qualify. Attachment C includes the DTA form (CCE-1) used to verify eligibility for students in community colleges.

Purchase and prepare rules for college students

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

If you live with your parents and you are under age 22, you must be part of their SNAP household if you meet the student eligibility rules, and even if you purchase and prepare food separately. See Question 17.

Treatment of college student loans and grants

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

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

For more information on the income counting rules and what is countable or non-countable, see Question 60 and 61. Non-countable income does not need to be verified.

To help verify your countable school income, DTA uses an “Educational Income and Expense Form” (EDUC-1). See Appendix C. By signing this form, you are giving permission for your college financial aid office to release information to DTA. Use of the form also makes it easier for the financial aid office to report non-federal financial aid you receive and indicate if any of it is designated for your living expenses. You are not required to use this form but it may help in getting the exact information DTA needs.

DTA Policy Guidance:

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

Additional Guidance:

  • College students are considered continuously enrolled during holiday and summer vacations, unemployed college student not receiving work-study may not be SNAP eligible; earnings of ineligible student not count to SNAP household but do count where student becomes SNAP eligible if work hours increase to 20 hours week. Transitions Hotline Q&A (June 2014)
  • VA educational benefits excluded as income if VA grant or scholarship precludes use for current living costs. Transitions Hotline Q#5 (May 2013)
  • Job Aid for DTA workers “Everything you need to know about student eligibility for SNAP,” Transitions Training Corner (Sept 2012)
  • DTA guidance on SNAP eligibility for community college students enrolled in career and technical education or other programs likely to lead to employment. F.O, Memo 2010-28 (June 1, 2010), DTA Transitions Hotline Q&A (July 2010), updated CCE-1 form issued January 2012.
  • Guidance on college students living with others - ineligible college student are “non-household members” and their income does not count toward SNAP household. Transitions Hotline Q&A (July 2009)
  • Work hours of employed students should be averaged over the month to get a weekly average (for students eligible claiming 20 hours/week average work) F.O. Memo 2007-44 (Aug. 30, 2007)
  • Once student turns 22, he/she can be own SNAP household even if living with parents as long as adult child  purchases and prepares separately; participation in school meal plan does not disqualify student if meal plan  not provide “majority of meals.” Only one parent in a 2-parent household can claim responsibility to care for a young child to meet student rules. Transitions Hotline Q&A (Nov. 2006)
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42. What if I have a criminal record or DTA says I’m a “fleeing felon”?

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

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

See 106 C.M.R. § 367.800(D).

DTA recently updated its regulations (December 2016), to confirm that fleeing felon status is verified with an outstanding felony arrest warrant for any of the four categories or “codes” under the National Crime Information Center Uniform Offense Classification Codes: escape (4901), flight to avoid (4902), or flight-escape (4999).

This is consistent with the federal SNAP rules that directs states to confirm if an individual is actually fleeing prosecution by confirming a) there is an outstanding felony warrant, b) the individual is aware of or should be reasonably expect the felony warrant, c) the individual is taking action to avoid being arrested, and d) law enforcement is actively seeking the individual. 7 C.F.R. §273.11(n). Bottom line, unless law enforcement has arrested an individual and placed them in custody, the individual is not barred from SNAP. FR  55410 Vol. 80, No. 175, 9/10/15.

Advocacy Reminder:

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

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

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

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

Under the SNAP program, you are not required to verify U.S. citizenship unless the DTA finds the information provided is questionable. 106 C.M.R. § 362.210. The program rules allow you to self-declare, under penalty of perjury, that you are a U.S. citizen.

Advocacy Reminders:

  • Persons born in Puerto Rico do not need to re-verify identity, age, date of birth or U.S. citizenship unless information provided is questionable. 
  • It may be helpful to ask an individual born abroad if either of his or her parents were a U.S. citizen or if the parent(s) naturalized before the individual turned age 18. Some clients may not know they have a right to claim “derived” citizenship and should be referred to an immigration or naturalization specialist.

DTA Policy Guidance:

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

Additional Guidance:

  • SAVE should serve as primary source of verification when a non-citizen reports a new status. Ops Bulletin 2015-13
  • DTA guidance on handling cases for individuals with “voided” Puerto Rican birth certificates. F.O. Memo 2010-49 (Nov. 1, 2010)
  • U.S. citizenship of children is not questionable solely because parents are immigrants. Transitions Hotline Q&A (March 2006)
  • Foreign-born children of U.S.-born and/or naturalized U.S. citizens are also U.S. citizens and meet the SNAP citizenship requirements. Transitions Hotline Q&A (May 2006) 
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44. Am I eligible if I am a legal immigrant?

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

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

Group 1: Refugees and other individuals who have fled persecution

You qualify under the SNAP eligibility requirements if you are:

  • A person who entered the U.S. as a refugee,
  • A person granted asylum after entering the U.S.,
  • A person granted withholding of deportation or removal,
  • A Cuban/Haitian entrant—defined as a national of Cuba or Haiti who has legal status, a pending application for asylum or an application for certain other statuses,
  • A Vietnamese Amerasian immigrant (e.g., the offspring of a U.S. citizen conceived during the Vietnam war), or
  • A victim of trafficking in persons—such as slavery or sex trafficking— who has applied for status under a special process with the Department of Health and Human Services.
  • Nationals of Iraq or Afghanistan granted a “Special Immigrant Visa” (SIV) designation. SIV holders are legal permanent residents, many of whom worked on behalf of the U.S. government in Iraq or Afghanistan. They and their immediate family members may be granted immediate legal permanent residence in the U.S.

If your immigration status falls under one of the above, you qualify for SNAP benefits without the five-year waiting period. You are also eligible without the 5-year waiting period if you recently became an LPR even if you previously had one of these statuses.

Group 2: Legal permanent residents, parolees and battered immigrants

You may qualify under the SNAP requirements if you are:

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

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

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

Group 3: Immigrants with other special statuses

You meet the SNAP eligibility requirements, without the 5-year waiting period, if you:

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

Ineligible immigrants

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

Examples of ineligible immigrants include:

  • Non-disabled adult LPR or parolee who has less than 5 years in qualified status and insufficient work history. See Question 45.
  • An immigrant who is lawfully present under other provisions of federal immigration law, such as an applicant for asylum or adjustment under a relative petition, an immigrant granted Temporary Protected Status, or other status where you have work authorization or are known to the Department of Homeland security,
  • An out-of-status or undocumented immigrant, or
  • A non-immigrant (student, visitor, diplomat).

See Question 48 for how ineligible immigrant parents can apply for eligible children, and Question 50 for a description of how income of ineligible immigrants is counted to the rest of the household.

Advocacy Reminders:

  • For copies of U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Service-issued documents and a key to the USCIS immigration codes, see materials produced by National Immigration Law Center available at https://www.dshs.wa.gov/esa/resources-desk-aids-and-links/immigration-la...
  • You must give proof of immigration status for any immigrant household member who is applying for SNAP. Federal law requires DTA to confirm with immigration officials the status of all applicants through the alien status verification system, called “SAVE” or Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements.
  • If DTA has made a SAVE request for verification of status and is waiting for more information, DTA should provide SNAP pending the results for up to 6 months from the date of the original request for verification. 7 C.F.R. 273.2(f)(1)(ii)(B)(3)
  • USCIS has a special process for immigrants to correct wrong or incomplete information in SAVE. www.uscis.gov/save. Contact an advocate if DTA says SAVE has not confirmed your status or if you wish to correct the information USCIS has in SAVE.
  • Be sure to double check if DTA says you must wait 5 years for benefits. Persons unfamiliar with the immigrant requirements sometimes incorrectly assume all LPRs must wait 5 years when rule does not apply to LPRs who entered as refugees, asylees, children and certain disabled immigrants. A battered immigrant’s 5 year waiting period starts from when the VAWA or a relative petition was filed and not when granted LPR status.

DTA Policy Guidance:

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

Additional Guidance:

  • Disabled LPRs receiving EAEDC not subject to 5 year bar if disability meets disability severity of SSI as determined by UMass Disability Evaluation Service (DES). Elderly LPRs (age 65+) not subject to 5 year bar if receiving EAEDC and can provide statement from MD re disability, no need for UMass DES review.  Hotline Q & A (October 2014)
  • SAVE: Reminder to DTA staff about how to verify noncitizen status and information from USCIS on SAVE document selections. Operations Bulletin 2017-2 (Jan 17, 2017). Ops Memo 2013-14A (May 2, 2013); Right of immigrants to notify USCIS and correct inaccurate immigration status information in SAVE, Ops Memo 2013-14A (May. 2, 2013)
  • Start date of 5- year waiting period begins with date immigrant granted humanitarian parole and not LPR status. Transitions Hotline Q&A, (Oct. 2011, and Q&A of May 2006)
  • Guidance on Iraqi and Afghan Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) treated same as refugees, no 5 year wait. F.O. Memo 2010-19 (March 6, 2010)
  • Detailed guidance on Cuban and Haitian nationals who qualify as Cuban/Haitian entrants and how to verify eligibility. F.O. Memo 2007-52 (Sept. 28, 2007) See also Transitions Hotline Q&A (Nov. 2011) re parolee from Cuba or Haiti may qualify without 5 year wait.
  • Detailed guidance  battered immigrants and acceptable verifications. F.O. Memo 2005-22 (May 1, 2005).
  • Expired document does not mean immigrant’s legal status has expired; worker should presume immigrant may still have current legal status and do SAVE check. Transitions FYI (Oct. 2007)
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45. How does my work history help so I don’t wait five years for SNAP?

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

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

You can get work quarters credit for the following:

  • Work you have done in the United States or a U.S territory.
  • Work done in any of 25 foreign countries, including Europe, Australia, Japan and South Korea after specific dates (for example, work done in Italy after 11/1/1978). See DTA Online Guide for full list of allowable countries. 
  • Work done by your spouse while married. This includes work done by a common law spouse even if you were not legally “married.” It also includes work done after separation but before divorce (though you lose your spouse’s quarters upon divorce) and including work done in the US and the 25 approved foreign countries.
  • Work done by your parents before you were 18, including work done by your parents before you were conceived, born, or adopted, including work done in the US and the 25 approved foreign countries.

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

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

When can you not get credit for work?

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

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

Example 1: Clara has been in the United States for just three years but recently lost her job in a factory. Her husband Jose, from whom she is separated but not divorced, has been here eight years. They both have been working consistently, and paying taxes, since they arrived in the U.S. Clara has 12 quarters of work (three years with four quarters in each year). Jose has 32 quarters of work (eight years with four quarters in each year). The couple has never received SNAP, Medicaid or other federal means-tested benefits. Clara can count her 12 quarters and her husband’s 32 quarters for a total of 42 work quarters. Clara can apply for SNAP and is not required to wait five years.

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

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

How to confirm 40 quarters of work history

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

DTA can also get information about work history through the SSA Quarters of Coverage History System (QCHS). DTA sends an inquiry to SSA to find out whether you have enough qualifying quarters. DTA can also request from SSA the work records of a spouse or parent if you are able to provide enough information to identify that person. If you think your spouse (or parent before you turned 18) may have work history, be sure to tell DTA so they can inquire about this person’s work history as well. DTA should send the Social Security Administration a “Request for Quarters of Coverage History Based on Relationship” (SSA-513 Form).

Advocacy Reminder:

  • Only LPRs with countable work history to are exempt from the 5 year bar. Immigrants with humanitarian parole or battered immigrants cannot claim work history unless granted LPR status.
  • You can get SNAP benefits for up to 6 months if you need time to verify work history or while DTA is waiting on an SSA response.
  • You can correct your earnings record with Social Security in some situations if the earnings report is not accurate. Contact an advocate for more information about work history.

DTA Policy Guidance:

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

Additional Guidance:

  • Receipt of Social Security survivor’s benefits as a surviving spouse is sufficient proof of work quarters for SNAP purposes. Transitions, Quality Corner (July 2002)
  • Adults who entered the U.S. as children can use their parent’s work history in the U.S., even if work was performed before the child arrived in the U.S. Transitions, Quality Corner (Feb.2002)
  • LPR may receive SNAP benefits for six months pending verification of work quarters through SSA QCHS. No recoupment of SNAP benefits if work history ultimately not verified. Transitions FYI (June 2006)
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46. If I am a disabled immigrant, do I need to wait five years for SNAP?

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

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

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

If you are an elder or disabled LPR but are not receiving EAEDC cash assistance, contact an advocate. Some elder or disabled LPRs may not qualify for EAEDC for financial reasons (e.g., spousal income or assets above the low EAEDC limits, or they do not want/need EAEDC benefits.)

DTA Policy Guidance:

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

Additional Guidance:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five-year waiting period for battered immigrant adults

Battered immigrant adults are, unfortunately, subject to the same 5-year waiting period as LPRs and parolees. 106 C.M.R.§ 362.220(B)(8). This rule does not apply to children under the age of 18, or disabled immigrants who receive a disability-based benefit. 106 C.M.R. § 362.220(B)(8)(e).

However, when calculating the 5-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 5 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 5 year period is the date that a “prima facie” determination was made by immigration officials for the VAWA petition (Form I-360).

Children of battered immigrants

There is no 5-year waiting period for children who are LPRs or have humanitarian parole status. There is no 5-year wait for children of immigrants who meet the battered immigrant rules, or who are U.S. citizens. These children, like other qualified immigrant children, should be eligible for SNAP. 106 C.M.R. § 362.220(B)(8)(e)(3)

Advocacy Reminders:

  • Each DTA office has designated Domestic Violence specialists as well as protocol for handling communication with individuals who self-identify as DV victims.  You can request to speak with a DV Specialist on the DTA Assistance Line during DTA business hours.
  • It is important to screen for the disability exemption to jump the 5 year waiting period. Many battered immigrants may be suffering from physical or emotional abuse as a result of the battering. If the immigrant is disabled and on a disability-based benefit such as EAEDC, consult an advocate.
  • DTA will ask for proof of immigration status and copies of your petition for legal status. SAVE may not verify a pending or approved relative petition or VAWA petition. Some battered immigrants may also have fled without documents. DTA will accept a self-declaration from battered immigrants as proof of their filing for legal status if SAVE is unable to verify status.
  • If you filed a self-petition under VAWA, it is possible your children will not be listed on notices from the Department of Homeland Security. However, most immigrant children have legal protections under the special rules for battered immigrants based on “derived status” (see an immigration specialist if you have questions). 

DTA Policy Guidance:

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

Additional Guidance:

  • Extensive guidance on the eligibility of battered immigrants, including scope INS coding, acceptable documents, eligibility of other household members, verification if documents missing, etc. F.O. Memo 2005-22 (June 1, 2005)
  • DTA protocol for handling domestic violence situations and referrals to DV specialists. Transitions, Sept 2015, Policy Mailbox, pg 4.
  • Immigrants are not required to self-petition under VAWA to be battered immigrant for benefits. Transitions Hotline Q&A (June 2007)
  • Battered woman in DV shelter can get own SNAP benefits even if still on SNAP grant of abuser. Transitions FYI (May 2012).
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48. Can my children get benefits if I am an ineligible immigrant?

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

 

DTA should not require information about or proof of your immigration status if you are not applying to get SNAP benefits. 106 C.M.R. § 362.220.  DTA also does not take the photo (for the EBT card) of any adult or authorized representative applying on behalf of eligible dependents but not him/herself. See Question 29

 

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

Advocacy Reminders:

  • DTA should only ask for proof of the U.S. citizenship of your children or other eligible household members if their status is “questionable.” 106 C.M.R. § 362.210. The fact that children are born to immigrant parents does not make their U.S. citizenship automatically questionable.
  • The SNAP application form allows applicants to identify immigrant household members not seeking benefits. If you file an on-line SNAP application, in the “personal information” section you are can indicate programs that the individual is applying for. You can also send a written statement with the other proofs sent in to clarify who is and is not applying for benefits. See also DTA Brochure, “What Non-citizens Need to Know.” See Appendix D.
  • Federal guidance requires states to accept the best evidence available for verification of income and should accept a reasonable explanation from the household of discrepant information (in this case, the earnings of an immigrant where the name on pay stubs were different from wage earner). https://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/snap-policy-household-members-name-differs-name-contained-earnings-statement-used-verify-income

DTA Policy Guidance:

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

Additional Guidance:

  • Extensive DTA guidance on the right of non-citizens to opt out of SNAP application, not provide information on immigrant status and apply for just the eligible family members seeking assistance. Guidance includes opt-out form, client brochure and resource list of agencies. F.O. Memo 2004-34 (Sept. 24, 2004)
  • DTA must use favorable financial calculation for mixed households where parents provide information on legal status. Transitions Hotline Q&A, (April 2005)

 

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    49. Will receiving SNAP benefits hurt my immigration status?

