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What if DTA questions my income or my living expenses?

Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Reviewed January 2020

Many low income households have living expenses that exceed their income. Households often borrow from family members or friends, run up credit cards or unpaid bills that lead to a utility shut off or eviction. None of this is fraudulent activity; it is how most households survive tough times.
If DTA thinks your income is too low to meet your rent or other expenses, a DTA worker may ask you questions about how you are getting by. It is very important that you answer DTA’s questions truthfully.

At the point of application and Interim Reporting, DTA should record your explanations for how you are managing when your living costs exceed your income. DTA should not ask for proofs when your expenses are higher than your income, unless the information you provide is questionable.
However, if your shelter costs or other expenses continue to exceed your income at the point of your SNAP recertification, DTA will likely ask you for more proof. That can include documents that show you are behind in your rent or utilities, or a statement from people you are borrowing money from.
 

How loans and cash contributions from third parties impact SNAP
Money that you borrow (loans) from friends, relatives or other third parties and that you plan to repay does not count for SNAP. See What income is not counted?. DTA should calculate your SNAP based on your own income, but not count the money you borrow.

Example: Clara has been unemployed for a year following a car accident. She shares an apartment; her share of the rent is $500/month. Clara explains during her SNAP interview that she’s been borrowing money from friends to pay her rent after running up debt on her credit card, and that she is planning to repay them. The money she borrows does not count for SNAP.
 

Cash contributions from legally-responsible persons – such as your spouse or the parent of your minor child - is countable unearned income. It must be reported to DTA, even if it is not court-ordered alimony or child support. However, if the money is paid directly to a third party (for example, if your spouse pays the landlord or the utility company directly), it is not countable. See What income is not counted?.
 

Example: Susan works part time and also gets $400/month from the father of her child. There is no formal child support order, but Susan must report this income to DTA along with her earnings. However, if the father sends the $400 directly to Susan’s landlord, it does not count as income. But, Susan cannot claim as a SNAP shelter deduction the portion of rent paid directly by the father.
 

Cash contributions from friends, friends, or relatives who are not legally responsible for you does not count as income, as long as the money is earmarked for a specific purpose and does not cover the full amount of your rent, utilities or other needs. But, unlike loans you plan to repay, DTA may calculate your expenses at a lower amount because of the gift. See Does DTA count gifts or contributions?.
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