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 that can help persons with disabilities get SNAP benefits, even when they are unable to prepare their 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. You have this option as long as the majority of the food you consume (e.g. more than half 21 meals/week) is purchased with your income and prepared for you separately. In contrast to Option 2, you do not have to be both elderly and have a disability, and you do not need to get proof of the income of the people you live with. However, if the person buying and cooking food for you is your spouse, or your parent if you are under age 22, you cannot get separate benefits.

There are many reasons why persons with disabilities may have meals prepared separately. For example, they may have a special diet, may need to eat meals at different times from others, or otherwise may need to manage their income and expenses separate from others. Having a disability that prevents you from buying and cooking food for yourself does not prevent you from getting your own SNAP benefits.


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 and Joe is not required to disclose his income to DTA and meet the 165% gross income test in order for Thomas to qualify.

Option 2

If you are 60 or older and have a permanent disability that prevents you from buying and preparing food, you may be able to get SNAP separately for yourself. This is true even if you get all your meals with the family you live with. To qualify as a separate SNAP household in this situation, you must be severely disabled,  age 60 or older and the gross income of the individual or family you live with must be less than 165% of the federal poverty level (FPL). 106 C.M.R. § 361.200(B)(4). See Appendix B.


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 children. Mary’s gross income is $1,200 per month. Mary purchases food and prepares the meals for the entire household, including her mother, 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 percent 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 combined SNAP household.


Households that are caring for frail elders or persons with disabilities and who 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 CMR § 361.240 (F). See Who cannot be a separate SNAP household? and Can I get benefits if I am disabled and live in a group home? Adult foster care is a special program through MassHealth which pays someone for in-home care of a low-income adult with a disability or a frail elder who might otherwise be institutionalized.

Additional Policy Guidance on Separate Household Status
Additional Policy Guidance on Separate Household Status
  • An individual who is both elder and disabled can qualify as separate SNAP unit if income of other household members is below 165% FPL. Transitions Hotline Q&A (Oct. 2010).
  • 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.

Hide Additional Policy Guidance

Produced by Patricia Baker, Victoria Negus, Laura Gallant, Deborah Harris, Rochelle Hahn, Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Last Updated January 2014
Get Help Now

You may be able to get free legal help from your local legal aid program.

Ask a Law Librarian

If it's
9am and 4pm