    Getting SNAP should not hurt your immigration status or create a “public charge” problem because SNAP benefits are not cash assistance benefits. This has been the long standing position of USCIS over the years.

    Other non-cash programs that should not raise the public charge concerns include  school breakfast or lunch, Women Infant and Children (WIC) benefits, MassHealth (other than long term care), job training, child care, shelters, disaster relief, public health services. 

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

    The only circumstance where DTA can legally report you is if DTA you share with DTA a copy of your final order of deportation or other formal document that a court has determined you “unlawfully residing” in the United States. 106 C.M.R. § 362.240(B). In that limited situation, DTA is authorized to report you to the Department of Homeland Security without your permission. 106 C.M.R. § 362.220 (first section).

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

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

    DTA Policy Guidance:

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

    Additional Guidance:

    • DTA policy confirming that DTA staff must not report any immigrant to USCIS except when  immigrant provides DTA with a final order of deportation; reporting done through DTA Central. Transitions FYI, (Jan. 2004)
    • “Unlawfully residing” involves a Final Order of Deportation or other formal U.S.C.I.S. document that shows a determination made of unlawful status. Transitions Hotline Q&A, (Feb 2002).

    Other Resources on Immigrants and Public Benefits:

    Department of Homeland Security public charge fact sheet (revised, April 2011) can still be accessed at https://www.uscis.gov/news/fact-sheets/public-charge-fact-sheet The fact sheet includes an updated list of programs not subject to the public charge consideration, including SNAP benefits, WIC and other non-cash benefits.  USDA has also notified state SNAP agencies over the years of USCIS guidance that states receipt of SNAP benefits does not lead to “public charge.” 

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

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

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

    Calculation for households with legally present, ineligible immigrants

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

    The SNAP regulations define a broad group of immigrants who are considered “lawfully residing.” See 106 C.M.R. § 362.240(A). This list includes immigrants with work authorization such as applicants for asylum or with pending VAWA or relative petitions.

    The SNAP calculation for households with lawfully present immigrants involves three steps. DTA initially first calculates benefits including the legal immigrants who are not eligible, then calculates benefits excluding the immigrant and his/her income, and finally selects the result with the lower amount of benefits. 106 C.M.R 364.600(C)

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

    ■    Step 1: DTA calculates the benefit amount the family would receive if the immigrant were included in the household. DTA looks at the total household income, including the income of the ineligible immigrant and all allowable deductions.

    Countable net income after deductions: $326
    Maximum benefits for household of 3 persons: $511
    Subtract 30% of $326 (countable net income): -98
    Benefit for this HH ($511 less 1/3 net income): $413

    In Juana’s case, DTA first calculates the benefits for three persons including Juana and her two children. DTA counts all of Juana’s income and allows all applicable deductions (in her case, the 20% earnings disregard, the $157 standard deduction and a shelter deduction max at $517).  Juana has net income of $326 a month. The maximum benefit for a household of three is $511. After subtracting 30% of net income, her family will receive $413/month.

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

    In Juana’s case, the children have no countable income, so the benefit for the children at Step 2 would be $357 a month (the maximum SNAP for a household of 2).

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

    In Juana’s case, the benefit for the children is the amount in Step 2 ($357) because that is lower than the amount in Step 1 ($413). If Juana had no countable income, the SNAP would still be capped at $357, the maximum for two persons (versus the higher amount of $511 for three persons), because Juana is not herself eligible.

    Calculation for households with undetermined status members

    If you are an undocumented immigrant, the SNAP benefit calculation is harsh. DTA will count all of the ineligible immigrant’s income toward the eligible members without considering the ineligible immigrant’s needs. 106 C.M.R. § 365.520(A). This calculation is identical to the way that income is counted for sanctioned household members (individuals who have committed fraud or been sanctioned for work violations). See Question 68.

    DTA does one calculation counting the income of the ineligible individual but excludes the immigrant as a household member in determining both the household size and the household SNAP amount:

    Example: In the case of Juana, above, it turns out she does not have any proof of legal status. Because Juana has “undetermined legal status,” DTA counts all of her income against a SNAP benefit level for the two children only. The children will receive only $259 in SNAP benefits, as this is the maximum monthly benefit level for a household of two with countable net income of $326. All of Juana’s countable income is subtracted against a household of two persons.

    Countable net income after deductions: $326
    Maximum benefits for household of 2 children: $357
    Subtract 30% of (countable net income): -98
    Benefit for this HH ($347 less 1/3 net income): $259

     

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

    If you receive financial support directly from the sponsor to pay for living expenses, then that money is counted by DTA and treated as unearned income in calculating your benefits. 106 C.M.R. § 363.220(B)(7).

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

    There is no counting or “deeming” of a sponsor’s income if you are "indigent" (low-income) and do not receive actual payments from a sponsor. “Deeming” involves counting income from a source, such as a sponsor, that is not actually received by the LPR but is assumed to be available.

    DTA Policy Guidance:

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

    Additional Guidance:

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

    Any member of your family who is age 16 to age 60 and not exempt must register for work as part of the SNAP application process and accept any suitable job offers. 106 C.M.R. § 362.310.  

    Your SNAP application is also an agreement to register for work—you do not have to take any additional steps to register. If offered a job, you must accept it unless you have good cause. You can also volunteer for additional services. This is called the SNAP Employment & Training (SNAP/ET) Program.

    DTA is building SNAP ET programs and services with employment and training providers around the state called “SNAP Path to Work.” Both providers and SNAP recipients can access information on available programs on DTA’s web page here:  https://www.snappathtowork.org/

    SNAP work registration is different from the three-month time limit that affects ABAWDs. See Question 55.  The SNAP regulations provide for a wide range of exemptions from work registration. 106 C.M.R. § 362.310(B).  These exemptions are most important if DTA thinks you voluntarily quit a job within 60 days, or if you are on strike.  See Questions 53 and 54.

    DTA Policy Guidance:

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

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

    Voluntary quit rule:

    • If you are subject to the SNAP work registration requirements, you voluntarily quit a job without good cause and you apply for SNAP within 60 days of quitting, current DTA rules say that your whole household cannot get SNAP benefits for three months from the date you quit the job. This disqualification runs from the date you quit the job, not the date you apply for benefits. 106 C.M.R. § 362.340. The penalties increase the second and third times the applicant quits a job without good cause.

    DTA can only do this if you are the head of household. The DTA voluntary disqualification period may be longer than is allowed by federal law. Contact Legal Services if DTA denies or closes your SNAP due to voluntary quit.

    • If you voluntarily quit a job without good cause after the date you applied for SNAP benefits or while you are on benefits, you are ineligible for three months. 106 C.M.R. § 367.800(E)(2) & (F). The other members in your household are still eligible. Penalties increase for a second and third quit. On the third quit, if you are the “head of household,” your whole household is ineligible for six months.

    DTA should only ask you to verify jobs you had within 60 days prior to the date you applied. DTA does not need verify jobs you had more than 60 days prior. If you need help getting information from a past employer, you can give DTA permission to make a “collateral contact” with the employer directly. See Question 16, Appendix C. 106 C.M.R. § 361.640(B).

    Work strike rule:  

    If the reason you need SNAP benefits is because you are on a work strike, you and your household cannot get SNAP unless you were income-eligible for SNAP before you went on strike. In other words, your union job paid low enough that your family would qualify for SNAP. If you were income eligible before the strike, DTA will count either the value of your current income or your income before you went on strike to calculate your SNAP benefit, whichever is higher. 106 C.M.R § 361.240(E)(2)

    You are not considered on strike if:

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

    See 106 C.M.R § 361.240(E)(1).

    Advocacy Reminders:

    • If you meet an exemption from the SNAP work registration rules, the voluntary quit sanctions do not apply to you. 106 C.M.R. § 362.340(A)(1). Exemptions include incapacitation, going into a substance abuse treatment program, being more than three months pregnant, receiving UI benefits, attending an approved program of study, etc. See 106 C.M.R. § 362.310(B)
    • Current DTA rules about voluntary quit exceed federal law. If you are denied SNAP because of voluntary quit contact Legal Services as soon as possible. 

    • It is DTA’s obligation to inform you about your rights and responsibilities when you apply for benefits. 106 C.M.R. § 361.550. This includes telling you at application and each recertification which household members are subject to the work requirements, and the penalties for voluntarily quitting a job after you apply for benefits and/or refusing to comply with the work requirements.  

    DTA Policy Guidance:

    Online Guide Sections:  SNAP > Work Requirements > Voluntary Quit and Cross Programs > Eligibility of Strikers > Eligibility of Strikers

    Additional Policy Guidance:

    • For participating employers, DTA can check the end date of employment through the Work Number. Ops Memo 2013-33 (July 9, 2013)  
    • Start date of disqualification penalty begins with date of quit, not date of SNAP application. Transitions Hotline Q&A (July 2000).
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    54. What is considered “good cause” if you recently quit a job?

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

    • You lack state-standard child care during the hours of your work, including when you lack special needs child care for a disabled child.
    • You have a family crisis or emergency that you have to deal with during your work hours.
    • The employer makes unreasonable work demands, such as not paying you on schedule.
    • Employment becomes unsuitable because it is below the federal or state minimum wage; the work activity discriminates against you on the basis of sex, race, religion, ethnic origin, or physical or mental handicap; there is a strike or lockout; the employment places unreasonable risks on your health or safety; the hours interfere with your religious observances; you are required to travel more than two hours/day or, if walking, to walk more than two miles round-trip.
    • If you were working more than 20 hours a week, and, for reasons beyond your control, your employment stops or your wages go down.
    • If the amount you are paid in a week equals what you would be paid if you worked at least 20 hours and you were paid the federal minimum wage, and, for reasons beyond your control, the employment stops or wages decrease. For example, you work 10 hours a week at $16/hour, or 20 hours at $8/hour. The Federal Minimum Wage in 2014 is $7.25.
    • You left employment because it was seasonal or migratory, or you are between temporary jobs.
    • Acceptance of another job or enrollment in a school or training program requires you to move away or to leave your job.
    • You are under age 60 and resigned from your job but your employer considers it retirement.

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

    You don’t have to show good cause for leaving a job if you are exempt from work registration requirements. 106 C.M.R. § 362.340.  

    Even if not exempt, you do not need to prove “good cause” if you left employment because the employer fired you or asked you to quit, if you reduced your hours of work but did not leave your work, if you stopped a self-employment business or if you quit a job for a new job that fell through. 106 C.M.R. § 362.340(D).

    If you need to show DTA good cause you need to verify the good cause. For example, give DTA a statement about the emergency situation with the name and phone number of someone who can confirm the information (a “collateral contact”). 

    Advocacy Reminders:

    • DTA hearing officers have issued favorable decisions overturning DTA denials for voluntary quit including where the employer misled the worker about the wage rate, failed to honor a reasonable request about working conditions, failed to pay the legal overtime rate, failed to guarantee the work hours that were promised, failed to pay promised health insurance, failed to reimburse for on-the-job travel, and where good cause involved domestic violence, family emergencies, lack of transportation or child care. Contact MLRI for sample appeal decisions.
    • Advocates may also find helpful arguments and case law on “voluntary quit” in MLRI’s 2015 Unemployment Advocacy Guide, /unemploymentadvocacyguide
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    55. What is the “ABAWD” 3-month time limit for childless persons age 18 to 50?

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

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

    • You work 20 hours a week or more (including unpaid or in-kind work),
    • You are self-employed and earning at least 30 times the federal minimum wage of $7.25/hour),
    • You are participating for 20 hours a week or more in an approved training or education activity,
    • You are participating for 20 hours a week in a combination of training or education and  job search activities, but job search cannot exceed 9.5 hours a week, or
    • You are engaged in volunteer or community service activity for up to17 hours a month. The amount of hours you need to work is based on your monthly SNAP grant divided by the state’s minimum wage, now $11/hour as of January 2017.
      • Note: You will need to verify your community service hours with DTA each month. DTA has a form that the community service organization needs to sign. See Appendix C.

    Example:  Samuel is age 45 and unemployed. He is medically able to work but has not been able to find a job since he was laid off a year ago and his unemployment insurance ran out.  Samuel applied for SNAP on January 1, 2016 and receives $194/month.  He has no other income. After March 31st, Samuel must meet the work or training requirements above, or find a place to volunteer for 17 hours a week (194/$11 hour) to continue his SNAP benefits.

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

    Additional three months of SNAP

    If you lost your SNAP due to the ABAWD rules, you can regain SNAP for an additional three consecutive months. This option is available if you met the work requirement in a consecutive 30 day period – even if the job or activity ended before you reapplied.  See 7 C.F.R. § 273.24(e). 

    You will need to verify this. 

    Example: Lee is an ABAWD. He is looking for work but could not find a job that would give him 20 hours a week and lost his SNAP after 3 months. After he loses his SNAP he gets a seasonal job and is able to work 80 hours in December. He is laid off after the holidays. He reapplies for SNAP in February and shows DTA his pay stubs to prove he worked 80 hours in December. Lee gets 3 more months of SNAP, giving him time to try to meet the work requirements.

    Example: Mary is an ABAWD who struggles to find work. She loses her SNAP in April, but starts volunteering at her local food pantry after relying on the pantry for food. She volunteers for 17 hours in June. She reapplies for SNAP in July and proves she volunteered 17 hours in June. Mary gets 3 more months of SNAP, giving her time to try to meet the work requirements.

    What is considered “good cause” for not meeting the ABAWD work rules?

    Tell DTA if you are trying to meet the work rules through work or Employment and Training, but you had to miss some hours during the month because of a good cause reason.

    Good cause for not meeting the work rules includes things that happen that are beyond your control and limit your ability to work, such as, but not limited to, illness, illness of another household member who needs your help, a household emergency, or a sudden lack of transportation. 

    A good cause reason is temporary and while the situation is happening you need to keep your job or Employment and Training placement.

    If you verify a good cause reason, DTA should not count that month against you. See Question 54 for more information about good cause and how to show DTA that you have good cause.

    If DTA says you have used up one or more of your 3 months but you think you were exempt or meeting the rules, can you get that month back?

    Yes! DTA has a policy to remove “Strike” months if they know you were exempt, meeting the rule s or had good cause to not meet the rules. Tell DTA if you think one or more of your “strikes” should be removed. 

    What if you are having a hard time finding a job because of a CORI issue?

    DTA has a limited number of months that they can use to extend the number of months of SNAP an ABAWD gets (from a special rule called the “15% exemption months). Current DTA policy says they can use these special months for up to 3 additional months if you are working to resolve CORI issues that make it hard to get a job or find a community service placement.

    Contact Legal Services if you are an ABAWD struggling to meet the work rules because of a CORI or other challenge.  

    DTA Policy Guidance:

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

    Additional Guidance on ABAWDs:

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

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

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

    For a list of cities and towns that are currently exempt for 2017, go to:  http://www.mass.gov/eohhs/gov/departments/dta/abawd-work-program.html

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

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

    1. DTA has a one-page form you can bring to a medical provider to sign if you have a mental or physical impairment that makes it difficult for you to work. It can be signed by a wide range of medical providers, licensed social workers, counselors or directors of substance abuse or mental health programs. 
    2. DTA has a one page homeless screening form. If you are homeless you can fill this out to show you do not have a stable night time residence or show that you meet other factors that make you exempt. You can also talk to DTA over the phone. Call DTA and ask them to talk to you about the homeless screening for ABAWDs.
    3. DTA has a screening form that lists the exemptions and tells you what verifications to send in to show to DTA you are exempt. 

