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Project Bread SNAP Trainer: A Resource for Agencies

A curriculum for connecting low income families with healthy food

4: Working with specific populations

4.1 What kind of people qualify for SNAP benefits?

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All kinds of people qualify for SNAP benefits. The one thing they share is that they or their households are struggling to buy enough healthy food. Open this section to learn more about specific groups of people and how to best help them work through the SNAP process.

Families and individuals. Children and elders. Citizens and non-citizens. Everyone deserves healthy food.

Sometimes people think they can't qualify for SNAP benefits because of their age, family situation, or citizenship status. But that's not true! SNAP's goal is to ensure that all of these population groups have nutritious food.

The SNAP program has guidelines for many specific groups. Use the tips in this section to understand the dynamics of different population groups and how SNAP applies to them.

4.2 Tips for working with families

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Some rules apply specifically to families. Open this section to learn more about working with families.

A family is a household with more than one member, or one with children under the age of 19. SNAP has some specific guidelines for families.

Include all children
Families must include ALL children under the age of 22 (except for foster children) on the application who are living under the family roof.

However, money earned by a child under 18 who is attending high school won't be factored into eligibility calculations.

Automatic free school meals

One of the great benefits of receiving SNAP is that school age children living in a SNAP recipient household are automatically eligible to receive free school meals.

This qualification includes families that are categorically eligible for $0 in benefits as well as families not otherwise considered income eligible for free or reduced meals.

Daycare deduction
Families can deduct the cost of daycare while working or attending school. Daycare costs include:

  • After school care
  • Teen programs
  • Transportation fees

View a full list of qualified daycare deductions for reference.

Child support deduction
Families can use legally obligated child support payments. For child support payments, your client needs to show both the legal document ordering it and proof of payment. The legal document may be a court order or other legal notice. Proof of payment can be a cancelled check, wage withholding statements, or similar proof. Child support expenses include direct money payments, as well as payments from Unemployment Insurance, Worker's Compensation, or payroll withholding.

Other deductable child support expenses include health insurance, arrearages, and any third party payments, such as to a landlord or utility company.

To deduct child support payments, the child support must be court ordered. DTA will not deduct amounts paid voluntarily.

SNAP Employment and Training Program exemptions
Some family household members may be exempt from the Employment and Training work requirement of the SNAP regulations or may have good cause reasons for not complying.

Please see Section 3.6 of this guide or see 106 CMR 362.300.

4.3 Tips for foster care households

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A family with foster children or adults has some unique guidelines. Open this section to learn how to best help these families apply for benefits.

A family receiving foster care payments for children or adults in their care should be aware of how this situation impacts their SNAP application.

When working with a household with foster children or adults, you'll want to help them understand that there are special rules that apply to them. As a foster care household, they have the option of including or not including the foster child or adult. Compare both options for their application. Calculate the benefits each way and decide which works best for this specific family.

Option one: include foster child or adult in the SNAP household application
In one option, the family can include the foster child or adult in the application as part of the household count.

If the child or adult is included, the household will also need to include the foster care payments as unearned income in the application.

Option two: exclude foster child or adult
In the second option, the family can exclude the foster child or adult from the application. In this case the foster care payments received do not need to be included as income.

Foster children and foster adults cannot submit an application for themselves as a separate household.

4.4 Tips for working with individuals

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A common misconception is that people need to have children in order to apply for SNAP. This is a myth. Many individuals can and do receive SNAP benefits. Open this section to learn more about working with individuals.

Individuals can qualify and do receive SNAP benefits. People do not need to have children in order to qualify.

Pregnant and living alone
A pregnant woman living alone with income under 200% of the poverty level always qualifies for SNAP benefits as long as she also meets the immigration guidelines.

Roommate situations
Households include one or more people who live under the same roof and buy and prepare food together.

Multiple people can live under the same roof but buy and prepare food separately. Housemates or roommates may share rent costs but do not necessarily buy and prepare food together.

If your client has roommates or housemates but buys and prepares food separately from them, s/he can apply for SNAP benefits as an individual.

Under the age of 22
If your client is under the age of 22 and lives under the same roof as a parent or step-parent, s/he must apply with the family, even if s/he buys and prepares food separately.

For example, 21-year-old Lia lives with her parents. She works a full time job and purchases and prepares her own meals.

