What if I am elderly or disabled and live with other people but I cannot buy and cook my own food?

There are two options, even if you are unable to prepare your own meals:

Option 1: If your disability makes you unable to purchase and prepare your own food, you can get SNAP separately from the people you live with – even if they shop and cook food for you. This option as long as the majority of the food you consume is purchased with your income and prepared for you separate from the people you live with. This option does not apply if the person buying and cooking food for you is your legal spouse,  or your parent if you are under age 22.

There are many reasons why persons with disabilities may have meals prepared separately. You may have a special diet, need to eat meals at different times from others, or keep your income and living expenses separate from others. This should not prevent you from getting your own SNAP benefits.

Example 1: Thomas is a 35-year-old disabled adult. He shares an apartment with a roommate, Joe. Because Thomas is unable to buy and cook his own food due to his disability, Joe does that for him. Thomas gives Joe money to buy food and Joe cooks it for him. Joe also cooks and prepares his own food separately. Sometimes they share a meal but the majority of food Thomas consumes is purchased and prepared separately from Joe’s. Thomas could chose to have Joe as his authorized representative and have Joe use Thomas’s EBT card to purchase food for Thomas or he can accompany Joe to the store. Either way, Thomas qualifies for his own SNAP household.

Option 2: If you are 60 or older and have a permanent disability, you may be able to get SNAP separately for yourself even though you share food bought and cooked with the people you live with.106 C.M.R. § 361.200(B)(4).

To qualify for your own SNAP benefits, you must meet three criteria:

  • Be severely disabled,
  • Be age 60 or older, and
  • The gross income of the household you live with must be less than 165 % of the federal poverty level (FPL).

Example 2: Bertha is a 75-year-old disabled woman. She receives $1,000 per month in Social Security benefits. She lives with her 40-year-old daughter Mary and Mary’s two teenage children. Mary’s gross income is $1,200 per month. Mary purchases food and prepares the meals for the entire household, including Bertha. Since Bertha is both disabled and over age 59 years of age, she can qualify for a separate SNAP benefit. That’s because her daughter’s gross income is below 165% of the federal poverty level for a family of three (Mary and her two children). Mary may also wish to apply for SNAP as a separate SNAP household for herself and her children. The two separate households will receive more in SNAP benefits than if they were in one SNAP household of four persons.

Note:  Households that are caring for frail elders or persons with disabilities and receive adult foster care payments can exclude (“opt out”) the foster adult. This excludes the foster care payments as income and can increase the SNAP benefits. 106 C.M.R. § 361.240 (F).  See What if I am caring for a foster child?.

Adult foster care is a special program through MassHealth which pays someone for in-home care of a low-income disabled adult or frail elder who might otherwise be institutionalized. See MLRI FAQ in Appendix C.

DTA Policy Guidance:

DTA Online Guide: SNAP > Eligibility Requirements > Household Composition

Additional Guidance
  • A person too disabled to purchase and prepare for him/herself and gets assistance with food preparation can still qualify for separate household status. Transitions FYI (Dec. 2007).
  • USDA clarification that a disabled adult unable to purchase and prepare his or her own food can still be a separate SNAP household where the food is bought and prepared by a third party for that person. The disabled person need not be over age 60 or live with persons under 165% gross income test. USDA FNS memo, June 12, 2006, //www.fns.usda.gov/sites/default/files/2006/061206.pdf

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Produced by Patricia Baker and Victoria Negus
Last Updated January 2017

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