    Advocacy Reminders:

    For more resources, including a checklist of exemptions, see MLRI’s webpage: www.masslegalservices.org/ABAWD .  You can find copies of all the forms and information you need. As updates become available about ABAWDs we will post them at this webpage.

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

    DTA Policy Guidance:

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

    Additional Guidance:

    • BEACON updated with homeless screening questions to exempt homeless clients, including when client indicates they do not have a stable nighttime residence. Also, ABAWD verifications are needed to claim exemption or show meeting the work requirements, but verifications are not mandatory for case processing . OLG Transmittal 2016-1 (Jan. 4, 2016).
    • Reminder to staff to accurately include information in case record to flag when clients are exempt from ABAWD requirements. OLG Transmittal 2015-53 (Sept. 18, 2015)
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    SNAP Part III -- Financial eligibility

    Financial eligiblity rules.
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    57. What is financial eligibility?

    You must meet the SNAP income tests to get SNAP benefits. There is no asset test for most Massachusetts households. See Question 58.

    There are three basic steps in the SNAP math:

    1. Your countable gross income must be under the financial limit for your household size. 
    2. Your countable net income is determined after allowing certain deductions for shelter, dependent care and some other expenses.   
    3. Your monthly SNAP benefit is calculated by subtracting 30% of your countable net income from the maximum SNAP benefit for your household size.

    The financial eligibility rules are still confusing.  But it’s important to understand these rules so you can advocate for yourself or help others. The questions in Part 3 walk you through the financial rules step-by-step.

    The questions in Part 3 walk you through the financial rules step-by-step.

    Financial Calculation Tools:

    • Project Bread’s SNAP calculator walks you through a series of SNAP questions to determine whether you are likely to qualify for benefits, available at www.gettingfoodstamps.org.
    • MLRI has an on-line SNAP calculator as well as an Excel spreadsheet, available at  /SNAPCalculator. These calculators are useful for quick calculations if you already know the basic SNAP financial eligibility rules.
    • For a simple one-page SNAP Worksheet, go to Appendix A.
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    58. When do assets count?

    There is no asset requirement for most SNAP households. The majority of states have elected a federal option, known as “categorical eligibility,” which allows states to eliminate the SNAP asset test for most households. 106 C.M.R. §§ 363.110 and 365.180.

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

    ■    Expedited benefits: If you need SNAP benefits quickly, you may qualify if you have less than $150 in countable income and less than $100 in liquid assets (cash on hand, money in the bank), or if your shelter costs exceed your income and liquid assets. 106 C.M.R. § 363.100. See Question 20 about expedited SNAP.

    ■    Elder/disabled households with gross income above 200% federal poverty level: If you are age 60 or older, or disabled and your gross income exceeds this level, DTA will ask about assets. Your assets must be below $3,250. Assets include bank accounts, stocks, bonds, real estate other than your home, etc. Assets do not include tax-deferred retirement or education accounts, your home or land it sits upon, a car or other excluded items. See 106 C.M.R. § 363.130 for a full list of which assets are counted and 106 C.M.R. § 363.140 for a list of non-countable assets.

    ■    Income you earn from assets: Any income you receive from an asset does count as income, including interest earned on savings and dividends you receive.106 C.M.R. § 363.220(B)(5). If interest is paid quarterly or annually, DTA will average it out over the three, or twelve, months. 106 C.M.R. § 364.340. DTA may ask for bank statements, tax filings or other proof of the amount of interest or dividends you receive.

    ■    If you or a household member is disqualified: Assets count if your SNAP household includes a member disqualified for:

    If your household includes a disqualified household member, your household is must have less than $2,000 in assets; $3,250 if your household includes an elder or disabled member.

    DTA Policy Guidance:

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

    Additional Guidance:

    • Pension or retirement savings account withdrawals that are more frequent than one time withdrawals are likely countable as unearned income. Withdrawals from savings accounts are non- countable income. Interest income is countable. Hotline Q&A (Feb 2014)
    • DOR bank match increased from quarterly to monthly match. Once fraud unit receives information about SNAP clients subject to asset limit, verification request will be sent to client. Ops Memo 2014-57 (Oct. 10, 2014)
    • Instructions on how to explain to elders and other households why interest income and other income from assets counts (e.g., annuities, dividends, pension payments); verification of dividend payment or assets can include tax returns; requirement to assist with verifications. Transitions Hotline Q&A (May 2009)
    • Cash-in of life insurance policy treated as asset to the extent household subject to asset test (not cat el). Transitions Hotline Q&A #2 (Feb. 2013).
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    59. Is there a gross income test for SNAP?

    YES! Most SNAP households need to have gross income under 200% of the federal poverty level.

    Gross income is your monthly income before any taxes or deductions. 106 C.M.R § 364.370, 106 C.M.R. §§ 365.180.

    Household Size

    Gross Income Test

    200%  FPL*

    1

    $2,010

    2

    $2,706

    3

    $3,403

    4

    $4,100

    5

    $4,796

    6

    $5,493

    7

    $6,122

    *Gross income amounts effective January 31, 2017.

    Households that Pay Child Support:

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

    Elder/Disabled Households above 200% FPL:

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

    Sanctioned households and 130% FPL:

    If you are a member of a SNAP household where an adult member has committed an IPV (fraud) or some other program violation, the SNAP rules use a lower 130% FPL gross income threshold. In the SNAP math, the sanctioned member is not included in the SNAP household size for the remaining members. 106 C.M.R. § 363.110. See also Question 68. The sanctioned household is also subject to the asset test. Appendix B has the charts for the 130% gross income and 100% net income tests.

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

    Snapshot of the SNAP income and asset tests

     

     

    SNAP Asset Test

    Gross Income

    Test

    Family with children, pregnant woman

     

    NO

     

    200% FPL

    Persons age 18-60, no kids, not disabled

     

    NO

     

    200% FPL

    Elder/disabled household

     

    NO

     

    200% FPL 

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

     

    YES

     

    None

    Household under sanction (work or IPV sanction)

     

    YES

     

    130% FPL

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

    Advocacy Reminders:

    • All eligible 1 and 2 person households with gross income under 200% FPL will receive at least the minimum $16 SNAP benefit, in accordance with 106 C.M.R. § 364.600(A).
    • An individual who is both elderly and disabled, and lives and consumes food jointly with others, can get her or his own SNAP even if she cannot purchase or prepare separately. To be eligible for this special status, the gross income of the rest of the household, (excluding the elderly disabled person, his or her spouse, and children) must be less than 165% FPL. 106 C.M.R. §§ 361.200(B), 364.975. See Question 33 for more details on these special situations.

    DTA Policy Guidance:

    Online Guide Sections:  SNAP > Eligibility Requirements > Categorical Eligibility

    Additional Guidance:

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    60. What income is not counted?

    DTA looks at total monthly income to decide if you are eligible for SNAP benefits and how much you will get—but not all income counts.  Here are examples of income that does not count for SNAP:

    • VISTA, Youthbuild, and AmeriCorps allowances, earnings, or payments for persons otherwise eligible.
    • Earnings of a child under age 18 who is attending secondary school at least half time.
    • Lump sum payments – such as inheritances, tax credits, damage awards, one time severance pay, or other one-time payments.
    • Reimbursements – money you get to pay you back for expenses, including training-related expenses and medical expenses.
    • Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) stipends paid to older workers doing part time community service work.
    • Anything you do not get as cash – such as free housing or food, or money that is paid directly to a landlord or utility company made by a relative, friend or agency that has no legal obligation to do so.
    • Cash contributions given to you that provide for part of your housing, food or other needs that are paid by a person or agency that has no legal obligation to do so.
    • Veterans Services (M.G.L. c 115) payments made by vendor payment directly to your landlord or utility company.
    • Money earned by a child under age 18 who is attending high school or elementary school at least half-time, provided the child lives with a parent or other responsible adult.
    • Up to $30 per household member in a three-month period that is not regular (such as money from odd jobs).
    • Up to $300 in a three-month period from private charities.
    • Federal educational assistance including grants, loans, and work-study, including Montgomery Bill payments to veterans. (See Question 41).
    • Other educational grants and scholarships that are for education costs and not earmarked or intended for current living expenses.
    • Loans from private individuals and financial institutions, including loans on the equity of a home (reverse mortgages).
    • The first $130 per month in training stipends.
    • One-time payments, such as tax refunds, state and federal earned income tax credits (EITC), insurance settlements, and back benefits from other programs.
    • Additional pay received by the household for a family member who is in the United States Armed forces and deployed in a combat zone.
    • Legally obligated child support payments that you pay for a child who is living outside the home and not part of your SNAP household (these payments are not counted for the gross income test or for calculating the benefit level).

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

    Advocacy Reminders:

    • The SNAP regulations state that you do not need to verify income that is considered non-countable, unless the information you provide is inconsistent or questionable. See 106 C.M.R. §§ 361.610(A), 363.210(D). In addition, school attendance can be self-declared. 106 C.M.R. § 361.610 (K). Contact an advocate if a student under age 18 is asked to verify income with DTA.
    • Federal and state tax refunds and other non-recurring lump sums of money such as insurance settlements or back benefits from other programs do not count as income. 106 C.M.R. §§ 363.130(E), 363.230(I), 363.140(G)(6).
    • Unlike TAFDC and EAEDC, the SNAP program does not count lump sum payments as income. For the very few SNAP households subject to the asset limits, lump sum payments are treated as assets in the month received.  106 C.M.R. § 363.230(I).

    DTA Policy Guidance:

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

    Additional Guidance:

    • Cash contributions from non-legally liable individuals restricted for a specific purpose and used for a portion of living expenses non-countable. Transitions, Pg 4. Oct 2015.
    • Reimbursements paid for medical expenses not countable income. Transitions, July 2015, Quality Corner, Pg 2.
    • Repeated withdrawals (e.g. more than once) from pension or retirement accounts are countable unearned income. One time withdrawal from pension or retirement account is non-recurring lump sum and does not count as income. Hotline Q&A (Feb 2014)
    • Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) earnings non-countable. Online Guide Transmittal 2016-6 (Jan 30, 2015), Transitions Hotline Q&A, #4 (March 2013), and Transitions Hotline, (April 2010)
    • Quarterly clothing allowance for foster children paid by DCF is countable unearned income. Transitions Hotline (Sept 2014)
    • State and federal income tax refunds are nonrecurring lump sums and are non-countable. Transitions Hotline Q&A (June 2013)
    • State Veterans Services payments (M.G.L. Ch. 115 benefits) paid directly to a landlord or utility company is a non-countable vendor payment. Transitions Hotline Q&A #3, #4 (May 2013) F.O, Memo 2009-13 (Feb. 27, 2009)
    • VA educational benefits excluded if grant or scholarship precludes use for current living costs. Transitions Hotline Q#5 (May 2013)
    • When a high school student reaches his or her 18th birthday, student earnings previously excluded now count as income to the SNAP household. Transitions Hotline Q#1. (June 2013)
    • Income tax refunds from 2010-2012 are non-countable assets for 12 months from date of receipt (only affecting SNAP households subject to asset test). Ops Memo 2011-15 (May 3, 2011)
    • Montgomery GI Bill payments used for educational purposes non-countable income. Transitions Hotline Q & A (Feb. 2011)
    • Section 8 Homeownership Program vouchers are not countable as income nor claimed as shelter costs. Transitions FYI (March 2010)
    • One-time severance payment is non-recurring lump sum and does not count for SNAP purposes, but recurring severance payments are countable. Transitions Hotline Q&A (Aug. 2009)
    • Non-recurring lump sums are non-countable income. Transitions Hotline Q&A (May 2010, Feb. 2008)
    • Earnings or other income of ineligible college student (who is considered a non-household member) does not count in determining income of rest of household, but does count if student meet student eligibility rules. Transitions Hotline Q&A (July 2009)
    • Interest on assets and dividends is countable income. Transitions Hotline Q&A (May 2009)
    • Flexible credits provided by employers that are used for benefits such as health insurance and cannot be taken as cash are non-countable as income; DTA workers instructed to check pay stubs to identify non-countable flex-credits. Transitions Hotline Q&A (Feb. 2006) and Transitions FYI (Jan. 2006)
    • Payments from reverse mortgage is a loan and not countable income. Transitions Hotline Q&A (April 2007)
    • Foster grandparent income not countable for SNAP. Transitions FYI (Jan. 2005)
    • Payments by relative directly to landlord for rent are not countable income. Transitions Hotline Q&A, (May 2004)
    • Social Security received by household for child residing in institution is not countable if money is used for the care and maintenance of the institutionalized child. Transitions Hotline Q&A (June 2000). 
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    61. What is earned income?

    Most earned income is countable income for SNAP purposes. 106 C.M.R. § 363.220 (A). Earned income includes:

    ■   Gross earnings from wages and salaries, including earnings diverted or garnished by an employer for a specific expense. 106 C.M.R. § 363.220(A). This includes short-term disability payments you’re your employer if you are still an employee.

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

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

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

    Gross income is your earnings before taxes, FICA or other mandatory payroll deductions. Gross income does not include the value of employee “credits” for employee benefits such as health insurance, credits that cannot be taken as cash by the employee. See Question 60. And special SNAP rules apply to individuals who pay child support. See Question 71.

    Earnings that does not count:

    The earnings of a dependent child under age 18 who is in school at least part time is not countable income. 106 C.M.R. § 363.230 (H). Nor do the stipends paid to otherwise eligible AmeriCorps, VISTA, Youthbuild, SCSEP and others doing service work count. See Question 60.

    DTA Policy Guidance:

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

    Additional Guidance:

    • Missing wage information and date of termination from work can sometimes be verified by DTA through an internet-based employee verification system, called “The Work Number.” http://www.theworknumber.com/. Ops Memo 2013-33 (July 9, 2013)
    • Earnings of a student who turns age 18 is countable for SNAP, even if still finishing school. Transitions Hotline Q&A #1 (June 2013).
    • Short-term disability payments are treated as earned income (20% earnings deduction applies) if the payee is still considered an employee, intends to return to work, and the payments are made out of company funds versus an insurance company. Transitions Hotline Q&A (Sept. 1998).
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    62. What if DTA wants proof of past wages due to a computer match?

    Like all states, DTA uses different computer matches to find unreported earnings (and unreported unearned income). If DTA finds out you had income you did not report, they will contact you for more information.  If you were supposed to report income and you failed to do so, you may have an overpayment.  It is also possible you could be sanctioned (cut off for a period of time), if a hearings officer finds out you intentionally failed to report income.  See Question 103.

    Most SNAP households are on "simplified reporting" and are not required to report changes until their Interim Report or Recertification is due or the household's gross income exceeds the gross income test for their household. See Question 89.  In this case, you are not required to report new earnings right away, unless your gross income is above this level.

    Not all data match information is accurate. From March 2014 until March 2015, DTA was using a highly flawed automated process to match wage information from the state DOR with SNAP and cash case information. In many cases, DTA already had the recipient’s wage information on record, the earnings was non-countable or the earnings were for very small (one day/one pay) amounts.  Many SNAP and cash cases erroneously closed or had significant delays because of these notices.

    The Mass Law Reform Institute, MetroWest Legal Services and private counsel filed a lawsuit challenging DTA’s wage match procedures. The lawsuit was settled with DTA in October 2016. Under the settlement, in early 2017 about 17,000 SNAP households will be issued a one-time retroactive SNAP payment. In the winter and spring of 2017 an additional 7,000 households will be invited to reapply and may be eligible for a retroactive SNAP payment. For more information on the wage match lawsuit, visit www.masslegalhelp.org/wagematch or contact MLRI.

    DTA Policy Guidance:

    Additional Guidance:

    • Information about Milesi wage match settlement and process for class members receiving retroactive SNAP. OLG Transmittal 2017-10 (Jan 20, 2017).
    • Suspension of automatic generation of Employment Verification Notice. PPER Email 2015-12 (March 24, 2015). 
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    63. How is self-employment income counted?

    Self-employment income is calculated by subtracting the cost of doing business from the gross income or “profit” from the business, but before subtracting FICA or income taxes.

