SNAP Part IV -- Getting and Using SNAP Benefits

Getting and using SNAP Benefits.

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87. 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

$355

3

$509

4

$646

5

$768

6

$921

7

$1,018

 

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: Sam and his family have $1,000 in net income after allowable income and shelter deductions. To determine the family’s SNAP benefits, take 30% of the “net income” (30% of $1,000) and subtract it from the maximum benefit, as follows:

 $ 1000 Net Income for Sam’s family
 x .30 (Multiply by 30%)
$ 300 Countable Income
$ 509 Maximum SNAP for 3 persons
-$300 Countable income (round up)
 $ 209 Monthly SNAP benefits for the Sam’s family

First month of 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 “pro-rates” 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.

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 21.

"$0 Benefit" Households

Some SNAP households get very confusing DTA notices when they are under the gross income limits but qualify for $0 in SNAP benefits. The DTA notices say:

“Because your countable income is over the limit for your household size, you are not eligible for SNAP benefits at this time. We will keep your case open until DATE in case there is a change in your household's circumstances that qualifies you for benefits.”

This happens to households of 3 or more persons with income below 200% poverty level, where 30% of the household’s net income is greater than the maximum benefit amount. 106 C.M.R. §§ 364.600(A), 365.180(G)(3). If you report any changes during your certification period that make you eligible, you do not need to file a new SNAP application and have an interview. You only have to verify the change (eg. the drop in income, increased expense, a new baby or other household member) that makes you now SNAP eligible

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

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88. 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

4

-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” (also called your cyclical 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.   

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.

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89. 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 receive Social Security for a total of $2,050/month unearned income. The Smith’s pay shelter costs of $1,000 per month plus heat and utilities. The couple has not claimed any medical expenses and receives just $20/month in SNAP as a “minimum” benefit. If the Smiths verified medical expenses of at least $36/month, their SNAP would increase to $71/month. If they verified over $190/month, their SNAP would increase even more.

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90. What is an EBT card, how do I use SNAP benefits, and where can I shop?

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.

Getting an EBT card and PIN

Unless you apply in person, the EBT card is usually mailed to you. There are no benefits on your EBT card until your case is approved.

DTA should make sure you have an EBT card in hand by the day your case is approved – either by 7 days from the date of your application, if you are eligible for expedited SNAP, or by 30 days from the date of your application.

Important EBT card tips:

  • You will get 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
  • 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.

  • 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 through DTA Connect, 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 33 reguarding Photo EBT.
  • Tell the clerk how much SNAP you want to use to pay for your food, or enter the amount yourself. If there is not enough EBT on your card, the clerk should tell you how much 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.
  • 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 left on your card after your case closes, and use the same card if you reapply in the future. See Question 93.
  • If you reapply and don’t have your card any more, or your card is defective (for example, the magnetic strip does not work), DTA should issue you a new EBT card. DTA should not charge you a card replacement fee if you have been off of SNAP benefits for over a year or you meet other fee exception rules. See Question 95.

Where to get help with your EBT card:

Call Massachusetts EBT customer service at 1-800-997-2555 when:

  • you have questions or problems using your card or secret PIN,
  • your EBT card is lost or stolen or does not work (report this right away and then DTA will replace the card),
  • you want to find out your SNAP account balance,
  • who want 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 EBT card, see Question 95.

Where to use your SNAP on your EBT card

You can use your SNAP to buy food at all stores that accept EBT including large and small grocery stories, convenience stores. See Question 91 about the Healthy Incentives Program (HIP) at farmers markets, CSAs and other locations. 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.

You cannot buy the following items 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 or vitamins, and
  • Paper goods, cleaning supplies, and similar items.

SNAP rules on food purchase restrictions: 106 C.M.R. §360.100

Prepared meals

You are allowed to donate some of your SNAP benefit for prepared hot meals at certain locations including domestic violence and homeless shelters, congregate meal sites for elders or home-delivered meals for seniors. However, the agencies can only accept voluntary EBT donations and should not accept more than $2/meal. It also depends on whether the agency serving the meals is an approved EBT vendor (with equipment to accept SNAP). 106 C.M.R. §360.120.

Overcharges/mistakes by EBT grocers

Sometimes the store will make a mistake by overcharging your EBT account, even though you did not get all of 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.

Advocacy Reminder:

  • Even though you cannot use SNAP for vitamins or medications, you may be able to boost your SNAP by claiming these costs as a medical expense if you are a senior (60+) or person with disabilities. See Question 80.

