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Policy Tips on SNAP Benefits for Households with a Foster Child or Foster Adult

We've received a number of inquiries about how to calculate SNAP benefits for households that contain a foster child or person who is being cared for under the Adult Foster Care program.**  There are special federal and state SNAP rules that allow households to EXCLUDE the foster child or foster adult from the SNAP household and, in doing so, receive HIGHER SNAP benefits for the remaining household members.  Here's the skinny.

I.  SNAP and Families Caring for Foster Children:

Unlike other situations where a child under 18 (or 22 if living with parents) must be part of the household, a SNAP household can choose to include or exclude the foster child from the SNAP unit. 106 C.M.R. § 361.240(F). If the foster child is excluded from the SNAP household, the foster care payments, and any other income received for the child, such as child support, do NOT count as income to the household.  For this reason, it is usually better to exclude the foster child to maximize the SNAP/food stamp benefits for the rest of the household. (The foster child 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 roughly $900 per month for him. They can apply for SNAP/food stamps for themselves and their two children, as a 4 person household, excluding Joe and the monthly DCF foster payment as income. Alternatively, Sam and Susan could apply for SNAP for themselves, their two children, and the foster child, Jimmy.  If they included Jimmy, the foster care payments will be used in the calculation of benefits for five people, but the benefits will likely be lower than if Jimmy was not included .

II.  SNAP and Households Caring for Disabled or Elder Foster Adults:

A SNAP household also has the choice to include or exclude adult foster care** members, even if they share family meals with that person. 106 C.M.R. § 361.240(F). 

If the foster adult is excluded from the SNAP household, none of the foster care payments paid to the caregiver, nor income of the fostered individual, count for SNAP purposes. By excluding the adult foster care payment and other income received by the fostered adult, such as SSI or Social Security, the caregiving household often qualifies for much higher monthly SNAP benefits based only on their income and portion of living expenses.

Example: Jane and Joe are foster caregivers for 88 year old Mary Smith. Jane provides the daily foster care and Joe works part time earning $1,000/month. The Adult Foster Care Program pays Jane $1,500 a month to care for Mary, who would be in a nursing home otherwise. Mary also receives $800 in Social Security.  Under the SNAP rules, Jane and Joe can apply for SNAP benefits for a 2 person household, excluding Mary. Only the $1,000 income earned by Joe is countable income for SNAP purposes. This option to exclude Mary is true even though Jane and Joe purchase and prepare the food jointly for themselves and Mary.

NOTE:  An AFC caregiver can make a written request to DTA to remove a foster adult from the SNAP household at any time. If the head of the SNAP household is also the fostered adult, that person needs to make the request to terminate their SNAP case and a new SNAP account should be opened with the caregiver as head of the SNAP household. Contact an advocate if you need help in making these changes.

** Adult Foster Care (AFC) is a program for frail elders and adults with disabilities who cannot live alone. 130 C.M.R. § 408.000.  It is also known as Adult Family Care. MassHealth pays qualified AFC caregivers up to $18,000 a year to provide in-home care to elder and disabled MassHealth recipients who would otherwise be institutionalized. However, the caregiver and other family members may still be low income and qualify for SNAP benefits. 

Learn more advocacy tips at the 2012  Food Stamp/SNAP Advocacy Training 101 - February 1st at Mass Continuing Legal Education: