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, your age does not matter (you do not have to be both elder and disabled) and you do not need verify the income of the people you live with. However, you cannot get separate SNAP benefits 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. For example, they may have special diets, need to eat meals at different times from others, or 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.

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 if you share meals with others. To qualify as a separate SNAP household in this situation, you must be severely disabled and at least 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).

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 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 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 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).
  • An individual who is both elder and disabled and shares meals with others can also qualify as separate SNAP unit if income of other household members is below 165% FPL. DTA 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, http://www.fns.usda.gov/sites/default/files/2006/061206.pdf

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Produced by Patricia Baker and Victoria Negus
Last Updated January 2016

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