However, because Lia is under 22, she is considered part of her parent's SNAP household, not an individual applicant. If her parents apply for SNAP, they must include Lia in their household SNAP application.

Under the age of 18
If your client is under the age of 18 and is the head of the household, s/he can apply for SNAP benefits.

4.5 Tips for working with non-citizens

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There are many misconceptions about SNAP benefits for non-citizens, including that only U.S. citizens qualify. SNAP is a nutrition program that benefits many immigrants, as well as U.S. citizens. Open this section to learn more about working with non-citizens.

The SNAP program is a nutrition program administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, through state and local agencies. It does not require U.S. citizenship, nor does applying for SNAP benefits in any way impact the citizenship process. Eligibility rules for non-citizens can be complex, read this section carefully. Also, you can call Project Bread's FoodSource Hotline for expert help.

For a handout for non-citizen clients see DTA's What Non-citizens Need to Know.

Myth: Getting SNAP hurts my chances of becoming a U.S. citizen.

Fact: If you are a legal immigrant and you get SNAP, it will not hurt your chances of becoming a U.S. citizen.

Documented immigrants
The SNAP program is a federal nutrition program administered by the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) in Massachusetts. Applying for SNAP benefits does not in any way impact the citizenship process.

There are three non-citizen categories that may qualify for SNAP benefits.

  1. Refugees/Asylees
    The following non-citizen categories are eligible to apply for SNAP due to immigration status and are not required to follow the five-year waiting period rule. They remain eligible when adjusted to Legal Permanent Resident (LPR).

    • Asylees
    • Cuban/Haitian Entrants
    • Amerasians
    • Refugees
    • Trafficking Victims
    • Deportation Withheld
    • Iraqi and Afghan Special Immigrants (SIV))
  2. Special Status
    The following non-citizen categories are eligible to apply for SNAP due to immigration status and are not required to follow the five-year waiting period rule.

    • Native American born in Canada or Mexico
    • Hmong or Highland Laotian tribe member
    • Veteran of the U.S. military, and active service member or the spouse, widow or dependent of a veteran or active duty service member and you are lawfully residing in the U.S. (even if not an LPR)

    For a detailed explanation of non-citizen categories that may be eligible see our Eligible Non-citizens Fact Sheet.

  3. Legal Permanent Residents, Battered Non-citizens, Parolees
    The following categories may be eligible for SNAP, but must have five years in qualified status unless they meet one of these conditions.

    • Legal Permanent Residents (LPRs) (green card holder)
    • Certain Battered Non-citizens
    • Parolees who were paroled as Asylees/Refugees for at least one year
    • Conditional Entrants

    The categories above are exempt from the five-year waiting period if they meet one of the following conditions:

    1. An LPR with 40 qualifying quarters of work history (they can add their own quarters, to their spouse's (earned during the marriage) and their parents' (earned before the LPR turned 18); or
    2. Are blind or disabled; or
    3. Are under 18; or
    4. Were 65 and lawfully residing in the US on 8/22/96.

Documented noncitizens also have to meet all other income and program requirements.

Myth: I have a green card and I work, but I'm not a U.S. citizen so I can't apply for SNAP.

Fact: Many legal permanent residents are eligible. If you've had a green card for five years, receive a disability-related benefit, or have enough work history in the U.S., you can be eligible to apply.

Undocumented immigrants
People without documented immigrant status don't qualify for benefits for themselves. However, they can apply for other eligible household members.

Myth: I don't have legal status so I can't get SNAP.

Fact: You are not eligible to apply for SNAP benefits - but citizens and some documented people who live with you, including your citizen children, can.

Make sure your client understands that the person completing the application puts his/her name on the application first and signs the application. This is true even when the person's immigration status disqualifies him/her from receiving benefits.

The client indicates on the application that s/he is not applying for benefits but applying as head of household for other household members.

Immigration information sharing
Your client doesn't have to share any information about his/her immigration status when applying for SNAP benefits on behalf of another household member. At any time s/he can tell the DTA case worker that s/he chooses not to provide the information and the caseworker must stop asking questions about the client's status.

Non-immigrants
Non-immigrants, such as people on student, visitor, or diplomatic visas cannot receive benefits. However, they can apply on behalf of other eligible household members.

Children
Children born in the U.S. and children with legal permanent resident status can receive benefits even if their parents cannot. No child should go hungry because of their parent's immigration status.

