At the October 6th Western Massachusetts Food SNAP Coalition meeting, a number of community groups noted that SNAP/Food Stamp applicants are still being asked for proof of shelter expenses (rent or home ownership) even though the shelter cost information provided by the household is not questionable. A number of Coalition members also noted that the Virtual Gateway SNAP application has no question that allows a household to claim shelter costs, child care or other expenses and asked for a sample form clients could use. Additionally, MLRI continues to get reports that some local SNAP workers are insisting on verification of terminated employment - even though the individual has not worked within the past 60 days of SNAP application, or the individual is not subject to the SNAP work search requirements. Workers are also not using The Work Number to secure past work information if required.
This email summarizes the verification requirements and options for shelter, child care and verification of terminated work. We have also attached sample self-declaration forms you can offer clients for shelter and child care expenses.
1. Self-declaration of shelter expenses: In June of 2010, DTA issued Field Operations Memo 2010-29 which specifically authorizes the self-declaration of shelter expenses. DTA issued this guidance at the behest of the Food SNAP Improvement Coalition in response to concerns that otherwise eligible households were getting lower benefits for lack of a copy of a lease, landlord verification or other proof. The Food Stamp/SNAP regulations do not mandate verification of shelter costs. See 106 CMR 361.610(K). DTA acknowledged that there were few errors in the shelter verification area and that, unless the information provided by the household was determined "questionable", the household could self-declare shelter costs. A copy of Field Ops Memo 2010-29 can be found at the following link: http://www.masslegalservices.org/node/32460 The Field Ops memo gives examples of when information is considered "questionable."
MLRI has also developed a form for FS/SNAP applicants to use to make self declaration, especially households that file on-line applications. Clients in home ownership situations may also find it useful in identifying all home ownership costs such as insurance, real estate tax, repairs. While this form may be handy, any written statement of shelter costs signed by the client should be accepted. The Field Ops Memo only requires that the household provide a written statement of the shelter costs. See /node/34105 for the form.
NOTE: While shelter costs can be self declared, proof of residence in Massachusetts is a mandatory verification. 106 CMR 361.610(H). Residency is where you live, not what you pay for rent or home ownership. Proof of residency includes a wide range of possible documents such as a work, school or drivers ID, employer or health insurance information with a current address, a utility bill, a government benefits notice, a statement from a social services agency or collateral contact.
2. Self-declaration of child care expenses: In March of 2007, DTA issued Field Operations Memo 2007-19 instructing workers to allow self-declaration of dependent care expenses (child care and adult dependent care), again in response to requests from the Food SNAP improvement Coalition. DTA's excellent guidance also explains the scope of allowable dependent care expenses including after school programs, summer camps, YMCA and Boys/Girls Clubs, as well as transportation reimbursement. As with shelter expenses, the Food Stamp/SNAP regulations do not mandate verification of child care unless questionable. See 106 CMR 361.610(K). A copy of Field Operations Memo 2007-19 can be found at: http://www.masslegalservices.org/node/22687
MLRI has developed a flier and a form for FS/SNAP applications to make this self declaration. See /node/27148 for the flier which summarizes the allowable verification expenses and includes a sample self-declaration.
3. Verification of end of employment from past employers: We continue to hear of cases where individuals are inappropriately asked for proof they are no longer working from prior employers, including for jobs that ended months before applying for SNAP benefits. In some cases, DTA can seek proof of the last date of employment from an individual who has worked within the past 60 days (voluntary quit rules, under 106 CMR 362.340.) However, it is NOT appropriate to demand verification of termination of employment that ended more than 60 days prior to application, nor does the voluntary quit sanction apply to individuals who recently lost employment but are over age 59, disabled or temporarily ill, applying for UI, caretakers of small children or otherwise exempt from the job search rules (106 CMR 362.310).
If you have any client whose benefits are delayed or denied for failure to provide proof of past employment and the verification demand appears inappropriate, please contact Pat Baker at MLRI. firstname.lastname@example.org Please also remind workers that The Work Number is always available to verify information on past employment if otherwise required, and if the employer uses this service. For more information on The Work Number, see Field Operations Memo 2007-3. http://www.masslegalservices.org/node/22483
REMINDER: The next Boston meeting of the Food SNAP Coalition Meeting is Tuesday, October 26, 2010. Meeting details and agenda to follow.