    You may be self-employed if you started your own business, or you provide services as contractor or sub-contractor such as child care, carpentry, IT, plumbing, taxi services, snow plowing. Self-employed persons often underreport the costs of doing business. Identifying all your business expenses can make a big difference in lowering your countable income and boosting your SNAP benefits.

    Examples of self-employment business expenses include

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

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

    Example: June sells cosmetics from her home. She buys the product from the manufacturer and then sells it to her customers. She can deduct the amount that she paid for the cosmetics and her costs of reaching customers (phone, mailing costs, website) from any income that she earns from selling the cosmetics.

    Example: Sarah provides day care in her apartment. 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. And you cannot claim the money you set aside for income tax or retirement funds (these expenses are considered part of the 20% earnings disregard). 106 C.M.R. § 365.950.

    Rental income is treated as unearned income unless you spend least 20 hours a week managing the property. 106 C.M.R. §§ 363.220(B)(5), and 365.930(A). See Question 65 on how to calculate net rental income. 

    Averaging self-employment income

    Self-employment is usually averaged over a 12-month period unless the income is intended for a shorter period (e.g., summer income). Tell your SNAP worker you wish to have it cover a shorter period of time because of anticipated changes. 106 C.M.R. §§ 364.340(B), 365.960.

    After DTA determines your pre-tax “gross” monthly self-employment income after pre-tax 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 her business expenses (insurance, gas, taxi medallion, maintenance, monthly loan repayment on vehicle). Millie does not expect this pre-tax net 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).

    Verifying and reporting income for self-employment households

    DTA may ask for a copy of your “Schedule C” tax record or a statement from an accountant. If you have not made enough to file taxes or done a recent quarterly tax filing, or do not have an accountant, there are other options. If the usual verifications are not available, you can verify your income “based on the best information available.” That includes as a self-declaration of your income. 106 C.M.R. § 363.210(G).

    If your current self-employment income is (less or more) than what you made during the most recent period you filed taxes, you have the right to submit more recent information on your business income and expenses.

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

    DTA Policy Guidance:

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

    Additional Guidance:

    • If the most recent tax return is not available, or does not reflect current or accurate picture of anticipated income, other proof of business income and expenses is acceptable. Transitions Hotline Q&A (Nov. 2010).
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    64. What is Unearned Income?

    Most sources of unearned income are counted in calculating your SNAP benefits. 106 C.M.R. § 363.220(B). Unearned income is counted 100%, which means you do not receive the 20% earned income disregard.

    Countable unearned income includes:

    ■    Needs-based cash assistance (TAFDC, EAEDC, SSI and Veterans Services benefits). 106 C.M.R. § 363.220(B)(1).

    ■    Cash benefits based on past earnings or service, including Unemployment Insurance, Workers Compensation, Social Security, federal Veteran’s benefits, and other pension benefits. 106 C.M.R. § 363.220(B)(2). Even though some income sources are based on your past earnings or military record, they are treated as unearned income because you are not working at the time you receive them.

    ■    Foster care payments received for a child or disabled adult who is included in the SNAP household. These payments are not countable if you opt out this individual from the SNAP household. 106 C.M.R. §§ 361.240(F). 363.220(B)(2). See Question 40.

    ■    Child support and any income from trusts, alimony or other sources paid directly to you. Child support payments made to TAFDC recipients that must be assigned to the Department of Revenue (DOR) are not countable, even if erroneously received by the TAFDC household. 106 C.M.R. §§ 363.220(B)(3), (C)(6).

    ■    Interest payments, dividends, royalties paid from your assets, or other direct money payments. 106 C.M.R. § 363.220(B)(4). These monies still count as income, even though the assets themselves do not count.

    ■    Certain non-federal post-secondary educational loans, grants, scholarships that can be used for current living expenses. 106 C.M.R. § 363.230(D). See Question 41. Most federal educational monies, including federal work study, are non-countable.

    ■   TAFDC or EAEDC  benefits diverted to a landlord or other third party vendor payments. 106 C.M.R. §§ 363.220(C)(2), (C)(3).

    ■    The portion of a TAFDC, EAEDC or SSI grant that is deducted because an individual was sanctioned or is repaying  an overpayment due to an  intentional failure to comply with requirements of these programs. See Question 67.

    Advocacy Reminders:

    • DTA can use government data bases to verify a number of income sources including: Social Security (RSDI), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Unemployment Insurance and child support that is paid to a family through the Department of Revenue (DOR). DTA should use these data bases to verify unearned income and not ask you to produce a written statement about the benefit amount.
    • Unearned income that is “recouped” for an overpayment is not countable unless it is both: a) a needs-based benefit and b) recoupment is due to a fraud-based overpayment. See Question 67.
    • Anything that is not clearly listed as excluded as “non-countable” under the SNAP rules is usually considered countable income. Always be sure to report to DTA any source of income, even if you think it is non-countable. See Question 60.

    DTA Policy Guidance:

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

    Additional Guidance:

    • Pension or retirement savings account withdrawals that are more frequent than one time withdrawals are likely countable as unearned income. Interest income is also countable. Hotline Q&A (Feb 2014) 
    • State Veterans’ Services Benefits (VSB) considered countable unearned income but certain portions may be excluded—if vender payments are made by VSO, etc. Transitions Hotline Q&A (May 2013)
    • Payments from a “reverse mortgage” (where homeowner draws money out of equity from home) is a loan and non-countable as income for SNAP. Transitions Hotline Q&A (April 2007)
    • Social Security received by household for child residing in institution is not countable if money used for the care and maintenance of the institutionalized child. Transitions Hotline Q&A (June 2000).
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    65. How is rental income treated?

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

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

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

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

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

    $1,000

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

    - $860

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

    $140

    Note:  In this example, when Verdina applies for SNAP benefits, she has only $140 in rental income. She can claim her one-third of mortgage related costs for her shelter expenses (1/3 of $1,200, or $400) and not the full amount of the total homeownership costs. Her portion of the water/sewer and the trash collection are covered by the standard utility allowance (SUA, $609), which is added to her third of the mortgage/insurance costs ($400).

    Advocacy Reminders:

    • If you are the primary tenant of an apartment and receive rental payments directly from the persons that live with you, you can deduct a pro-rata share of the rental costs from the rent you receive from that rental income you report to DTA. However, sometimes it is better and easier for each tenant to make a payment to the landlord directly. This can avoid errors in SNAP calculations and erroneous counting of income if you are merely passing through rental income to the landowner.

    DTA Policy Guidance:

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

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    66. How does DTA calculate my income for each month?

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

    If you have earned income, DTA will for proof of earnings for the 4-week period prior to the date you applied for SNAP. If you cannot get wage information from your employer and need DTA to help, see Question 11.

    Calculating your monthly income

    DTA calculates your monthly income by multiplying the most recent 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.

    Terminated income

    If you are no longer working at your old job, the income from the last job should not be counted in calculating your SNAP benefits. The same is true if other earned or unearned income stops. DTA should calculate your financial eligibility prospectively (see below). 106 C.M.R. § 364.310.

    If you are applying for expedited (emergency) SNAP, income from a terminated source can count. DTA will count a final paycheck that you received within the cyclical month of your SNAP application. 106 C.M.R. § 365.840.  See Question 20 on expedited SNAP.  Once that first month passes it should no longer count as part of the SNAP calculation for your household. Make sure that DTA is not counting income you are no longer receiving.

    Anticipated income

    Income from a new job, from Unemployment Insurance or other income source should also not be counted until you are certain when you will get paid and how much. 106 C.M.R. §§ 364.310, 364.320. If you do not anticipate receipt of the income in the first 30 days of your certification period, it should not count until the next Interim Report is due or if your household income exceeds the gross income before then.

    DTA Policy Guidance:

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

    Additional Guidance:

    • DTA should only count income from a terminated source that is received during the cyclical month of your SNAP application (e.g. the first month of the certification period). Transitions Quality Corner, September 2015, Pg 2
    • Income from annual contract (i.e. income for school employees) should be averaged over a 12 month period. Transitions Hotline Q&A (Sept. 2010)
    • Anticipated UI should not be counted as income if it is not certain the household will actually receive the UI benefit by Day 30. Transitions Hotline Q & A (April 2004) 
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    67. Does DTA count money I don’t receive or withheld from my cash benefits?

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

    ■    Money taken from your TAFDC or EAEDC benefit because of an intentional failure on your part to comply with the rules of that program is counted as if it were still paid in calculating your SNAP benefits. This includes when your cash benefits are reduced if DTA decides you failed to comply with the TAFDC work rule, teen parent school attendance rule, Learnfare rule, child support requirements, etc.

    Example: Randy receives $418/month in TAFDC for her child. Randy was getting $518 but DTA reduced the benefits. DTA decided she failed to cooperate with the child support rules without good cause. DTA will calculate the SNAP benefits as if Randy receives the TAFDC of $518 per month

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

    If the money is being taken out to repay a non-fraud overpayment, it is not countable income. 106 C.M.R. § 363.220(C)(4).

    Federal SNAP regulations are also clear that DTA cannot count needs-based benefits you do not receive because of a sanction unless there is a finding that you intentionally failed to comply with program requirements resulting in the benefit reduction. 7 C.F.R. § 273.11(j)

    ■    Money legally owed to you but you do not receive because you elected to have it paid to a third party counts as income to you. For example, if you ask your boss to pay your rent directly, instead of giving you a full paycheck, the money would still count. But if your boss pays you a regular paycheck and also pays your rent, the rent payment does not count as income. 106 C.M.R. § 363.220(C)(3).

    ■    Part of your TAFDC or EAEDC grant that is sent to your landlord or utility company as a “vendor payments” is countable income for SNAP. 106 C.M.R. § 363.220 (C)(2), (C)(3).

    Advocacy Reminders:

    • Money that is taken out of your EAEDC, TAFDC, SSI or other needs-based benefit to recover an overpayment can only be counted as income if you were found guilty of an IPV/fraud by a court of law or hearing officer. See Question 103. The federal SNAP regulations also state that the SNAP state agency (e.g. DTA) is required to contact the agency that administers the benefits (e.g. SSA) to confirm a formal finding of fraud as the basis of the overpayment, not the SNAP recipient.
    • Money recovered from a non-means-tested benefit program, such as Unemployment Compensation or Social Security Disability, should not be counted as income for SNAP purposes. 106 C.M.R. § 360.030. USDA has also clarified that this policy does not apply to federal Veterans Administration (VA) benefits, because the VA benefits are not a “public or general assistance program.”
    • Money paid to a third party that is not legally owed to you does not count. For example, if a family member, friend or an organization, pays your landlord part of your rent, the payment is not countable. 106 C.M.R. § 363.230(B). But you can only claim a shelter deduction for the amount you pay the landlord.
    • Money that is paid to others on your behalf – but you do not have legal control over – does not count.106 C.M.R. § 363.230(B)(4)(b). For example, if the court orders an absent parent to pay $600 per month you for child support and pay $500 per month to a bank for the mortgage on jointly held property, the $500/month does not count as income.

    DTA Policy Guidance:

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

    Additional Guidance:

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

    None of the people you live with counts if they are not part of your SNAP household. 106 C.M.R. § 363.230(L). If you sharing living quarters with friends or relatives – and you purchase and prepare the majority of your meals separately – the income of these individuals does not count.

    However, the SNAP program fully counts all of the income of persons you live with and required to be part of the SNAP household but are ineligible due to a disqualification. This includes a spouse, a parent of a child under 22, a child living with a parent, as well as people who purchase and prepare meals with you – if he or she is disqualified for the following reasons:

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

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

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

    ■    Undocumented or undetermined immigration status, see Question 50.

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

    See 106 C.M.R. § 361.230(D).

    The rules require DTA to count the disqualified person’s income and apply the lower (130% FPL) gross income eligibility test. (The rule also requires DTA to impose an asset test).  Even if the household includes children, an elder or disabled member, the SNAP rules require DTA to use the lower 130% gross income test.

    In addition, the rules require DTA to exclude the disqualified person in the household size. 106 C.M.R. § 365.520(A)(4).

    Example: Mark, his wife Sarah and their two children reapplied for SNAP recently. Mark was disqualified in September for 12 months after a hearings officer ruled that he had committed an intentional program violation (IPV) because he failed to report a new job on his Interim Report.  The family decided to close their SNAP case. But then Mark lost his job, He is now working 20 hours a week and the family reapplied. The family is eligible but Mark is not – until his 12 month disqualification period ends the end of August. Further, as a disqualified household member, all of Mark’s income and any other income of his family must fall under the lower 130% FPL gross income limit for three people (his wife and 2 children). The SNAP benefit amount is calculated for a household of 3 (not 4). Mark is excluded in the SNAP household size.

    Advocacy Reminders:

    • Live-in attendants and ineligible college students are not part of the SNAP household. They are non-household members but not “disqualified” individuals. Therefore, their income and assets are not countable. 106 C.M.R.§ 361.230(B) and (C).
    • As soon as the sanction period ends, DTA should use the 200% FPL gross income test (versus 130% FPL) and increase the SNAP benefit to include the formerly disqualified household member in the household size. Be sure to check the accuracy and duration of any sanction on a household subject to the lower benefits.
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    69. What deductions are allowed against my income?

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

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

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

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

    Standard Deduction

    $157

    Household of 1-3 persons

    $168

    Household of 4 persons

    $197

    Household of 5 persons

    $226

    Household of 6 or more persons

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

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

    ■    A shelter deduction capped at $517/month for households that do not include an elderly or disabled member. For households with an elderly or disabled member, the shelter deduction is un-capped. 106 C.M.R.§ 364.400(G). See Question 74.

    ■    A homeless shelter deduction of $143/month if homeless with no shelter costs. 106 C.M.R. § 364.400(F). See Question 75.

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

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    70. What medical expenses can I claim if I am elderly or disabled?

    Any member of your household who is elder (age 60+) or disabled is allowed to claim un-reimbursed medical and health-related expenses as an income deduction. This applies to disabled children as well as adults.

    The more expenses you are able to verify, the lower your net countable income. The lower your countable income, the higher the SNAP benefits your household will receive – up to the maximum SNAP amount for your household.

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

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

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

    For example: Esther is 78 years old. She has MassHealth coverage, but the combination of small pharmacy co-pays plus her over-the-counter pain relief and skin treatments add up to $36 per month. Her SNAP benefits will be calculated using a $155 medical expense deduction. If Esther verified more than $190/month in out-of-pocket expenses, she should claim actual, verifiable expenses that exceed the standard.

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

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

    Scope of allowable health care expenses

    ■    co-pays or premiums for Medicare, Medicare Part D, Medex or other health insurance, and your deductible for Medicare Part D;

    ■    any medical services from doctors, clinics, hospitals, laboratories or other facilities not reimbursed by a third party;

    ■    any custodial or attendant care services you need (even if the caregiver is a relative), as well as housekeeping services you pay for;

    ■    costs for child care if you need to pay for child care due to your age or illness

    ■    dental care, dentures, dental adhesives;

    ■    health treatments by a licensed practitioner, including chiropractic, acupuncture, physical or other therapy;

    ■    prescription drugs, including postage costs and any transportation costs to pick them up;

    ■    over-the-counter vitamins and over-the-counter drugs recommended by a licensed health care provider such as aspirin, laxatives, insulin, herbal and homeopathic remedies) – and a written prescription is not required;

    ■    eyeglasses, contact lenses, hearing aids, batteries, communication equipment for the hearing or visually impaired;

    ■    health-related supplies recommended by a health provider including incontinent supplies, creams and ointments, commodes and walkers;

    ■    private transportation costs at the current federal mileage rate (as of January 2017 it is 53.5 cents/mile) as well as out-of-pocket parking and tolls, or the monthly cost of taxis, vans, or public transportation needed to get to medical appointments;

    ■    veterinary bills, dog food, and other needs for trained service animals (but not companion or therapeutic animals); and

    ■    any other un-reimbursed medical expenses prescribed or recommended by your health care providers. 106 C.M.R. § 364.400(C).

