The SNAP rules allow you to deduct shelter expenses that exceed half of your net income. This is called the "shelter deduction." 106 C.M.R. § 364.400(G). For example, if your allowable shelter expenses are $700 per month, but your net income after other deductions is $1,500 per month, you will get no shelter deduction. That's because half of your net income ($750) is more than your shelter expenses of $700.
Shelter costs may be self-declared by the household unless questionable. This includes shelter information on the application form, recertification form or a signed and dated statement by the household. See What proofs (verifications) do I need?. Questionable information is that which is inconsistent with other statements on your application, in the interview, or information known to DTA.
The SNAP shelter deduction is complicated because Congress wanted to target SNAP benefits towards households that have the highest shelter costs in relation to their incomes and therefore have the hardest time paying for food. After Section 8 and public housing, it is the biggest source of federal assistance to low-income households based on their housing needs.
Two types of shelter deduction:
Regular shelter deduction: The shelter deduction is currently capped at $490 per month for households that do not include an elder, disabled adult or disabled child.
- Elder/disabled shelter deduction: If the household includes at least one person who is elderly (age 60+) or is disabled, there is no limit or cap on the shelter deduction.
Allowable shelter expenses
- monthly rent paid (or owed) if you are a tenant, or the amount you are responsible for if you sublet or share an apartment;
- mortgage, including payments on the principal, interest, legal fees, home improvement loans (even if you are behind in your payments);
- real estate taxes and homeowner insurance (even if you have no mortgage);
- the cost of any repairs to your property (a new boiler, new roof, replacement of windows, etc.);
- trailer payments and parking fees; and/or
- shelter expenses for a home not occupied by you if you are planning to return to it and are not otherwise renting it, and charges for repair of a home damaged by natural disaster, provided you will not be reimbursed for these repairs, 106 C.M.R. § 364.400(G)(1); plus
- the appropriate standard utility allowance (SUA) for your household. See What is the standard utility allowance (SUA) and what is H-EAT?. Actual utility costs and heating costs are not allowed as they are covered under the SUA.
How DTA calculates the shelter deduction - four steps
There are four steps to calculate your shelter deduction:
- Step 1: Calculate your preliminary net income - gross monthly income after subtracting the earned income deduction, standard deduction, any dependent care costs, child support payments, and the medical costs (for an elderly or disabled member of your household).
- Step 2: Calculate the shelter deduction by adding your non-utility shelter costs (rent, mortgage) to your standard utility allowance (SUA).
- Step 3: Divide your preliminary net income in half.
- Step 4: Subtract the result in Step 3 from the result in Step 2. The result is your excess shelter cost. If the answer is zero or less, you do not get a shelter deduction. 106 C.M.R. § 364.400(G). If the answer is more than $490, you can deduct only $490 unless the household includes an elderly or disabled person.
In other words, allowable Shelter Costs (Step 2) minus half of Preliminary Net Income (Step 3) equals Shelter Deduction (up to the cap if applicable).
Carl earns $1,500 per month. He lives with his wife Cindy and their child. He pays $100 per month in child support for a child who does not live with him. The family pays $500 per month in rent, and pays for heat and utilities.
$1500 Gross earned income of Carl (including child support paid to a child outside the household (HH)) - $300 20% earnings deduction from gross - $155 Standard deduction for HH of 3 - $100 Child support deduction = $945 Preliminary net income
Shelter deduction calculation $500 Rent + $634 SUA = $1,134 Shelter expenses - $473 One-half preliminary net income = $661 Shelter expenses
$945 Preliminary net income - $490 Maximum shelter deduction (capped) = $455 NET INCOME for Carl's family
Additional Policy Guidance on Shelter Costs
- Mortgage or rent payments are still included as shelter costs even if household is in arrear and cannot make payments, but household cannot claim arrearage payment for back rent/mortgage if previously deducted while getting SNAP/food stamps. Transitions Hotline Q&A (Feb. 2010).
- Shelter expenses may be self-declared unless questionable. DTA Field Operations Memo 2010-29 (June 16, 2010).
- Mortgage payments made when not living in the home are allowed as a deduction if household is temporarily absent for employment, training, illness, or an emergency— as long as no one else is renting dwelling and household plans to return. Transitions Hotline Q&A (Apr. 2007).
- Shelter costs paid by others (e.g., relatives, friends) are not deductible shelter expenses. Transitions Hotline Q&A (May 2004).
- Condominium fees are allowable shelter costs. Transitions Hotline Q&A (Jan. 2000).
- Rent or utilities paid in advance may be deducted in the month when they would have been due. USDA Food Stamp Program Regional 04-05 (Northeast Region).
- Only the amount of mortgage billed is allowed, even if household pays more than monthly mortgage. Transitions Hotline Q&A (Oct. 2000).
Produced by Patricia Baker, Victoria Negus, Laura Gallant, Deborah Harris and Rochelle Hahn, Massachusetts Law Reform Institute Last updated October 2014