What is the standard utility allowance (SUA) and what is H-EAT?

The standard utility allowance (SUA) is a fixed dollar amount for a household’s heating and utility expenses used in the calculation of shelter expenses for SNAP benefits. 106 C.M.R. §§ 364.400(G)(2), 364.945. The dollar value of the SUA applies statewide and is not tied to what you actually pay in monthly oil, gas, electricity or other utilities. It is an annualized amount to help simplify the calculations.

There are three different SUA amounts and the amounts are periodically adjusted by DTA with USDA approval:

■  Heating (or air conditioning) SUA – currently $621 for households that incur heating or air conditioning costs separately from their rent. This includes public or subsidized housing tenants if your housing authority charges you for heat, or charges you for summer time use of an air conditioner (either excess electricity or a usage or maintenance fee). You also get this SUA if you receive or have received Fuel Assistance (also called Low Income Home Energy Assistance Act or LIHEAP payments) in the last 12 months even if your heat is included with your rent. Often LIHEAP will provide a partial rent subsidy if rent exceeds 30% of net income.

■  Non-heating SUA – currently $381 for households that incur utility expenses but not heating or air conditioning costs. Utility expenses can include electricity (non-heating), cooking gas, garbage collection, and water and sewer fees passed onto tenants.

■  Telephone-only SUA – currently $44 for households that incur only telephone costs (cell phone or landline, but not phone cards) and do not pay any of the other utilities listed above.

It is important that you tell DTA if you incur heating costs, AC costs during the summer (even if your heat is included) or you get regular Fuel Assistance benefits for either utilities or toward part of high rental costs. DTA has many questions on the paper application and recertification paperwork about utility expenses. Make sure to fill out this information accurately.

You also get the full SUA even if you live with another household and pay only part of the utilities. 106 C.M.R. § 364.410(B)(2).

The “Heat and Eat” Fuel Assistance Program

DTA and the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) have coordinated a special Heat and Eat or H-EAT Fuel Assistance program. This has helped thousands of SNAP households – mostly elder and disabled households – qualify for higher monthly SNAP benefits and get information on regular Fuel Assistance benefits. This H-EAT program was created because seniors and persons with disabilities often underreport their AC/cooling costs, or do not realize they can claim utility costs when sharing utility costs with other households. This can cause under reporting of utility expenses that make a difference in the SNAP math.

Under the H-EAT Program, DTA first identifies SNAP households not getting the full “heating/cooling standard utility allowance” (SUA). Then, on the 1st of each month, DTA shares a data file with DHCD of “active” SNAP households. DTA asks DHCD to confirm if the SNAP household got regular Fuel Assistance/LIHEAP in the past 12 months. If not, then around the 3rd week of the month, DTA provides eligible SNAP households with a $21 H-EAT Fuel Assistance payment. This payment is put on the EBT card, but just once every 12 months. The SNAP benefit should then increase the next month and continue at the higher amount without interruption. DTA should automatically issue another $21 H-EAT payment when necessary.

The SNAP households excluded from the H-EAT payment are:

  • Bay State CAP (SSI) households,
  • homeless households (who get a special $143 homeless income deduction), and
  • households already identified has having separate heating or cooling costs or getting maximum SNAP

If your SNAP benefits do not include a Heating/Cooling SUA and you are not on Bay State CAP or homeless, check with an advocate.

Advocacy Reminders:

  • If a shelter or other expense is paid for fully by someone outside the household, it cannot be claimed as a shelter deduction. 106 C.M.R. § 364.410(B)(1).
  • If you have zero rental expenses (for example, you are caretaking a house or living rent free off-season) but you are responsible for heat or other utilities, you should get the standard utility deduction (SUA) even if you have zero rent. Contact an advocate if denied a SUA.

DTA Policy Guidance:

Online Guide Sections: Home > SNAP > Expenses and      Deductions > Household Expenses > Standard Utility Expenses

Additional Guidance
  • Implementation of revised H-EAT Program providing $21 of Fuel Assistance payment to qualified households. Ops Memo 2014-52 (Aug 28, 2014) 
  • DTA guidance on creation of H-EAT program in 2007 with sample household notices, instructions on semi-annual caseload sweeps, caseload match with DHCD. F.O. Memo 2007-31 (June 28, 2007)
  • A household that has a change of address or becomes homeless during the certification period is still eligible for the heating/cooling SUA if the household received H-EAT or regular Fuel Assistance. Transitions Hotline Q&A (June 2008)

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Produced by Patricia Baker and Victoria Negus
Last Updated January 2016
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