    Proof of medical/health care expenses

    • You are only required to provide proof of the amount of your medical expenses. You are not required to show you paid the bill. 106 C.M.R. § 364.450(A). You are not required to get a prescription or statement from your MD or health provider. Appendix C contains an FAQ and Medical Expense screening form.

    The following are examples of proofs you can submit for medical expenses, but you can also submit other items:

    • Billing invoices, canceled checks or other proof of your health care bills or insurance premiums (that you paid or you owe).
    • An Explanation of Benefits (EOB) health insurance statement showing how much you owe for co-pays or deductibles.
    • A Medicare Claim Summary useful in showing the dates of visits to your doctor and laboratory visits, which you can use to claim your transportation costs.
    • A print-out from your pharmacy showing your co-pays and out-of-pocket payments for drugs. This is also useful to show all your visits to the pharmacy for claiming transportation. You need not show DTA exactly which drugs you take—you can white-out the names of the medications from the pharmacy print-out.
    • Copies of receipts for things you bought at a pharmacy or health supply store, like incontinence supplies, aspirins, vitamins, skin ointments, hearing aid batteries. Again, you should not need to get a prescription or statement from your MD about these items. DTA should accept that you bought these items because you and your doctor agreed you needed them.
    • A written statement from you with the dates and mileage if you used your car to go to your doctor, physical therapy, pharmacy or other providers. DTA can help you figure out the mileage using MapQuest. If you have a T-pass that you use for medical trips, show DTA the T-pass and receipt when you bought it.

    Advocacy Reminders:

    • Medical expenses are one of the most under-claimed income deductions. DTA workers are supposed to ask about your medical expenses and help you get verifications. Be sure to tell DTA about all health and medical-related expenses of any household member who is elder or disabled.
    • Sometimes claiming medical expenses does not make a difference in the SNAP math. This is true when the household is already receiving the maximum grant or if the household has low shelter costs and higher income. MLRI has a chart to show when claiming medical expenses matters the most: www.masslegalservices.org/snap-medical
    • If your monthly medical expenses are the same at recertification, you do not need to re-verify these expenses. You can check of “No Change” on your Interim Report or Recertification form.
    • DTA should make “a reasonable prediction” of the amount you “expect to be billed” for medical expenses during the certification period. You do not need to provide 12 months of bills. You do not have to proof you paid your bills, only that you responsible for the bill. However, you cannot claim a bill that an insurance company or other third party is going to pay or reimburse you for. 106 C.M.R. §§ 364.410(B)(3), 364.420, 364.430.
    • If you are an SSI recipient getting Bay State CAP benefits, you can switch to regular SNAP if your benefits would be higher due to medical expenses or higher shelter costs.. See Question 3.

    DTA Policy Guidance:

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

    Additional Guidance:

    • DTA’s SNAP Medical Expense Brochure (revised Aug. 2015): http://www.mass.gov/eohhs/docs/dta/snap-meb-brochure-english.pdf
    • DTA SNAP Medical Deductions Job Aid instructing workers how to handle medical expense deduction, when to request verification and how to average expenses. Posted at www.masslegalservices.org/snap-medical
    • Standard medical deduction increased to $155. Ops Memo 2014-16 (Feb 2014)
    • Over-the-counter, service animals, dietary supplements: Reminder on scope of allowable medical expenses including dental bills, drug plan premiums and delivery fees, and costs of service animals. Guidance confirms SNAP household does NOT need a prescription to claim over-the-counter drugs. 
    • Transportation Costs: IRS mileage rate for private vehicles $/53.5 cents/mile for 2017. Ops Bulletin 2016-3 (Jan 29, 2016). Self-declaration of transportation expenses acceptable, worker can use MapQuest to determine the door-to-door mileage. Transitions Hotline Q&A (Aug. 2008). Sample transportation cost calculations included in Transitions Training Corner (February 2015).
    • Medical expenses must be verified initially, but can be self-declared at recertification if there are no changes or the amount would not exceed the standard medical deduction; must be verified if the expense is questionable. Transitions Training Corner (February 2015).
    • Averaging One Time Medical Bills: Household has option to average large one-time (non-recurring) bills over 12 months or 24 month cert period for higher deduction, or deduct bill for one month; workers should explain advantages and disadvantages for clients to make informed choice. DTA Transitions Hotline Q &A (August 2012)
    • Re-verifying Medical Expenses: Medical expenses that have not changed do not need to be re-verified at recertification; recert form lists household member claiming medical expenses, type and amount previously claimed. DTA Transitions Mailbox (August 2015), F.O. Memo 2010-3 (Jan. 22, 2010).
    • Verifying Over-the-Counter: Workers instructed to not burden elder/disabled households with excessive verifications; receipts of over-the-counter purchases for drugs and health supplies are sufficient without requiring statement from health care provider that they are prescribed. Ops Bulletin 2015-2 (July 30, 2015), DTA Transitions Mailbox (August 2015), DTA Transitions FYI (Jan. 2010)
    • Expenses incurred still count: Medical bills need only be “incurred”—not necessarily paid—to claim for medical deduction (as long as not reimbursable by third party); Transitions Mailbox (August 2015)
    • Nutrition supplements, special diets, dental care, drug plans, service animals: Dental and monthly drug plan premiums qualify. Maintenance costs of trained service animals allowed, but not therapeutic pets (e.g., cats); nutrition supplements prescribed by M.D. cannot be claimed, nor can other special diets. Transitions Hotline (February 2015). F.O. Memo 2009-10 (Feb. 20, 2009). 
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    71. What is the child support deduction?

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

    Scope of child support payments allowed as a deduction

    You can claim as an income deduction the payments you make directly to the custodial parent, to a court, or the Department of Revenue (DOR). You can claim child support paid directly from your Unemployment Insurance, Workers Comp, or other income source.

    You can also claim legally required payments for health insurance, required for past child support (arrearages), as well as any third party payments. This includes payments to a landlord, utility company, or tuition payments to a school for the needs of the child. 106 C.M.R. § 364.400(E).

    How SNAP calculates child support paid out

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

    For example: John earns $2,080/month gross ($12.hr x 40 hours x 4.333). He pays $500/month court-ordered child support. John applied for SNAP benefits as a single person. In measuring his income against the 200% gross income test, DTA should ignore the $500 child support to determine his gross income at $1,580 – well below the 200% gross income test of $2,010 for 1 person.

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

    Proof of child support payments

    There are two factors you need to verify – the amount you pay and your legal obligation to make child support payments.

    You can verify the amount you pay with documents such as cancelled checks, pay stubs, UI withholding statements, or a statement from the custodial parent proving you make payments. If 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 an average monthly deduction, unless you have been paying support for less than three months. 106 C.M.R. § 364.410(D)

    DTA Policy Guidance:

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

    Additional Guidance:

    • Payments from UI benefits for child support paid to a child outside the home are not countable as income to UI claimant as long as claimant has legal obligation to support established. Transitions Hotline Q&A (Dec. 2005).

     

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    72. What is the child care/dependent care deduction?

    Families can claim the cost of care for either minor children or a disabled adult member while the household member is working, attending education or training programs, or looking for work. 106 C.M.R. § 364.400(D). Dependent care includes the cost for supervision of teenage children (under age 18), as well as care of a child or disabled adult not part of your SNAP household (for example, a foster child or non-citizen child).

    Scope of allowable dependent care expenses

    ■    private day care arrangements with caregivers not part of your SNAP household (e.g. older children);

    ■    co-payments or fees for subsidized child care;

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

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

    ■    transportation to and from the program sites at the federal mileage rate (53.5 cents per mile as of January 2017) or the cost of public transportation. Use MapQuest to help determine your mileage.

    Proof of dependent care expenses

    You can self-declare your dependent care expenses by writing the expenses on your signed SNAP application or recertification form or send DTA a separate signed statement. See sample self-declaration form in Appendix C. You do not need to a statement from the child care provider.

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

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

    Dependent care for disabled/elder adults

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

    If a disabled member of your household pays for adult care for his or her own reasons (unrelated to you going to work), DTA will treat these costs as medical expenses of the disabled individual, not dependent care expenses. 106 C.M.R. § 364.400(C)(12). See Question 70. Either way, adult dependent care of a person with disabilities is a deductible expense.

    Advocacy Reminder:

    • You do not need to wait until your next recertification to claim additional dependent care expenses. If you incur any child care expenses you did not previously report to DTA notify DTA immediately.

    DTA Policy Guidance:

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

    Additional Guidance:

    • Instructions to workers on how to calculate travel related costs for child care deduction using round trip mileage to and from child care site at federal mileage rate. Transitions, Feb. 2015 Training Corner.
    • Dependent care costs for an ineligible non-citizen child can still be claimed by working adult. Transitions Hotline Q&A (Feb. 2009)
    • Rep payee administrative fees for SSI /RSDI recipients living in group homes should be treated as dependent care expenses. Transitions FYI (Sept. 2006).
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    73. What is the standard utility allowance and what is H-EAT?

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

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

    ■  Heating (or air conditioning) SUA – currently $609 for households that incur heating or air conditioning costs separately from their rent. This includes public or subsidized housing tenants if your housing authority charges you for heat, or charges you for summer time use of an air conditioner (either excess electricity or a usage or maintenance fee). You also get this SUA if you receive or have received Fuel Assistance (also called Low Income Home Energy Assistance Act or LIHEAP payments) in the last 12 months even if your heat is included with your rent. Often LIHEAP will provide a partial rent subsidy if rent exceeds 30% of net income.

    ■  Non-heating SUA – currently $376 for households that incur utility expenses but not heating or air conditioning costs. Utility expenses can include electricity (non-heating), cooking gas, garbage collection, and water and sewer fees passed onto tenants.

    ■  Telephone-only SUA – currently $43 for households that incur only telephone costs (cell phone or landline, but not phone cards) and do not pay any of the other utilities listed above.

    It is important that you tell DTA if you incur heating costs, AC costs during the summer (even if your heat is included) or you get regular Fuel Assistance benefits for either utilities or toward part of high rental costs. DTA has many questions on the paper application and recertification paperwork about utility expenses. Make sure to fill out this information accurately.

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

    The “Heat and Eat” Fuel Assistance Program

    DTA and the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) have a special “Heat and Eat” Fuel Assistance program, or H-EAT. This program has helped hundreds of elderly and disabled households qualify for higher SNAP benefits, as well as receive information on regular Fuel Assistance benefits available to them.

    The H-EAT program was created because many seniors and persons with disabilities often underreport their AC/cooling costs, or do not realize they can claim utility costs when sharing utilities with other households.  Plus, many do not realize that regular Fuel Assistance (LIHEAP) can pay part of a household’s rent when heat is included but rental costs exceed 30% of countable income.

    How does Heat and Heat work?

    Under the state’s  H-EAT Program, DTA first identifies if you are a SNAP household not getting the full “heating/cooling standard utility allowance” (SUA). Twice a month DTA exchanges a data file with DHCD of “active” SNAP cases that are not coded as having separate heating or cooling costs. DTA asks DHCD to confirm if your SNAP household got regular Fuel Assistance in the past 12 months. If not, DTA provides you with a $21 H-EAT Fuel Assistance payment.

    This H-EAT payment is put on your EBT card, once every 12 months. You can use this money to buy light bulbs, flashlights, blankets. Your SNAP benefit should then increase and continue at the higher amount without interruption. DTA should automatically issue another $21 H-EAT payment the next year if you are eligible for this special payment. Note, households without an elder or disabled member tend to reach the maximum shelter expense deduction, thus they do not get this payment.

    The SNAP households not eligible for the H-EAT payment are:

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

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

    Advocacy Reminders:

    • Contact an advocate if your SNAP benefits suddenly go down. It could be that the annual H-EAT payment was not renewed.
    • If you have zero rental expenses (for example, you are caretaking a house or living rent free off-season) but you are responsible for heat or other utilities, you should get the standard utility deduction (SUA) even if you have zero rent. Contact an advocate if denied a SUA.

    DTA Policy Guidance:

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

    Additional Guidance:

    • Implementation of revised H-EAT Program providing $21 of Fuel Assistance payment to qualified households. Ops Memo 2014-52 (Aug 28, 2014)
    • A household that has a change of address or becomes homeless during the certification period is still eligible for the heating/cooling SUA if the household received H-EAT or regular Fuel Assistance. Transitions Hotline Q&A (June 2008)
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    74. What is the shelter deduction and how is it calculated?

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

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

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

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

    Two types of shelter deductions:

    • The CAPPED Shelter Deduction: The shelter deduction is capped at $517 per month for households that do not include an elder, disabled adult or disabled child, regardless of how high the shelter costs are.
    • The UN-CAPPED Shelter Deduction: If the household includes at least one person who is elderly (age 60+) or is disabled, there is no limit or cap on the shelter costs that exceed 50% of net income  

    Allowable shelter expenses  106 C.M.R. § 364.400(G)(1)

    ■    monthly rent paid that you pay or owe or the amount you are responsible for if you sublet or share an apartment. If you have a rent subsidy, only the amount of rent you pay should be reported.;

    ■    mortgage, including payments on the principal, interest, legal fees, home improvement loans (even if you are behind in your payments). If you pay mortgage quarterly or semi-annually, list your monthly average.;

    ■    property taxes and homeowner insurance (even if you have no mortgage);

    ■    trailer payments and parking fees;

    ■    repair costs on your home needed as a result of a fire, flood, severe storms or other natural disaster and not reimbursed by insurance (e.g. a new boiler, new roof, replacement of windows, etc.);

    ■    shelter expenses for a home not occupied by you if you are planning to return to it, not otherwise renting it and had to leave because of employment and training away from home, illness or a natural disaster;

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

    How DTA calculates the shelter deduction – four steps

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

    ■    Step 2: Calculate the shelter deduction by adding your non-utility shelter costs (rent, mortgage) to your standard utility allowance (SUA).

    ■    Step 3: Divide your preliminary net income in half.

    ■    Step 4: Subtract the result in Step 3 from the result in Step 2. The result is your excess shelter cost. If the answer is zero or less, you do not get a shelter deduction. If the answer is more than $517, you can deduct only $517 unless the household includes an elderly or disabled person.

    Example: Carl works party time and earns $1,500 per month. He lives with his wife Cindy and their child. He pays $100 per month in child support for a child who does not live with him. The family pays $500 per month in rent, and pays for heat and utilities.

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

    -    300       20% earnings deduction from gross

    -    157       Standard deduction for household of 3

    -    100       Child support deduction

    $    945      Preliminary net income

     

                      Shelter deduction calculation

                      $   500       Rent

                      +   609       SUA

                      $1,121       Shelter expenses

                      -   473        One-half prelim net income

                      $  648        Shelter expenses

     

    -    517       Maximum shelter deduction (capped)

    $   426       NET INCOME for Carl’s family (preliminary net income minus max shelter deduction)

    Advocacy Reminders:

    • The current DTA shortened SNAP application for seniors only asks about mortgage costs. It does not ask about property taxes or insurance. Seniors who did not include property tax or insurance costs on their application can claim them at any time by sending DTA a self-declaration.  See Appendix C for a sample form.

    DTA Policy Guidance

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

    Additional Guidance:

    • SNAP clients who own their homes entitled to total incurred cost of mortgage, homeowners insurance, property taxes and condo fees as shelter costs. Fact of no mortgage obligation does not mean household has no shelter costs. Transitions, March/April 2015, Quality Corner.
    • Mortgage or rent payments still included as shelter costs even if household is in arrear and cannot make payments, but household cannot claim arrearage payment for back rent/mortgage if previously deducted while getting SNAP. Transitions Hotline Q&A (Feb. 2010).
    • Shelter costs paid by others (e.g., relatives, friends) are not deductible shelter expenses. Transitions Hotline Q&A (May 2004).
    • Condominium fees are allowable shelter costs. Transitions Hotline Q&A (January 2000).
    • Rent or utilities paid in advance may be deducted in the month when they would have been due. USDA Food Stamp Program Regional 04-05 (Northeast Region).
    • Only the mortgage amount billed is countable, even if household pays the bank more than monthly mortgage. Transitions Hotline Q&A (October 2000).
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    75. What is the homeless deduction?