Myth: My children can't get SNAP because I'm undocumented.

Fact: If your children were born in the U.S. or if they are permanent legal residents, they can qualify for SNAP benefits. You must apply for them, but your status won't prevent them from getting SNAP.

Make sure your client understands that the head of household puts his/her name on the application first and signs the application. This is true even when the person's immigration status disqualifies him/her from receiving benefits.

The applicant just notes on the application that s/he is not applying for benefits but is applying as head of household for other household members.

Social Security numbers
The application asks for the social security number of each household member applying for benefits. If the person completing the application lacks a social security number, DTA assigns an ID number to use in place of a social security number.

No one should use a tax ID number in place of a social security number on the application.

Languages
If your client doesn't speak English, federal law says that the DTA must provide an interpreter. If your client prefers, s/he can bring his/her own interpreter but is not required to do so.

Your client's interpreter cannot be a child.

If an interpreter is not available for any reason, DTA caseworkers will use the QWEST language line to communicate with your clients. The QWEST language line serves both clients calling into the office with questions as well as those visiting the office in person.

Myth: I don't speak English and the DTA says I have to have someone to translate for me. I don't have my own interpreter who can come with me, so I can't apply.

Fact: Under U.S. law, the DTA should have an interpreter available to translate for you. A language barrier should not keep you from applying.

In addition, if your community has at least 100 households that speak the same non-English language, DTA must also provide written materials in that language.

Legal impacts of applying for SNAP

Myth: If I apply for SNAP for myself or for someone in my household, I'll get reported to Immigration.

Fact: No, this will not happen. SNAP information is confidential. SNAP does not share information about undocumented immigrants with United States Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS). If you are not documented, you won't be asked for your immigration documents.

Applying for or receiving SNAP benefits in no way impacts the process of citizenship or the application for a green card.

DTA does not report data about an immigrant to United States Citizenship & Immigration Services. They only check the information you have provided with the information that USCIS has.

In addition, receiving SNAP benefits does not make the applicant a "public charge".

For more information on the public charge issue, read the public charge memo from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Click here for USDA's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Guidance on Non-Citizen Eligibility which provides in-depth information on this topic.

4.6 Tips for working with elders

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Nutrition is important for everyone, including senior citizens. Your elderly clients may qualify for SNAP benefits. Open this section to learn more about working with elders.

Under DTA rules, anyone 60 years of age or older is considered elderly.

Many elders are hesitant to apply for SNAP benefits. Here are some important messages you can share with your elderly clients.

  • There is nothing wrong with accessing benefits to buy healthy food.
  • You deserve it. You've earned it. You have worked hard and paid taxes over the years.
  • You will not be taking money away from someone else if you apply for SNAP benefits.
  • Using SNAP benefits bring more federal money into the state which helps the economy.

If everyone in the household receives Supplemental Security Income (SSI), the household can apply at the local Social Security Administration (SSA) office. In addition, if every adult in the household is elderly or disabled with a stable income, such as social security, DTA certifies that household for two years. This means your client need only update information every 24 months.

Assets

  • SNAP does not consider a primary residence, vehicle, or an IRA as assets.
  • If your elderly client's income is greater than 200% of the federal poverty level, s/he can still apply for SNAP if his/her assets are less than $3,250 in value.

Work requirements
People who are disabled or over the age of 59 do not have to comply with work (SNAP Employment and Training Program) requirements.

Medical deductions
Elderly/disabled applicants who can prove monthly un-reimbursed medical expenses greater than $35 per month can receive the benefits of a medical deduction ($155 or higher) when their SNAP benefits are calculated.

For more information about what medical expenses can be included and a useful checklist click here.

Getting shopping help from others
Your elderly clients can designate someone they trust to be an Authorized Representative. This person has permission to use the client's SNAP EBT card to purchase food for the client.

Click here for a link to the Authorized Representative Form.

Shared housing
Clients must buy and prepare their food separately from others in the household in order to qualify to apply on their own for SNAP benefits.

However, applicants who are both elderly and disabled receive an exemption. If your client lives with someone other than a spouse and cannot prepare his/her own food because of a permanent disability, s/he is allowed to apply as a separate SNAP household.

To qualify for this exemption, the income of the other household members must not exceed 165% of the federal poverty level.

Bay State CAP SNAP benefits
If your elderly client receives only SSI and lives alone, s/he may be eligible for Bay State CAP SNAP benefits.