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

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91. What is the Healthy Incentives Program (HIP) at farmers markets?

Massachusetts started the Healthy Incentives Program or “HIP’ to help SNAP recipients buy fresh local fruits and vegetables from participating Massachusetts farmers. HIP is a state-funded additional nutrition benefit and is available on a seasonal basis depending on the amount of state appropriations. As this book goes to print in January 2019, HIP is still available at winter farmers markets!

HIP matches SNAP recipients’ purchases of local fruits and vegetables at farmers markets, farm stands, mobile markets and CSA (community sustained agriculture) farm share programs. HIP helps thousands of families afford fresh, healthy, local food.

How does HIP qoek? If you make purchases of fresh fruits and vegetables with participating farmers (HIP retailers), you get $1 for $1 of SNAP benefits right back on your EBT card, up to the amount listed below:

  • $40/month for households of 1-2 people
  • $60/month for households of 3-5;
  • and $80/month for households of 6 or more

Even if you receive only $15 in monthly SNAP benefits as a 1 or 2 person household, you can still get $40/month in HIP benefits.

For example, if you spend $10 on vegetables, you immediately get $10 back in SNAP. If then spend $20 with an eligible farmer, you get another $20. You can spend SNAP with HIP retailers as often as you want until you’ve earned the full amount of monthly HIP.  

For more information about HIP and a list of participating farmers markets, farm stands, mobile markets and CSAs:

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92. 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 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 the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute (vnegus@mlri.org)

Contrary to federal SNAP rules, DTA has a policy of requiring certain SNAP households to re-prove MA residency when they shop out of state. 7 C.F.R. § 273.12(c)(3). 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.

If you receive a DTA letter saying you have to reprove your MA residency because you used your SNAP out of state, or DTA ends your SNAP for this reason, contact the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute (vnegus@mlri.org)

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93. 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 may 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 for a number of months. 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. You are not required to spend retroactive payments right away!

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.

Getting help to use your EBT card

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 95. A high EBT balance or idle EBT account is not a sign of fraud!

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.
  • 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.

​DTA Online Guide: Cross Programs > EBT > Unaccessed EBT Benefits

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94. What is I was getting SNAP in another state or DTA says I am part of another SNAP household?

SNAP in other states

You cannot get 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). If you learn you are listed as a member of a SNAP case in another state, and you are not living with that household report it to DTA.

If you were getting SNAP in a different state and you move to Massachusetts, make sure you tell the state you left to close your case. If you have proof your SNAP was closed in the other state (such as a notice), give that proof to DTA. When you tell DTA you left another state, they may ask you for a notice or other proof of termination of your SNAP benefits in that state. This proof can be very difficult or impossible to get. If you need help, DTA should do a collateral contact” with the other state to verify that your benefits are closed.

DTA should approve your SNAP for a date that does not overlap with when you last got SNAP in the other state.

Example: Maria moves to Massachusetts from Maine in August. She asks Maine to close her SNAP. Maine closes her SNAP effective September 1. She applies for SNAP in Massachusetts on August 15. DTA calls Maine to confirm that her case was closed, and approves her SNAP going back to September 1. DTA cannot approve her case going back to August 15 because of the duplicate issuance rules.

Your SNAP in Massachusetts should not be delayed because you cannot get proof from the other state and the other state is not responsive to DTA. DTA should make the request to the other state and then approve your case.

DTA routinely gets information from other states to check that SNAP households are not getting SNAP in multiple states. It is important to tell DTA if you were getting SNAP in another state, especially if you need help closing your case in the other state. If DTA does not help you and/or your SNAP in Massachusetts is delayed because of issues with your SNAP case in another state, contact MLRI.

If you move out of a household and need your own SNAP

In general, DTA cannot issue duplicate benefits. That means DTA needs to remove you from the SNAP case you were on if when you apply for your own SNAP. If you were living in a household where someone was getting SNAP for you, and you leave the household, ask the household to report to DTA that you have left. If that is not an option (for example, because you left a dangerous situation or are not on good terms with the family you left) DTA should accept your proof of where you are living now, remove you from the SNAP household you are no longer a part of, and approve your own SNAP benefits.

If you moved because of a domestic violence situation, DTA should never ask you to get proof from the state or household you fled. Contact a DTA Domestic Violence specialist for help. See Question 32.

As of the writing of this Guide, DTA does not have clear guidance on how SNAP workers should handle many types of duplicate issuance cases. Contact an MLRI if DTA refuses to give you SNAP or delays your SNAP because of a “duplicate issuance” issue.

DTA Online Guide: SNAP > Benefit Eff. Dates from Other States > Benefit Eff Dates from Other States

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95. 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). Someone who steals your card can only use your SNAP if they know the PIN. Do not write your PIN on the card and keep it a secret! Once you report a lost or stolen card you can get a new PIN.

You can also call the DTA Assistance Line at 1-877-382-2363 and follow the prompts to ask for a replacement EBT card.

If you ask for a new card by phone, it can take 7-10 days to show up in the mail. You can also go directly to your local DTA office to pick up a new card that day. 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.

DTA surcharge on EBT replacement cards

If you get cash or SNAP benefits and you lose your EBT card, DTA may charge $5.00 for replacement of the 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 for a replacement EBT card if:

  • the EBT card was lost in the mail and you never used 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,
  • you need a disability accommodation
  • your name or SSN changed
  • you become exempt from the photo EBT rule and request a replacement card without a photo (see Question 33), or
  • you meet other good cause exceptions.

When you need to meet with DTA to get EBT replacement card

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.

Some clients who request more than four replacement cards within 12 months will be told they have to have an in-person appointment with a case manager or a fraud investigator. If this happens and it is a hardship for you, contact a Supervisor, the DTA Ombuds, or an advocate.

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 Legal Services.

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

Additional Guidance:  Protocol for EBT replacement pilot when client requests more than 4 cards in a 12 month period. OLG Transmittal 2016-67, 2017-9, and 2017-53

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96. 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

DTA can also give help you replace food lost due to a fire, flood or power outage - food that you bought with your SNAP benefits. If your food was destroyed or became unsafe to eat because of lack of refrigeration you can ask for replacement SNAP benefits. If the loss is due to a power outage, the outage must have lasted for 4 hours or more. You may get up to the amount of one month’s SNAP benefits. 106 C.M.R. § 364.900(C).

You need to report the loss of food to DTA within 10 days of when the food was destroyed or you threw it out. You can do this verbally or in writing. Within the next 10 days, you also need to sign a sworn statement about the destruction of the food purchased with SNAP. See DTA “Request for Replacement SNAP Benefits Due to Household Disaster or Misfortune” form in Appendix C.

DTA may get information on the outage through the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) or may make a "collateral contact" to verify the power loss or misfortune that caused the loss of food. For example, DTA may contact the Red Cross, fire department, power company, or landlord. DTA is responsible for helping verifying your report.

More information

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

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97. 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.” 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 SNAP application and made an error in the information it gave DTA.

Also, if you report a change that reduces your net income to $0, DTA should issue you a supplement for that month in addition to increasing your SNAP moving forward. 106 CMR 366.120(A).

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, you can take the following steps:

  • Send a letter to DTA requesting an underpayment correction. (keep a copy of this letter).
  • Call the DTA Assistance Line at 877- 382- 2363 and ask a DTA worker about your request for an underpayment.

If DTA approves your request for an underpayment, they will issue you the underpayment as a "related benefit." The SNAP regulations require DTA to tell you the amount of the underpayment they will be giving you, how they calculated the amount (including any amounts DTA keeps to offset benefits you may owe), and your right to an appeal. 106 C.M.R. § 366.530.  DTA notices issuing an underpayment are called a “Related Benefit Notice” and do not include this level of information. You should call the DTA Assistance Line to ask for this information.

If DTA denies your request for an under payment, they msut send you a written notice. If they do not send you a written notice, you can ask for one.

You have a right to appeal any denial of a correction of an underpayment as well as appeal the amount DTA pays you. You have 90 days from the date of the underpayment denial notice from DTA to appeal. 106 C.M.R. § 366.530, 106 C.M.R. §367.100.  See Question 107.

DTA can offset any overpayments on your case with the amount of an underpayment. DTA cannot offset an overpayment with a related benefit that is applied to your case as a result of a change you report (for example, a supplemental payment for the current month). They can only offset an overpayment with SNAP that is issued to correct a past under issuance. If DTA takes a related SNAP benefit and applies it towards an overpayment, contact MLRI.

DTA Online Guide Sections: SNAP > Case Maintenance > Related Benefit  

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