    If stay in a homeless shelter, stay temporarily in the home of another (“couch surfing”), or live on the street, your SNAP benefits should be calculated with the standard homeless deduction of $143 per month.

    This standard deduction recognizes the basic living of doing laundry, phone calls, locker fees, and other items. 106 C.M.R. § 364.400(F). You do not need to verify these expenses. If you get the homeless deduction, you do not get any shelter deduction (including the phone SUA).

    It is important that your DTA worker code your SNAP case as “homeless” so you get this deduction. DTA considers you “homeless” if you lack a  regular nighttime residence, including if you are staying in a shelter or have other accommodations that are temporary (e.g. less than 90 days). See 106 C.M.R. § 360.030 for the definition of homeless.

    Example: Paul is a homeless individual who receives $400 per month in Veterans’ benefits. Sometimes he stays at a shelter for adult individuals, and sometimes he is on the street. Paul gets the $157 standard deduction and the $143 homeless deduction. His net monthly income for SNAP is $102 per month.

    Advocacy Reminders:

    • If you are homeless and temporarily staying in a house or apartment where you pay for rent or utilities, you can get either the $143 homeless shelter deduction or the excess shelter deduction (based on your rent plus the applicable Standard Utility Allowance (SUA)), whichever is higher. See Question 36.
    • A DTA hearing officer has ruled that residents of domestic violence shelters qualify for the $143 a month homeless shelter deduction. Consult an advocate if this question comes up.

    DTA Policy Guidance:

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

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    76. What proofs do I need to claim deductions?

    You cannot be denied SNAP benefits for lack of proof of deductions, but your benefits may be higher if you provide proofs. 106 C.M.R. §§ 364.450(B). Question 11 has detailed information on verifications, self-declarations, worker assistance and more for each deduction. You can also claim deductions any time you incur these expenses. 

    You can:

    ■  Self-declare the cost of child care or adult dependent care, including transportation, and shelter/utility costs unless questionable.

    ■  Claim and verify child support paid with any legal document that describes your obligation and  the amount you pay (See Question 71); Claim and verify un-reimbursed medical expenses to claim the standard $155 deduction or actual expenses if higher. See Question 70. 

    If your DTA worker failed to give you a notice or checklist telling you what verifications you needed and the date by which to provide them, or failed to help you get the verifications, you may be able to recover the lost benefits. 106 C.M.R. § 364.450(B). See also Question 18

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    SNAP Part IV -- Getting and Using SNAP Benefits

    Getting and using SNAP Benefits.

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

    These are the maximum SNAP benefits by household size: .

    Household Size

    Max SNAP Benefit

    1

    $194

    2

    $357

    3

    $511

    4

    $649

    5

    $771

    6

    $925

    7

    $1,022

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

    If you have countable net income, 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.

    Example: Carl and his family have $500 in net income after allowable deductions. To determine the family’s SNAP benefits, take 30% of the “net income” (30% of $500) and subtract it from the maximum benefit, as follows:

     $ 500 Net Income for Carl’s family
     x .30 (Multiply by 30%)
    $ 150 Countable Income
    $ 511 Maximum SNAP for 3 persons
          -$150 Countable income (round up)
     $ 361 Monthly SNAP benefits for the Carl’s family

    Your first month of SNAP benefits

    When you first apply, your initial benefit amount is based on the number of days from when you applied and the days left in your “SNAP month.”   DTA “prorates” your first month of benefits. 106 C.M.R. § 364.650.

    For example, if you apply halfway through your SNAP month, you will get 50 percent of the monthly benefit. See Question 78.

    If you do not get all the mandatory documents to DTA within 30 days from applying and DTA decides the delay was your fault, DTA will pro-rate your SNAP. Your benefits will start from the day they got everything they needed. You can challenge this, especially if you think DTA caused the delay. See Question 19.

    Households with zero benefits

    Strange as it may seem, a household of three or more persons can get “approved” for zero SNAP benefits even though the household’s gross income is below the 200% gross income test. This happens when thirty percent of your net income is greater than the maximum benefit aamount. 106 C.M.R. §§ 364.600(A), 365.180(G)(3). DTA will send you a notice that says your case is open but that your household is not eligible for any SNAP. Basically, DTA puts your case in “suspended” status.

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

    DTA Policy Guidance:

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

    Additional Guidance:

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

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

    Last Digit of SSN

    Benefit Deposit Date

    -0

    1

    -1

    2

    -2

    3

    -3

    5

    -4

    7

    -5

    8

    -6

    10

    -7

    11

    -8

    13

    -9

    14

    The last digit of your SSN is also how DTA determines your “SNAP month” for issuing your first amount of benefits.  Your “SNAP month” runs from the day your benefits are deposited to the day before the next month’s benefits will be issued to you.   For example, if your SSN ends in 5, your benefits are deposited on the 8th of the month, and your SNAP month is from March 8th through April 7th, then April 8th through March 7th and so forth.

    DTA has to decide on your application and make sure you get your SNAP benefits within 30 days of the day you apply or a notice of denial.  If approved, you should receive a DTA approval notice and benefits by Day 30. 106 C.M.R. § 361.700(A).  Unless you pick up your card in person, you should receive two envelopes in the mail that include your EBT card and a PIN (these come in separate envelopes).

    The amount you get initially should also be retroactive to the date you applied.  106 C.M.R. § 361.700(A).  If your benefits are not approved back to the date you applied, see Question 19.  If DTA denies your application, you have a right to appeal. See Question 94

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    79. Why do some households get only $16 in SNAP each month?

    Federal and state SNAP law allows all 1 and 2 person households under the gross income test to get a minimum benefit. This rule does not apply to households of 3 persons or more. 106 C.M.R. § 364.600(A).

    If you only get $16/month – it is a good idea to get a “SNAP math check- up” to be sure you are getting all the deductions you qualify for. Many 1 and 2 person elder and disabled households often do not claim all their out-of-pocket medical expenses.

    Example:  Tom and Emily Smith are an elderly couple who each receive Social Security for a total of $2,000/month unearned income. The Smith’s pay a mortgage of $1,000 per month and have not claimed or verified any medical expenses for DTA. The couple receives $16/month in SNAP as a “minimum” benefit.

    If the Smiths verified medical expenses of at least $36/month, their SNAP would increase to $80. If they verified over $190/month, their SNAP would increase even higher.

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    80. How do I use SNAP benefits?

    SNAP benefits are kept in an electronic benefits transfer (EBT) account for you to use at any grocery or convenience store that is a USDA-approved EBT vendor. 106 C.M.R. §§ 364.900, 364.910.

    How to get your EBT card and PIN

    Unless you apply in person, the EBT card is usually mailed to you. There will not be any benefits on your EBT card until your case is approved.

    You will receive two envelopes – one with the EBT card and another with the PIN. DTA will automatically assign you a PIN. You can change your PIN any time by calling the Massachusetts EBT Customer Service number: 1-800-997-2555.

    Important tips: Choose a PIN that is easy for you to remember but hard for other people to guess. Keep your PIN a secret. Never write your PIN on your card.

    You do have the option to pick up the EBT card at your local DTA office, but DTA cannot require you to come in person. Going to the local DTA office can sometimes be the fastest way to get the EBT card, especially if you may qualify for expedited benefits and need the benefits sooner. If you are required to have an EBT photo card, see Question 29.

    How to use your EBT card

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

                                                           Quest symbol for food stamp benefits only

    ■    Before you shop, check your last receipt to find out how much SNAP benefits are in your account, or call Massachusetts EBT Customer Service at 800-997-2555 for your balance.

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

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

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

    Keep your EBT card even if your SNAP cases closes

    ■    Your EBT card does not expire, even if your SNAP case closes because you are no longer eligible. You can still use any SNAP benefits you were eligible to receive before your case closed for up to 365 days.

    ■     If your SNAP case closes but you reapply at another time , DTA will put your benefits on the same EBT card unless the card is defective (for example, the magnetic strip does not work).

    Call Massachusetts EBT customer service at 1-800-997-2555

    ■    If you have questions or problems using your card or secret PIN.

    ■    If your card is lost or stolen or does not work. Report this right away. DTA will replace the card.

    ■    To find out your SNAP account balance.

    ■    To find out where you can use your card.

    There is no limit on the number of times per month you can use your EBT card to buy food as long as you have benefits on the card. There is no charge or fee when you use your EBT card to buy food.  If you lose your card, see Question 84.

    Advocacy Reminders:

    • Federal SNAP rules require stores to allow all household members to use the EBT card, even if you are not the head of household. Grocers and retailers cannot ask to see the EBT photo card – unless they ask everyone using a credit or debit card to provide identification. For more on photo EBT cards, please see Question 29.
    • See also DTA client pamphlet, How to Use Your EBT Card, available:  http://www.mass.gov/eohhs/docs/dta/ebt/dta-ebt-tb-eng.pdf 
    • If the EBT equipment in the store is not working, the store should still let you purchase some of your food using a manual voucher process. The clerk should fill out a manual voucher for SNAP that lists your EBT card number and the amount of your purchase. Make sure the amount on the voucher is correct before you sign, and get a copy. Keep the voucher copy so you can subtract this amount from your balance. Call the customer service number on the back of your card or call the DTA Assistance Line if a store says its EBT system is down.

    DTA Policy Guidance:

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

    You have a right to use your SNAP in all 50 states. SNAP is a federal program that is “interoperable” between states. 7 C.F.R. § 274.8(b)(10). Many SNAP recipients live near and shop in border states – such as New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island and New York. Often some of the large grocery stores are closer and/or cheaper.

    If you are temporarily visiting family and friends, you can also use your SNAP benefits while out of state.  DTA should not assume you have abandoned your MA residency or threaten to close your SNAP case solely just because you are shopping out of state.  If you receive a DTA letter saying you have to reprove your MA residency because you used your SNAP out of state, contact an advocate.

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

    Note, you cannot receive SNAP in two states at the same time. This is called “duplicate participation,” which is a serious offense.  7 C.F.R. § 273.3(a). However, if you learn you are listed on a SNAP case in another state, and you are not living with that household report it to DTA. Contact an advocate if DTA refuses to give you SNAP.

    DTA Policy Guidance:

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

    You do not need to use your SNAP benefits every month to qualify. Your SNAP benefits do not expire at the end of each month.  If your SNAP case is closed for some reason, you still have the right to use any remaining benefits in your EBT account before the case closed.

    DTA will contact you if your SNAP balance seems too high or you have not used your EBT card for a long time.  DTA does track SNAP cases where the EBT benefits have not been used.  Some households, especially those who get the $16 minimum benefit, often save up SNAP for a big shop. That’s okay! Sometimes the SNAP EBT balances are high if DTA made an error and issued you a retroactive payment or you won an appeal.

    However, DTA will remove EBT benefits (“expunge”) from your account if you have not used your benefits for 365 consecutive days. 106 C.M.R. § 364.900(E).  DTA must send you a letter before they take any action to remove benefits. Once expunged, you cannot get those benefits back.

    What if I have trouble using my EBT card or food shopping?

    If the reason you have not used your EBT card is because you lost your EBT card or forgot your PIN, you can get a new card or PIN. See Question 84. A high EBT balance or idle EBT account is not a sign of fraud!

    If you need a ride to the grocery store, your local Councils on Aging may be able to arrange a ride. If you need someone to help food shop for you, you can appoint a trusted neighbor, family member or friend to become an “authorized representative” to get a second EBT card. See Question 7.

    Advocacy Reminders:

    • If you have problems with accessing your SNAP benefits—for example, if the store’s machine tells you the wrong amount of benefits available—call EBT Customer Service at 1-800-997-2555. Contact an advocate if your problems are not fixed.
    • You can use your EBT card at stores in most other states, if you are visiting out of state or if you move out of MA and there are benefits left in the EBT account. See Question 81. But you cannot get benefits in two states at once.

    DTA Policy Guidance:

    Additional Guidance:

    • DTA will contact SNAP households with a high SNAP balance by phone to determine if the client is aware of the balance, has access barriers or has had a change in circumstances affecting eligibility. Ops Memo 2014-8 (Feb 6, 2014)
    • DTA procedures for replacing a card within 5 days of request, or re-pinning an EBT card by mail. Ops Memo 2011-09 (Feb. 25, 2011)
    • USDA Guidance that states may not terminate benefits just because an EBT account is inactive for 90 days. State must allow household to continue through certification period, household entitled to benefits for up to a year (9 months in some states). See Food Stamp Stamp Provisions of the Farm Bill, Section 4114
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    83. What can I buy with SNAP benefits and where can I shop?

    You can use your SNAP to buy food at all stores that accept EBT including large and small grocery stories, convenience stores, farmer markets and participating CSA. You do not need to have a stove or other cooking facilities to get SNAP benefits. You can also buy seeds and vegetable or fruit plants to grow your own food.

    These are the things you cannot buy with SNAP:

    • Hot prepared foods to be eaten on the store premises or immediately (such as rotisserie chickens) or restaurant food
    • Non-food items such as pet food, vitamins, etc.
    • Paper goods, cleaning supplies etc.

    See 106 C.M.R. § 360.100.

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

    SNAP is a federal program that operates in every state. You are allowed to use your EBT card to purchase food out-of-state, and out of state SNAP participants can shop in Massachusetts.See Question 81. If you move out of state, you should tell DTA you moved. Your SNAP case will be closed, but you can reapply in the new state and qualify if you are still eligible.

    Advocacy Reminder:

    • Even though you cannot use SNAP for vitamins or medications, you may be able to claim these costs as a medical expense deduction if you  are an elder (60+) or person with disabilities. This can boost your SNAP benefit. See Question 70.

    Additional Guidance:

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

    To report a lost or stolen EBT card, call the Massachusetts EBT Customer Service at 1-800-997-2555. DTA will replace your card, but DTA will not replace any SNAP benefits that are stolen from your account. 106 C.M.R. § 364.900 (D). Once you report a lost or stolen card you can get a new PIN so benefits cannot be stolen from your account.

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

    $5 EBT replacement fee with exceptions:

    If you receive cash or SNAP benefits and you lose your EBT card, DTA may charge $5.00 for replacement of a replacement EBT card depending on the situation. DTA will deduct the $5.00 from your cash or SNAP benefits in your EBT account, you do not pay DTA directly.

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

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

    Multiple EBT replacement policy:

    Under DTA procedures, SNAP and cash (TAFDC or EAEDC) recipients that have received more than four replacement EBT cards within twelve months are now required to speak with a DTA worker to talk about the reasons for multiple requests and how the EBT card works.

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

    DTA Policy Guidance:

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

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

    Disaster SNAP Benefits:

    When the President of the United States or the Food and Nutrition Service declares a major disaster, families and individuals who live in the disaster area may be eligible for SNAP benefits as long as they meet special (higher) income limits. See Appendix B, Chart 5 . 106 C.M.R. §§ 366.600-366.620. These emergency SNAP benefits are called Disaster SNAP, or D-SNAP. The special benefits are provided to families who are not SNAP recipients at the time.

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

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

    Replacement SNAP Benefits:

    If you are a SNAP household, you may also qualify to get SNAP to replace food lost due to a fire, flood or power outage in your home or neighborhood.  This is food a) you bought with your SNAP benefits and b)  was destroyed or became unsafe to eat because of lack of refrigeration or water damage. DTA can issue replacement SNAP benefits up to the amount of one month’s SNAP benefits. 106 C.M.R. § 364.900(C).

    The rules also allow DTA to give you replacement SNAP if you lost electrical power (generally for four hours or more) and the food in your refrigerator or freezer has spoiled.

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

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

    The Food Research Action Center (FRAC)  publishes An Advocate’s Guide to the Disaster Food Stamp Program, available at: http://www.fns.usda.gov/disaster/disaster-snap-guidance.  See also USDA Disaster SNAP guidance for states: USDA Disaster Assistance, guidance to states: https://www.fns.usda.gov/disaster/d-snap-resources-state-agencies-and-partners.

