Questions and Answers About Welfare for Families With Substance Abuse Related Disabilities


A series of questions and answers on benefits eligibility for persons with substance abuse histories including TAFDC and Food Stamps/ SNAP eligibility rules for persons with drug felony convictions, disability exemptions and good cause provisions.

1.  Is a parent with a substance abuse related disability eligible for TAFDC benefits?

TAFDC benefits are provided to most income eligible families whether or not a parent is able bodied or disabled. However, if the parent is severely disabled, s/he may disability qualify for a disability exemption.  Parents with severe disabilities are exempt from 24 month time limit and work rules. 106 CMR 203.100(A)(1)(a).

If the parent does not meet an exemption, the family is eligible for only 24 cumulative months of TAFDC benefits (in a 5 year period). The family must also comply with the work rules if the youngest child is school age (or younger if a family cap child).

To get a disability exemption, the parent must be either an SSI recipient or meet the TAFDC disability standards. TAFDC medical standards do not consider substance abuse alone to be a disabling condition. However, substance abuse which is accompanied by or results in either a physical impairment (e.g. liver damage, pancreatitis, seizures, organic brain damage, immuno-suppressive, etc.) or mental impairment (e.g. anxiety disorder, depression, personality disorders, etc.) or a combination of impairments can meet the disability standards. 106 CMR 203.540(A) through (O). In addition, persons who have a dual diagnosis, for example, substance abuse and a psychiatric diagnosis, may also be found to meet the disability standards. The disability also must be expected to last at least 30 days.

2.  How does a parent prove disability?

First, the parent must fill out a Disability Supplement form. The form is available from DTA. The parent can ask DTA for help filling it out, or can get help from anyone else she chooses including social service and advocacy agencies.

Second, the Disability Evaluation Service (DES) at U. Mass Medical Center will contact all the doctors, hospitals and treateing sources to get medical proof of disability. If the parent has a disability that has never been diagnosed or needs further diagnosis, she should ask for an initial or consultative exam including a psychological evaluation. DES will arrange these exams. To be thorough, the parent should be encouraged to ask for a psych or other evaluation on the Supplement.

3.  What if the treatment a disabled parent receives affects her ability to work?

Side effects of prescribed medications can also have a substantial impact on ability to work, such as drowsiness, nausea, problems concentrating and other effects. U.Mass Medical must look at the impact of any medications when evaluating the disability of a TAFDC (or EAEDC) applicant. 106 CMR 203.545(D)(2). Health care providers should be encouraged to provide documentation and observations on the affect of any medications or treatment.

4.  Does a parent need to be in recovery or treatment to get TAFDC?

NO. The parent does not need to be in treatment or recovery to receive TAFDC for her family. However, if DTA determines that the parent is unable to manage her funds because of substance abuse or other problem, DTA has the option to place the family on “vendor” payments - which means that the landlord and/or utility company will get payments directly from DTA. 106 CMR 706.620.

5.  Does a parent participating in a treatment program also have to comply with the TAFDC work rules?

If the parent is subject to the TAFDC work rules, s/he meets these rules if she is in a substance abuse residential program.  S/he is not required to do additional work activities beyond her treatment. 106 CMR 203.400(A)(2)(g). But her 24 month TAFDC clock may still be ticking. It is advantageous to to file for a disability exemption even if compying with the work rules because being exempt also stops the 24 month TAFDC clock.

6.  What happens if a parent is sanctioned for not complying with work rules?

A parent participating in an emergency detox or other crisis placement can claim good cause for not complying with the TAFDC work requirements. 106 CMR 207.170 (A). DTA rules specifically note that “good cause” for not participating includes where the recipient or a member of the immediate family “suffers a family crisis or emergency situation or other compelling circumstance that is beyond the control of the recipient...” Residence in a battered women's shelter, for example, is considered good cause, as is temporary illness of the parent or family member (such as a sick child).

7.  I am working with parent with a drug felony conviction. Is s/he eligible for TAFDC and Food Stamps?

YES. Persons with drug felony convictions cannot be barred from food stamps/ SNAP or TAFDC except in narrow situations.

Food Stamps/ SNAP Eligibility: The Food Stamps/ SNAP program does not disqualify a person due to a drug felony conviction.  Persons may even qualify for benefits when residing in substance abuse treatment facilities. The facility will be the authorized representative to receive the benefits while living at the facility. 

TAFDC: Parents with felony convictions who are subject to the 24 month time clock must wait 12 months following the date of release from incarceration. However, there is no 12 month waiting period if the family is a) exempt from the 2 year time limit, b) if DTA has granted a domestic violence waiver or c) if more than 12 months have passed since release from prison. This 12 month waiting period ONLY applies if the individual has a drug felony offense severe enough to go to prison (which many do not, especially first time offenses). This 12 month waiting period also does NOT apply to the children or other household members who live with the ineligible person.

8.  I have a client who was severely impaired by illegal substances at the time she got pregnant. Does the “family cap” rule apply?

A parent denied benefits for a child under the family cap rule has the right to seek either an exception from the rule due to sexual assault, rape or incest or a waiver based on domestic violence or other extraordinary circumstances. 106 CMR 203.300, 203.110 A woman who was under the influence of drugs may be able to prove a claim of extraordinary circumstances. If she was the victim of non- consensual sex, she may also have a claim of sexual assault. Refer her to an advocate for assistance in seeking a waiver of the family cap rule.

9.  Where can my client get help if s/he is denied benefits?

Local Legal Services offices provide free advice and representation to low income persons who need help dealing with denials of welfare benefits, evictions, domestic violence and other matters. Contact the Legal Services office nearest you for more information.

Produced by the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, Updated: December 2009