Bay State CAP SNAP is a combined SSI/SNAP application for SSI recipients. It allows SSI recipients to receive SNAP benefits without having to fill out another application. Instead, the SSA office provides the client's income information to DTA for verification.

The two main benefits of Bay State CAP are as follows:

  • Reduced verification requirements
    Clients who already receive SSI benefits do not need to submit additional verification in order to receive SNAP.

  • Longer recertification period
    Clients who receive Bay State CAP are certified to receive SNAP benefits for three years.

Your elderly clients can elect to participate in Bay State CAP if they meet ALL of the following criteria:

  • Receive SSI benefits
  • Live alone, or buy and prepare food separately from the other people under the same roof
  • Do not live with a spouse or children
  • Do not work

Individual circumstances shape whether Bay State CAP or regular SNAP brings a higher level of benefits, but exploring the option with your clients makes sense.

For more information click here to read DTA's Bay State CAP Flyer.

4.7 Tips for working with the disabled

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Disabled clients over the age of 18, like others, may be eligible for SNAP benefits. In addition, SNAP applies certain exceptions to those it considers disabled. Open this section to learn more about working with the disabled.

Under SNAP rules, people are considered disabled if they meet any of the following criteria:

  • Receive SSDI (Social Security Disability Income)
  • Receive MassHealth for the disabled
  • Receive EAEDC (Emergency Aid to Elders, Disabled and Children) or TAFDC as a severely disabled adult or child
  • Receive SSI (Supplemental Security Income)
  • Receive Veteran's Disability and meets certain requirements
  • Receive disability or blindness payments under Title II, or RSDI (Retirement, or Survivor Disability Insurance)
  • Receive any other government disability, retirement benefits, or health benefits available to people considered to be permanently disabled

Even if your client does not meet SNAP's disability criteria, DTA may still be required to make "reasonable accommodations" for any disability s/he may have under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). You or your client should always discuss any special needs with the client's DTA caseworker.

If your client is disabled and lives in a group home, special regulations will determine his/her eligibility to apply.

Assets

  • SNAP does not consider a primary residence, vehicle, or an IRA as assets.
  • If your client's income is greater than 200% of the federal poverty level, s/he can apply if his/her assets are less than $3,250 in value.

The DTA created some exemptions and variations of regulations for the disabled population that you'll want to be familiar with.

Work requirements
People who are disabled do not have to comply with work (SNAP Employment and Training Program) requirements.

Medical deductions
Applicants who can prove monthly un-reimbursed medical expenses greater than $35 per month receive the benefits of a medical deduction ($90 or higher) when their eligibility for SNAP and benefit level is calculated.

For more information about what medical expenses can be included and a useful checklist click here

Getting shopping help from others
Your disabled clients can designate someone they trust to be an Authorized Representative. This person has permission to use the client's SNAP EBT card to purchase food for the client.

Click here for a link to the Authorized Representative Form.

Shared housing
Most of the time, your clients must buy and prepare their food separately from others in the household in order to qualify to apply on their own for SNAP benefits.

However, disabled applicants receive an exemption. If your client lives with someone other than a spouse and cannot prepare his/her own food because of a permanent disability, s/he is allowed to apply as a separate SNAP household.

Application exemption
If everyone in the household receives SSI, the household can apply at the local SSA office instead of the DTA office.

Certification exemption
In addition, if every adult in the household is elderly or disabled with a stable income, such as Social Security, DTA certifies that household for two years. This means your client need only update information every 24 months.

Non-citizen status exemption
SNAP waives the five year legal status requirement for disabled non-citizens with legal permanent resident status.

Bay State CAP SNAP benefits
If your disabled client receives only SSI and lives alone, s/he may be eligible for Bay State CAP SNAP benefits.

Bay State CAP SNAP is a combined SSI/SNAP application for SSI recipients. It allows SSI recipients to receive SNAP benefits without having to fill out another application. Instead, the SSA office provides the client's income information to DTA for verification.

The two main benefits of Bay State CAP are as follows:

  • Reduced verification requirements
    Clients who already receive SSI benefits do not need to submit additional verification in order to receive SNAP.
  • Longer recertification period
    Clients who receive Bay State CAP are certified to receive SNAP benefits for three years.

    Your clients can elect to participate in Bay State CAP if they meet ALL of the following criteria:
    • Receive SSI benefits
    • Are at least 18 years old
    • Live alone, or buy and prepare food separately from the other people under the same roof
    • Do not live with a spouse or children
    • Do not work

Individual circumstances shape whether Bay State CAP or regular SNAP brings a higher level of benefits, but exploring the option with your clients makes sense.

For more information click here to read DTA's Bay State CAP Flyer.

4.8 Tips for working with the homeless

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Being homeless shouldn't mean being hungry. The SNAP program benefits eligible people whether they have an address or not. Open this section to learn more about working with the homeless population.

DTA does not require a person to have a permanent address in order to receive SNAP benefits.

DTA considers a household homeless when:

  • Its members lack a permanent residence and are living on the streets or in a homeless or transitional shelter.
  • Its members are staying with friends or relatives and will be there less than 90 days.

Exceptions for homelessness
All of the usual SNAP rules apply, with one exception: homeless households will receive the standard homeless deduction instead of the regular deduction for shelter expenses on their application.

Corresponding, communicating, and receiving benefits
In the past, people received their benefits in the form of paper food stamps sent through the mail. Today, an EBT account, electronic deposits, and a plastic EBT card have replaced the old system of paper stamps, making the process more secure and more flexible.

To receive an EBT card and PIN number, your client can pick the card up in person at the DTA office or use the address of a friend, relative, or community agency.

Once they have received the card, monthly benefits are added electronically to the account. There is no need to return to the DTA office to receive monthly payments.

For other correspondence, such as notices and recertification documents, your client can again arrange to pick it up in person at the local DTA office or have the documents sent to friends, relatives, transitional or shelter housing, or a community agency.

Your agency can help homeless applicants by allowing them to use your agency address for mail purposes only.

4.9 Tips for working with college students

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College students have a special set of SNAP rules. Many low-income college students may qualify for benefits. Open this section to learn more about working with college students.

There are three categories of college students that may be eligible for SNAP benefits.

These include students who are:

  • Enrolled less than half time
  • Enrolled half or full time in a program that does NOT require a high school diploma or GED
  • Enrolled half or full time in a college or university program that requires a GED or high school diploma and who buy and prepare more than half of their meals (i.e. get less than half a meal plan)

Each of these students must meet slightly different SNAP eligibility requirements. These are outlined below.

A student enrolled less than half time must:

  • Be a resident of Massachusetts
  • Meet both financial and immigration guidelines

A student enrolled half or full time in a program that does NOT require a high school diploma or GED must:

  • Be a resident of Massachusetts
  • Meet both financial and immigration guidelines

A student enrolled half or full time in a college or university program that requires a GED or high school diploma and who buys and prepares more than half of his/her meals (i.e. gets less than half a meal plan) must:

  • Be a resident of Massachusetts
  • Meet both financial and immigration guidelines
  • Meet at least one of the student eligibility requirements

Student eligibility requirements
The student must be:

  • Younger than 18 or older than 49 OR
  • Employed an average of at least 20 hours a week OR
  • Doing any amount of federal or state work study during the school year OR
  • Going to school under a government-sponsored education and training program OR
  • Attending the SNAP employment and training program OR
  • Attending a community college associates or certificate program that meets the definition of a career or technical education program or the college determines is likely to increase the student's employability OR
  • Caring for a child under age 6 OR
  • Getting TAFDC benefits OR
  • Caring for a child age 6-11 AND either
    • can't get child care to cover both his/her school and work or work-study hours OR
    • is a single parent attending school full-time (whether or not s/he can get child care)

Student work study income
SNAP regulations do not count the money an undergraduate student receives from federal work study as income.

However, SNAP does consider money received from state work study as income, but only the amount used toward "living expenses" as determined by DTA.

Other student aid
SNAP excludes most education loans, grants, and scholarships from income as long the student cannot use the funds for living expenses.

SNAP counts some private and state grant and/or loans as income, but only up to the amount that is considered for living expenses.

Don't generalize about student grants. Instead, refer to 106 CMR 363.230 to compare your client's grants against the list of specific excluded grants.

For a complete definition of "student" according to DTA SNAP regulations please see 106 CMR 362.400.

Click here for a handout for college students about SNAP.


SNAP Trainer Sitemap

The SNAP Trainer: A Resource for Agencies is a curriculum for connecting low income families with healthy food. Each chapter is accessible as a "Section". The sections are: