The Online Resource for Massachusetts Poverty Law Advocates

4. What is the EA income limit?

For applicants. To be eligible for Emergency Assistance as an applicant, your family's gross monthly income must be below 115% of the federal poverty limit for your family size. The federal government usually increases the amount slightly in January or February each year. As of January 2018, the EA eligibility standards for applicants were:

Household Size

EA Eligibility Standard

1

$1,163

2

$1,577

3

$1,991

4

$2,405

5

$2,819

6

$3,233

7

$3,647

8

$4,061

Each additional household member

$414

The 2018 eligibility guidelines can be found in Housing Stabilization Notice 2018-01, available at https://www.mass.gov/files/documents/2018/08/06/DHS%20Notice%20on%202018.pdf.

 

Remember: These limits usually change each January or February so be sure you are using the most recent numbers. You can check for updates at https://www.mass.gov/service-details/housing-stabilization-notices

If you are working, DHCD usually asks for your last 4 pay stubs if you are paid weekly, or last 2 pay stubs if you are paid every other week. Since most months are not exactly 4 weeks long, to calculate your income DHCD takes your last 4 weekly pay stubs, adds them together, divides by 4, then multiplies that amount by 4.333; or, it takes your last 2 biweekly pay stubs, adds them together, divides by 2, and then multiplies that amount by 2.167. This is the number they generally will use for your monthly gross income.

If you expect your income to go down soon, DHCD should use the best estimate of income for the next month. See 106 CMR 702.920, DTA regulations incorporated into the EA regulations through 760 CMR 67.02(5)(b) and 106 CMR 204.290. If you expect your hours or pay rate to decrease, tell DHCD and get a letter from your employer confirming what your future pay will be.

See Question 5 for a list of what income does and does not count for EA.

Families receiving EA who go over income. If you are receiving EA shelter benefits and your gross income goes over the EA eligibility standard for 90 days or more, you can continue to receive benefits for six more months before being terminated from the program (unless you become ineligible for another reason). You will not be subject to the over-income termination if your income goes back under the income limit within 90 days. This is new language that was included in the state budget for fiscal year 2019.

If you are over income for 90 consecutive days or more, in order to receive shelter for the next six months, you:

  • must save the amount of income that is over the income limit (this is in addition to what you must save under your EA Rehousing Plan, see Question 16),
  • may not withdraw the saved money until you leave shelter (except to pay costs directly related to getting permanent housing or for other purposes approved by your DHCD worker), and
  • must follow all other EA rules. See 760 CMR 67.02(5)(d)-(f)

In special situations, DHCD may extend your EA benefits beyond the six months, even if your income if over the limit for more than 90 days. See 760 CMR 67.02(5)(g).  Ask your DHCD worker if you need more time to find housing.

For families receiving HomeBASE. If you are receiving HomeBASE benefits and your gross income goes over the EA eligibility standard, you can continue to receive HomeBASE benefits until your income goes over 50% of the area median income for your area as long as you are complying with your stabilization plan (see Question 16). But DHCD amended its regulations in 2013 to deny this higher income limit to families receiving HomeBASE household assistance. This may be illegal as it is inconsistent with language in the HomeBASE line item in the state budget. If you are affected by this change, contact an advocate. Annual income equal to 50% of area median income for your area can be found on the “very low income” lines on the chart available at https://www.huduser.gov/portal/datasets/il.html.

Advocacy Tips:

  • Before you use any of the money you are required to save while in shelter, ask your DHCD worker or your shelter provider if the spending is allowed and try to get approval in writing. 
  • One-time “lump sum” income, such as a personal injury settlement, does not cause a period of ineligibility for EA as it does for Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children (TAFDC). See 760 CMR 67.02(5)(b)

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