    DTA Policy Guidance:

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

    Additional Guidance:

    • Updated procedures for household misfortune, loss of food due to fire, flood, loss of electricity, equipment (refrigerator/freezer) malfunction or other disaster.  OLG Transmittal #2015-5 (Jan 30, 2015)
    • Overview of DTA protocol regarding procedure for replacement SNAP and regarding third party verification. Ops Memo 2013-30 (Oct 24, 2013)
    • Sample DTA protocol on household misfortune benefits for victims of Hurricane Irene including 10 day time frame for requesting, additional 10 days for verification (same protocol for individual disasters). Ops Memo 2011-44 (Sept 1, 2011).
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    86. What if DTA makes a mistake and owes me money?

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

    ■    you report a drop in your income, the addition of a new member to your household, or higher shelter costs that reduce your countable income, or

    ■    you are entitled to higher deductions because you report a disability or turn age 60, or

    ■    the Social Security Administration took your application and made an error in the information it gave DTA.

    DTA must correct any under-issuance that happened during the 12 months before DTA first discovered or was told about the mistake. 106 C.M.R. § 366.520.  You can get back SNAP benefits even if you are not on benefits anymore. 106 C.M.R. §§ 366.500, 366.570.  For example, if you or an advocate discover a mistake after your benefits have ended, you can still ask DTA for the underpaid benefits.

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

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

    • Send a letter to DTA requesting the underpayment correction (keep a copy of this letter for yourself).
    • Call the DTA Assistance Line at 877- 382- 2363 and ask a DTA worker about your request for an underpayment.
    • If DTA is going to deny your request for an underpayment, they need to tell you in writing so that you have an opportunity to appeal. Under the SNAP regulations, 106 C.M.R. § 366.530, when restoring SNAP to a household the household must be told about the payment, including the amount it is giving you back, how it calculated the amount (including any amounts DTA keeps to offset benefits you may owe), and your right to appeal. DTA does not generally send this level of information. You should call the DTA Assistance Line to ask for this information.
    • You have a right to appeal any denial of a correction of an underpayment as well as appeal the amount DTA offers to pay you. You need to do this within 90 days of the date of notice from DTA. 106 C.M.R. § 366.530.  See Question 94. The DTA notice telling you about SNAP paid as a result of an underpayment may look like the one below. You can appeal this notice!

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

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

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

    DTA Policy Guidance:

    Online Guide Sections:  SNAP > Case Maintenance > Related Benefit  

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

     

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    SNAP Part V -- Proving Continuing Eligibility

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

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

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

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

    What happens at the end of my certification period?

    When your certification period ends, your SNAP will stop unless you reapply or “recertify” for benefits. About 45 days before the end of your certification period, DTA will send you a notice and a recertification form to fill out. 106 C.M.R. § 366.310.  The form will be pre-filled with most of the information DTA has about your household. You need to tell DTA if:

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

    When it is time to recertify:

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

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

    Getting continued SNAP benefits:

    If you complete the recertification process on time, DTA must make sure your benefits continue on the usual schedule without interruption. 106 C.M.R. § 366.330 (B). Remember that DTA should not ask for documents you have already given them.

    If you sent DTA your recertification and any necessary proofs on time and you do not get your SNAP benefits on time, check your case status with DTA, see Question 27; call the DTA Assistance Line to speak with a worker; and/or contact the DTA Ombudsman.See Question 26.

    Getting a closed case reopened:

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

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

    You do not have to start a new application. 106 C.M.R. § 361.700(B)(2).

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

    DTA Policy Guidance:

    Online Guide Sections: SNAP > Reporting Requirements/Recertifications 

    Additional Guidance:

    • Notice of Benefits Ending sent to household when SNAP automatically closes because recertification process started but not complete. OLG Transmittal 2015-26 (May 1, 2015).
    • Re-certification forms pre-filled with household member information, address, shelter costs, child care, medical expenses; no need for household to re-verify most eligibility factors or expenses that have not changed. Ops Memo 2012-55 (Dec 2012) and F.O. Memo 2010-03 (Jan. 19, 2010)
    • DTA required to close SNAP case if recert process not complete prior to closing date, even if household sends in timely recert form. F.O. Memo 2011-55A (Dec. 14, 2011)
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    88. Do I need to have an interview at recertification?

    Most households are required to be interviewed – by phone - by a SNAP worker when the benefits are recertified. 106 C.M.R. §§ 366.320(B), 366.330(A).  This is the same interview process done for initial application. See Question 9.

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

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

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

    DTA Policy Guidance:

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

    Additional Guidance:

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

    The majority of SNAP households are now on “Simplified Reporting” (sometimes called “Simplified Reporting). This means you do not have to report to DTA any changes in income or living situation except at specific intervals – when you are sent an Interim Report or a Recertification.

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

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

    IMPORTANT: At the time this Guide goes to print, nearly all SNAP households are on Simplified Reporting. Households receiving cash assistance and some elder/disabled households may still be on “change reporting.”

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

    Change reporting requirements for cash assistance households

    Reporting requirements are different for households that also get cash assistance from DTA (TAFDC or EAEDC). 106 C.M.R. § 366.110(A). If your household receives cash assistance (as of the time this Guide goes to print), you are not on simplified reporting.

    You are required to report the following changes within 10 days of the change:

    • Your earnings go up or down by more than $100 per month
    • Your unearned income goes up or down by more than $50 per month.  
    • You start or stop a job
    • You move and your rent, mortgage or utilities changed when you moved
    • Who lives with you changed (for example, someone moved in or out)
    • The legal obligation to pay child support (such as termination of the obligation)

    When you get the Interim Report (IR)

    DTA will send you the Interim Report (IR) 45 days before the middle of your certification period. So, if you are certified for 12 months – January through December, you should get this report by May 15th, which is 45 days before July 1st.  When you get the IR form, fill it out and send it back to DTA as quickly as possible so there aren’t any delays in your SNAP.

    The Interim Report (IR) includes the information DTA knows about your household. It has check boxes where you can check if there has been a change or if there has been no change to the information listed.

    If there has been a change, try to also send in verification of the change to make the process faster. You do not need an interview when you file the Interim report. A couple of things can happen next:

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

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

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

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

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

    Example:  Selina is a single mom with one child. She is certified for SNAP for 1 year and must report changes in January and July. She starts a second part time job in March earning $200/week. Her total monthly gross income from both jobs is $1,700 per month, below 200% FPL ($2,706) for her family size. Selina does not need to report the second job until her next Interim Report or Recertification.

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

    Summary of SNAP simplified reporting requirements

    Type of Certification

    Which households?

    What do I have to report and when?

    24 Month Certification Period

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

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

    12 Month Certification Period

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

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

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

    ABAWDs - 6 month Certification Period

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

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

    Bay State Cap – 36 Month Certification

    SSI recipients approved for Bay State CAP.

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

    Reporting changes even if not required

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

    On the other hand, if you report an increase in income or decrease in rent or other expenses, under current rules, DTA should not reduce your benefits during the interim reporting period unless your income exceeds the gross income level. Otherwise, your benefits will continue at the initial amount for the reporting period. 106 C.M.R. § 366.110(C)(5)(a)(1).

    Example: Suzyn and her 3 kids are certified for 12 months and on “interim” reporting.”  She is not required to report any changes on her SNAP case for the first five months after her application. The first month of her certification period, she was working 30 hours a week at a local day care center. The second month, her employer reduced her time to 20 hours a week. If Suzyn reports the drop in earnings, DTA will recalculate her SNAP benefits using her lower wages. Suzyn will get more benefits because she reported the change in income. Her benefits will stay at the higher level and, unless her income goes over the Gross Income level for her household, she is not required to report anything else until her next Interim Report or Recertification.

    Advocacy Reminders:

    • It’s always a good idea for a household to report changes in income or expenses that can increase in SNAP. Under the Simplified Reporting rules, DTA can lower or terminate your SNAP benefits ONLY when your income exceeds the gross income limit, or if they have received information from a data source that is “verified upon receipt”. If DTA closes your case or reduces your SNAP for other during the interim reporting periods for other reasons, contact an advocate.
    • For any households subject to an overpayment for failure to report a change in income or household status, be sure to check if the household was on or should have been on simplified/interim reporting. There is no overpayment for failure to report changes during the semi-annual period, unless the income exceeded the gross income limit.

    DTA Policy Guidance:

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

    Additional Guidance:

    • Further expansion of “simplified” or “interim reporting” for households previously on “change reporting”,   ABAWDs put in into 6-month interim reporting. OLG Transmittal #2016-05 (Jan. 4, 2016).
    • Expansion of simplified reporting to include elder/disabled households – these households in general moved into 24 month reporting with an Interim Report at 12 months. OLG Transmittal #2015-57 (Nov. 20, 2015).
    • When DTA receives returned mail for semi-annual reporting households, address is updated and household will need to verify at interim report or recertification. Case should not be closed. Ops Memo 2013-13A (March 28, 2013)
    • DTA will recalculate and possibly decrease of SNAP benefits when DTA obtains information considered “verified upon receipt.” Ops Memo 2013-41 (July 26, 2013)
    • DTA automated matching with Mass Lottery Commission, county prisons, Mass Dept. of Corrections and DPH/SSA/US Dept. of Commerce for death matches. Ops Memo 2013-27 (June 14, 2013)
    • DTA will reopen SNAP benefits if missing verifications received within 30 day period after case closed as long as interim report received timely. If interim report was late, interim report becomes new SNAP application and benefits prorated. Transitions Hotline Q &A (March 2012)
    • If household reports loss of income or increased expenses during semi-annual period, DTA must act to increase SNAP even before report due. Transitions Hotline Q & A (Aug. 2011)
    • New verifications are not required if no changes reported in household expenses at Simplified Reporting time. If a change in expenses (shelter, medical) is reported without documentation, the expense will be zeroed out in the calculations. F.O. Memo 2010-55 (Nov. 23, 2010), Transitions Hotline Q&A (Nov. 2005)
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    90. Can DTA change my SNAP if they receive other information?

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

    Examples include when:

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

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

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

    DTA Policy Guidance:

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

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

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

    Example: Aisha receives $433 monthly in TAFDC for herself and her two children, plus $300 in Social Security Survivors Benefits. They have no deductions other than the standard deduction. Their SNAP benefits are $338 a month. Aisha starts working at a job that pays $800 a month and asks DTA to close her TAFDC case. Under TBA, DTA recalculates Aisha’s benefits counting only the $300/month in Social Security Survivors Benefits. DTA excludes the terminated TAFDC income and excludes the new income from her new job. Their benefits will be $468 a month for five months.

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

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

    Unless you reapply for TAFDC during the 5 month TBA period or report changes that would increase your benefit, DTA should not decrease or close your TBA. If DTA stops your TBA because you reported an increase in income contact Legal Services right away.

    Additional Guidance:

    • For a list of the TAFDC case closing reasons which result in TBA benefits, see BEACON User’s Guide Appendix B and Transitions Hotline Q&A (June 2006).
    • Households that report a change during the TBA period that triggers an increase in benefits will be approved for the higher amount and put on a regular certification period. The household is no longer a TBA household. Transitions Hotline Q&A (March 2005).
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    92. How soon should DTA increase my benefits if I report loss of income or a new household member?

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

    You will need to give DTA proofs of your new income, higher medical expenses or child support paid out, information on the new member (a spouse, new baby, etc.). If your shelter costs change, you do not need to verify that information unless DTA determines it is questionable.

    You may be eligible for supplemental SNAP benefits in addition to increasing your ongoing benefit amount in the future. If your net countable income after deductions drops to zero, you are eligible for supplemental SNAP in the same month you report the change. 106 C.M.R. § 366.120(A)(1).

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

    If your TAFDC stops, see Question 91.

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

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

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

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

    Remember, most cases in Massachusetts are on simplified reporting and are not required to report changes if their income does not go over a certain amount. See Question 89.

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    SNAP Part VI -- Appeal Rights

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

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

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

    Denials

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

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

    See 106 C.M.R. § 343.230.

    Cuts or Terminations

    In most situations, DTA must give you at least 10 days advance notice before your benefits are stopped or reduced. You can ask for a hearing if your benefits are stopped or reduced. See Question 97 on whether you can keep your benefits while you are waiting for a hearing decision. 106 C.M.R. §§ 343.230, 367.300. You can also reapply while you are waiting for a hearing.

    Worker Bad Conduct

    • You can ask for a hearing if a DTA worker threatens you, makes unreasonable demands that do not follow the rules, violates your privacy, or does not treat you with dignity and respect. 106 C.M.R. § 343.235. You have 120 days to file an appeal from the date of the incident where you allege worker misconduct. 106 C.M.R. § 343.140.
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    95. If I have the proofs DTA wanted, should I still ask for a hearing?

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

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

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

    Canceling the hearing if DTA fixes my case

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

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

    Bringing missing proofs to the hearing

     You have a right to bring any documents to the hearing that you think will help your case. This includes documents you were late in giving DTA. 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 the necessary adjustments to your benefits.

    If the missing proofs were needed for your SNAP application, the hearing office must take evidence. The hearings officer should look at the documents under the “de novo” (look anew) rule. The SNAP eligibility date should be the date all eligibility conditions were met regardless of when the evidence was submitted.

    If the missing proofs were needed as part of your Recertification, or proof needed because you reported a change, the hearing officer will only approve your benefits as of the date the documents were submitted.  But the hearings officer should approve SNAP benefits back to the date the case was closed if her or she decides DTA was at fault.

    Examples of when DTA is at fault include:

    • You timely sent DTA documents that they did not look at,
    • DTA asked you for documents not required,
    • DTA failed to send you a notice requesting the missing proofs, failed to give you enough time or failed to offer assistance when you asked for help.  

    If the hearings officer agrees that the delay was DTA’s fault, the hearing officer approve your SNAP back to the date you were eligible. 106 C.M.R. § 343.500(A). This “de novo” rule was changed slightly in January 2017. Contact a legal advocate if you believe you were wrongly denied retroactive benefits.

    Additional Guidance:

    • Policy changed to allow oral or written withdrawal of appeal request. Ops Memo 2013-60 (Dec 5 2013).
    • Case denied for failure to provide verification must be reopened if verification received within 60 days of date of initial application. Second application is not required. F.O. Memo 2006-20 (April 21, 2006)
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    96. Can I fix problems without going to a hearing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Discrimination complaints

    If you believe you have been discriminated against based on your race, gender, national origin, disability, age, religious creed, national origin, or political beliefs, you have a right to file a complaint with:

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

    Director of Equal Opportunity
    Department of Transitional Assistance
    600 Washington Street,
    Boston, MA 02111

    106 C.M.R. §§ 360.200-360.220. You need to include your name, address, and phone number as well as information on what happened (date, office, name of person you interacted with, whatever you know). You need to file this complaint within 180 days of the incident.

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

    Advocacy Reminders:

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

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

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

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

    Keeping your benefits while waiting for a hearing

    If your benefits are being cut off or reduced, you can keep your benefits while you are waiting for a hearing decision by making sure that the Division of Hearings timely receives your fair hearing (appeal) request. Getting benefits while you are waiting for the hearing decision is called “aid pending appeal.”

    If you get the Division of Hearings your appeal request either before the effective date of the action OR within 10 days of the date on the notice (whichever is later) then you should be considered to have “appealed timely.” If you appeal timely, your SNAP benefits will continue until the hearing officer makes a decision or until your certification period ends, whichever is first. 106 C.M.R. § 343.250, 106 C.M.R. §§ 366.220, 367.275. DTA can recover benefits you got while you were waiting for a hearing if you lose. 106 C.M.R. § 343.250(C). See Part 7 for information about overpayments.

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

    Example: Judy's SNAP is put on her EBT card on the 11th of each month. She is certified for one year. She gets a notice from DTA dated January 25 that says her SNAP benefits will be terminated on February 10 (the day before her next benefits are due). Judy disagrees with this decision and decides to appeal. The Division of Hearings must receive her appeal request by February 9, the day before the termination is to take place, for Judy to continue to get SNAP while waiting for the hearing to happen and for the hearing officer to make a decision. But, if her certification period ends while she is waiting for a decision her SNAP will stop. She can still request a hearing after February 9 (until April 25) but her benefits will not continue while she is waiting for the hearing decision. But, she can reapply for SNAP!

