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General Eligibility Rules

Produced by Patricia Baker and Victoria Negus
Reviewed January 2018

What is a SNAP household or assistance unit?

A SNAP household or assistance unit is either a person living alone or a group of people living together. The SNAP rules look at whether persons who live together “customarily purchase and prepare” food together. 106 C.M.R. § 361.200.

Programs like TAFDC, EAEDC, SSI, and MassHealth look at the legal responsibility of persons who live together: spouses to each other, parents to minor children. The SNAP program does too, but it also looks at a “household” based on the group of people who live under the same roof and how they buy and share food. This is a fundamental concept of the SNAP program, but it can confuse both low-income households and advocates because eligibility differs from other needs-based programs.

This SNAP “household rule” applies even if the people you live with are not related to you, or do not have any legal obligations to support you.  If you live with a group of people, they are part of your SNAP “household” when you buy and share food together most of the time (for example, you share commonly bought food for more than 11 out of 21 weekly meals.)

The SNAP household rules also say that if you live with your spouse or you are a child under age 22 and live with your parents, you must be in the same SNAP household. This is true even if you do not buy food and prepare meals together, or even if your parents or your spouse do not want any SNAP benefits. See Who cannot be a separate SNAP household?.

In joint custody situations, children are usually part of the SNAP household of the parent who provides the most day-to-day care and control. Both parents cannot receive SNAP benefits for the same children.

Note: Federal regulations use the term “household.” 7 C.F.R. §273.1(a). DTA uses both the terms “household” and “assistance unit.” This Guide uses the term “household.”

DTA Policy Guidance:

DTA Online GuideSNAP > Eligibility Requirements > Household Composition

Additional Guidance
  • In joint custody situations, the parent who exercises most supervision gets SNAP benefits for child, even if the court order awards custody to other parent; if equal supervision, parents decide which parent receives SNAP for child. Hotline Q&A (Feb. 2012).

Show DTA Policy Guidance

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