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 $609 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 $376 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 $43 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 a special “Heat and Eat” Fuel Assistance program, or H-EAT. This program has helped hundreds of elderly and disabled households qualify for higher SNAP benefits, as well as receive information on regular Fuel Assistance benefits available to them.
The H-EAT program was created because many seniors and persons with disabilities often underreport their AC/cooling costs, or do not realize they can claim utility costs when sharing utilities with other households. Plus, many do not realize that regular Fuel Assistance (LIHEAP) can pay part of a household’s rent when heat is included but rental costs exceed 30% of countable income.
How does Heat and Heat work?
Under the state’s H-EAT Program, DTA first identifies if you are a SNAP household not getting the full “heating/cooling standard utility allowance” (SUA). Twice a month DTA exchanges a data file with DHCD of “active” SNAP cases that are not coded as having separate heating or cooling costs. DTA asks DHCD to confirm if your SNAP household got regular Fuel Assistance in the past 12 months. If not, DTA provides you with a $21 H-EAT Fuel Assistance payment.
This H-EAT payment is put on your EBT card, once every 12 months. You can use this money to buy light bulbs, flashlights, blankets. Your SNAP benefit should then increase and continue at the higher amount without interruption. DTA should automatically issue another $21 H-EAT payment the next year if you are eligible for this special payment. Note, households without an elder or disabled member tend to reach the maximum shelter expense deduction, thus they do not get this payment.
The SNAP households not eligible 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.
- Contact an advocate if your SNAP benefits suddenly go down. It could be that the annual H-EAT payment was not renewed.
- 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
- Implementation of revised H-EAT Program providing $21 of Fuel Assistance payment to qualified households.
- 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)