    Advocacy Reminders:

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

    You can ask for a hearing by

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Next steps after you file an appeal request

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

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

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

    Rescheduling the hearing

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

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

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    99. How should I present my case at the hearing?

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

    • Try to get a legal advocate to represent you at the hearing or give you advice about representing yourself. 106 C.M.R. § 343.150. See Appendix E for a list of legal services offices. You can also bring a friend or relative for support. 106 C.M.R. § 367.350.
    • DTA should schedule you for a face-to-face hearing unless you prefer a telephone hearing. For most people, a face-to-face hearing is better. It is easier to understand what is happening at a face-to-face hearing, easier to handle documents, and easier for the hearing officer to determine who is telling the truth.
    • Bring any proof you have. This can include proof you did not have before or never sent to DTA. 106 C.M.R. §§ 343.410, 343.500(A), 367.400(F). You or your advocate can ask DTA to send you papers and information from your file before the hearing. 106 C.M.R. § 343.340. If your hearing is being conducted by telephone or video, you should insist on an opportunity to fax any follow up documents to the hearing officer.
    • You can bring witnesses. You can also get a paper ordering a witness to come to your hearing; this paper is called a “subpoena.” 106 C.M.R. § 343.360. Talk with a legal advocate about how to do this.

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

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

    Advocacy Reminders:

    • DTA regulations allow DTA to schedule your hearing by telephone 106 C.M.R. § 343.120, but it is current DTA policy not to schedule a telephone hearing unless you ask for one. If DTA schedules you for a telephone and you want a face-to-face hearing, call the Division of Hearings right away (617-348-5321 or 800-882-2017) and say you want a face-to-face hearing. If DTA won’t give you a face-to-face hearing, be sure to say on the record at the hearing that you want a face-to-face hearing.
    • The hearing officer must take evidence and decide the issues “de novo” (anew) based on what is presented at the hearing. For applications, the eligibility date is the date all eligibility conditions were met regardless of when the evidence was submitted. See Question 95.
    • If you think the interpreter is not interpreting correctly, object to the hearing and ask for a different interpreter. See Question 21.

    DTA Guidance:

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

     

     

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

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

    If you win, you should get any benefits DTA owes you within 30 days of the decision.  If your SNAP is supposed to go up because of the hearing decision, DTA must include the increase either within 10 days or in your next regular payment (depending on the date you asked for a hearing).106 C.M.R. § 367.450(A). DTA must also give you any SNAP benefits you missed while you were waiting for your hearing decision because your SNAP case was denied or your SNAP amount was too low. 106 C.M.R. § 366.500.

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

    If you lose the fair hearing, DTA may ask you to repay SNAP benefits you got while you were waiting for a hearing decision. See Question 101. If you are no longer receiving benefits, DTA cannot recover SNAP benefits by reducing your cash assistance benefits, but DTA may be able to pay itself back by attaching your wages or other income. See Question 108 and 109.

    Advocacy Reminders:

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

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

    If you get more SNAP benefits than you are eligible for, DTA can recover the overpayment. 106 C.M.R. § 367.490. An overpayment can happen because DTA made a mistake, you made a mistake, or because you got SNAP benefits while you were waiting for a hearing and you then lost the hearing. These mistakes are considered Unintentional Program Violations (UPVs) or Agency Errors (AE). 106 C.M.R. § 367.495. See Question 102. The overpayments include 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.

    If DTA thinks the overpayment happened because you committed an intentional program violation (IPV) or fraud, see Question 103.

    If you have an overpayment, but are no longer receiving SNAP benefits, DTA will not try to recover a UPV or AE overpayment unless it is $125 or more. 106 C.M.R. § 364.870.  If you are receiving SNAP, DTA will try to recover the overpayment from your ongoing SNAP benefits. See Questions 108 and 109.

    How does DTA calculate the amount of the overpayment?

    For an overpayment that happened by mistake, DTA calculates the difference between what you got and what you should have received in SNAP.  So, for UPV and Agency Error overpayments, DTA should include all applicable income deductions (20% earned income, child care, shelter costs, medical expenses, etc.) in determining the amount of overpayment. 106 C.M.R. § 367.495(D).  For IPV (fraud) errors, the SNAP rules do not allow DTA to use the 20% earnings deduction from earned income.

    For all overpayments, the first month of an overpayment is the month the change would have been effective if it had been reported by you timely, or acted on by DTA timely. 106 C.M.R. §§ 367.495(D), 367.500(A).

    Federal regulations also require DTA to calculate the amount of an overpayment by doing a month to month calculation – not by averaging out an amount of income over the period of the overpayment. 7 C.F.R. 273.18(c)(ii)(A).

    Example: Jane Smith started a job in mid-June. She was not sure the job would last when she filled out her Interim Report a week later, because her employer told her the job was just for two weeks as a fill-in for a sick employee.  As it turns out, Jane’s job continued for 4 more months and he increased her hours. Jane was paid $4,250 over the months she worked – about $200 in June, $500 in July, $1,000 in August, $2,050 in August (she worked over time) and $500 early September. Jane called DTA the end of August when her income exceeded the gross income test. She explained what happened – that she thought the job was temporary when she filled out the form) and reapplied. DTA agreed with Jane this was an unintentional program violation (UPV) but she was still overpaid DTA should not average the $4,250 over the 4 months (at $1,000/month). Jane was not overpaid in June (because DTA would not have acted on the income until July).  She was still eligible for some SNAP in July and September but over the gross income test August.  Each month overpayment should be calculated separately.

    What if DTA expunged benefits or owes you SNAP

    DTA should reduce the amount of an overpayment by any amount of SNAP they know has been expunged (taken away due to lack of use for over 365 days). 7 C.F.R. 273.18(c)(ii)(C).  DTA should also reduce the overpayment by any underpayment of SNAP benefits that DTA owes you. 106 C.M.R. §§ 366.550. 366.560 Contact a legal advocate if you are worried DTA did not do this when calculating your overpayment.

    Advocacy Reminders:

    • If DTA says you were overpaid, you can appeal. See Question 94. You can also ask DTA to send you a copy of the overpayment packet (overpayment information) in your case. If you think DTA made a mistake in the overpayment amount you should tell them.
    • There is no overpayment if you did not report a change that you were not required to report or would not matter. For example if you were on Simplified Reporting and you did not report an increase in income in between Interim Reports, there is NO overpayment unless the increase put your household over the gross income limit. See Question 89.  There is also NO overpayment if you did not report information that would not have affected your SNAP. For example, if your 16 year old high school student started working or you started to get Work Study – this income is considered non-countable.  See Question 60

    DTA Policy Guidance:

    Online Guide Sections: Home > Cross Programs > Overpayment and Recovery

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

    Usually yes. Even if the overpayment happened because you or DTA mistake, DTA will try to recover overpayment unless you meet certain exceptions. 106 C.M.R. § 367.495(E)

    But DTA does not seek recovery when:

    • More than 12 months have passed since DTA discovered the overpayment,
    • The overpayment is less than $125 and you are not a current recipient,

    In most other cases, DTA will try to recover the overpayment – even though you did not commit fraud or even if it was DTA’s fault.  If you are currently receiving SNAP, DTA can deduction a portion of your SNAP to repay the overpayment, or they can reduce the claim.  See Question 108.

    However, DTA has the authority to reduce the claim to the amount that can be recovered in three (3) years.  This is called “compromising the claim.” 106 C.M.R. § 367.495(F).  DTA also has the authority to waive the entire claim under certain circumstances. 7 C.F.R. § 271.4(b), 7 C.F.R. 273.18(e)(7).  For example, if pursuing a claim (especially an agency error or UPV) would cause severe economic hardship to you, or it would be costly for DTA to pursue the claim.

    If you are not currently receiving SNAP, DTA can also waive or suspend collection if your household is not currently receiving SNAP and DTA determines that the cost of collection will be more than DTA is likely to recover or would be unfair. 106 C.M.R. § 367.495(H). You have the option to ask DTA to compromise your claim if you cannot pay it without hardship.  Contact Legal Services if you need help trying to compromise a SNAP overpayment.

    DTA Policy Guidance:

    Online Guide Sections: Home > Cross Programs > Overpayment and Recovery > Unintentional Program Violations

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    103. What if DTA says I committed fraud or an “IPV”?

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

    How is the intentional overpayment calculated?

    For an overpayment that was due to purposely misleading DTA  (intentional program violation), DTA calculates the difference between what you got and what you should have gotten after allowing all applicable deductions, but you will not get the 20% earned income deduction off your earned income. 106 C.M.R. § 367.500(A).

    The first month of an overpayment is the month the change would have been effective if it had been reported on time. 106 C.M.R. §§ 367.495(D), 367.500(A).

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

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    104. What is DTA required to do to show I committed fraud?

    DTA must give you written notice of the SNAP intentional program violation (IPV) penalties each time you apply. The notice must be in English, Spanish or other languages spoken by 100 or more households in the area served by the DTA office. 106 C.M.R. § 367.550. Question 21.

    To establish an IPV, DTA has to prove that you knew the SNAP rules and your responsibilities and that you purposely violated the rules. DTA must prove with “clear and convincing evidence” that you “willfully, knowingly and with deceitful intent committed an IPV.” 106 C.M.R. § 367.750. Simple unintentional mistakes or misunderstandings between you and your worker that result in an overpayment are not IPVs. In calculating the amount of the overpayment, DTA must give you all the deductions (shelter, child care) 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. The following are examples from hearing decision findings that DTA did not meet its burden to prove the SNAP household willfully and intentionally committed an IPV or fraud:

    • DTA failed to give written notice about reporting requirements in the household’s own language as required under DTA’s obligations to serve limited English proficient households;
    • The household reported a change to the DTA office, but the DTA office failed to correctly record the change or process the documents;
    • DTA relied on information from a data match that was not accurate;
    • The head of household had a mental health impairment which prevented him or her from willfully and knowingly acting to defraud DTA. A statement from a health provider, such as a psychologist, may be useful in showing that the individual did not act knowingly or willfully.
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    105. When can my benefits be stopped for an IPV or fraud?

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

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

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

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

    Example:  A hearings officer found that Rachel committed an IPV on July15, 2014 and disqualified her for 12 months. DTA then sent her a notice of the disqualification on July 17th. Rachel was not getting SNAP at the time of the IPV disqualification. Her 12 months start August 2016. She can reapply in September of 2017.  If Rachel has another family member, such as a child, she can still get SNAP for that child during the disqualification period, even though she is ineligible.

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

    Advocacy Reminders:

    • An IPV is a very serious matter. Contact legal services right away if you get notice of an IPV. See Appendix E.
    • DTA can stop SNAP benefits only for the person who committed the intentional program violation. The IPV disqualification does not affect children or other people who are in the same household with the person who committed the IPV. 106 C.M.R. § 367.800(F).
    • If you received SNAP in another state and you were found to have committed an IPV in that state, DTA can continue that disqualification in Massachusetts.  The length of the disqualification period starts with the date you were notified of the original IPV. 

    Example: Philip was disqualified from SNAP in Montana on January 2017 for 1 year. His SNAP disqualification ends January 2018, even if moved to Massachusetts in March of 2017.

    Additional Guidance:

    • Description of the “electronic disqualified recipient system” or eDRS under USDA to track individuals under IPV SNAP sanctions in other states. Households have the right to dispute the e-DRS finding and confirms an IPV disqualification does not affect other household members not disqualified (e.g. children). Ops Memo 2013-39A, August 26, 2013
    • Individuals in SNAP households subject to an IPV or other sanction should receive notice from DTA of when the sanction period ends and be re-evaluated for benefits with the rest of the household. Transitions FYI (Sept. 2005).
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    106. What should I do if contacted by the Bureau of Special Investigations?

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

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

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

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

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    107. Can I go to jail? Will I have a criminal record?

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

    If you plead guilty or you are found guilty, you will probably not have to go to jail, but the criminal record may make it harder for you to get a job, get credit, or get housing. A criminal record may also cause immigration problems. You may have to pay back the money the court decides you owe. Sometimes the court will delay a final decision as long as you pay back the money according to the schedule set by the court. This is called “continued without a finding.” Be careful not to agree to a repayment schedule you will not be able to keep.

    The federal SNAP rules permit you to ask the court to let you pay back the money through public service. 7 C.F.R. § 273.18(g)(7). If you pay the money back or pay the claim through public service, you may be able to get the case dismissed so you don’t have a criminal record.

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

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

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

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

    Before reducing your benefits, DTA’s Recoveries Unit will send you a letter telling you about the overpayment and asking you to the pay the claim. They may try to get you to sign a voluntary repayment agreement. You do not have to pay or sign an agreement to pay more than DTA could recover by automatically recouping some of your SNAP.

    You have the right to advance notice and an opportunity for a hearing before your benefits are reduced. 106 C.M.R. §§ 364.870, 364.880, 366.200. DTA may say you cannot challenge the overpayment at this point, so if you think the overpayment did not happen or the amount is not correct, you should request a hearing when you first get notice of the overpayment and should not wait to receive notice of the reduction before asking for a hearing. You have 90 days from date of the DTA action to request a fair hearing. See Question 94. A fair hearing request should stop collection of the overpayment until the hearing officer makes a decision. 7 C.F.R. § 273.18(e)(6). Contact an advocate if DTA tries to collect the overpayment while your hearing request is pending.

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

    Advocacy Reminders:

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

    Additional Guidance:

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

    DTA has several ways of collecting overpayments from former SNAP and cash recipients. But, if you file for a hearing because you do not agree with the amount of the overpayment, or disagree you were overpaid at all, DTA should suspend collection activities. 106 C.M.R. § 367.495(H)

    Voluntary repayment agreement

    If you are no longer receiving SNAP benefits, the DTA Recoveries Unit may ask you to sign a voluntary repayment agreement to pay a certain amount of money each month, by sending them a regular payment.  You do not have to agree to this.

    Credit Collection

    DTA can also turn over the debt to a collection agency, which may add an additional collection fee on top of what you owe. A collection agency is not permitted under state law to harass you, and cannot threaten to take the first $500 per week you earn in gross wages. And a collection agency can only take money from your bank account if you have more than $2,500 in the account, and they can only take the excess above $2,500. For additional protections, see G.L. c. 235, § 34; 940 C.M.R. § 7.07(18).

    Recovery from certain federal benefits

    If you do not agree to a voluntary repayment, DTA has the power to refer your claim to the U.S. Treasury. The U.S. Treasury can take money from your Social Security benefits (if you receive any) or from other federal benefits payable to you. If you are a federal government employee, they can collect from federal earnings you receive. See 7 C.F.R. § 273.18(n) and 106 C.M.R. § 367.510(E). They can also intercept a federal tax refund, see below.

    However, if you receive SSI, TAFDC, EAEDC, Veterans’ Services, or other needs-based cash benefits, these benefits cannot be reduced to repay SNAP overpayments.  Federal rules say that DTA can intercept your unemployment compensation only if you agree or if a court orders interception. 7 C.F.R. § 273.18(g)(6).

    In addition, the SNAP rules say DTA can file a civil court action to intercept (take money) from your unemployment compensation, your wages, or use other “reasonable” means to collect an overpayment. 106 C.M.R. § 367.510.  A criminal court can order you to pay back the SNAP benefits you received if it finds you committed welfare fraud.

    Tax Offset Program (TOP)

    Under federal and state SNAP rules, DTA can use the “Tax Offset Program” and keep your federal tax refund if you owe the government money.  7 C.F.R. § 273.18(n) and 106 C.M.R. § 367.510(E)  If you have a repayment plan with DTA, and you are making repayments, DTA should not intercept your tax refund. However, if you miss payments, DTA may intercept your tax refund or take additional action to collect money.

    Advocacy Reminders:

     

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    SNAP Appendices

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    Appendix A: SNAP Worksheet

    Appendix A: SNAP Worksheet

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    Appendix B: Income and Benefits Standards

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    Appendix D: Cash and SNAP Benefits for Noncitizen Households

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    Appendix E: Legal Services Offices

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