What is unearned income?

Produced by Patricia Baker and Victoria Negus
Reviewed January 2018

Most sources of unearned income are counted in calculating your SNAP benefits. 106 C.M.R. § 363.220(B). Unearned income is counted 100%, which means you do not receive the 20% earned income disregard.

Countable unearned income includes:

  • Needs-based cash assistance (TAFDC, EAEDC, SSI and Veterans Services benefits). 106 C.M.R. § 363.220(B)(1).
  • Cash benefits based on past earnings or service, including Unemployment Insurance, Workers Compensation, Social Security, federal Veteran’s benefits, and other pension benefits. 106 C.M.R. § 363.220(B)(2). Even though some income sources are based on your past earnings or military record, they are treated as unearned income because you are not working at the time you receive them.
  • Foster care payments received for a child or disabled adult who is included in the SNAP household. These payments are not countable if you opt out this individual from the household. 106 C.M.R. §§ 361.240(F). 363.220(B)(2). See What if I am caring for a foster child or a disabled foster adult?
  • Child support and any income from trusts, alimony or other sources paid directly to you. Child support payments made to TAFDC recipients that must be assigned to the Department of Revenue (DOR) are not countable, even if erroneously received by the TAFDC household. 106 C.M.R. §§ 363.220(B)(3), (C)(6).
  • Interest payments, dividends, royalties paid from your assets, or other direct money payments. 106 C.M.R. § 363.220(B)(4). These monies still count as income, even though the assets themselves do not count.
  • Certain non-federal post-secondary educational loans, grants, scholarships that can be used for current living expenses. 106 C.M.R. § 363.230(D). See What if I am a college student? and What income is not counted? Most federal educational monies, including federal work study, are non-countable.
  • TAFDC or EAEDC benefits diverted to a landlord or other third-party vendor payments. 106 C.M.R. §§ 363.220(C)(2), (C)(3).
  • The portion of a TAFDC, EAEDC or SSI grant that is deducted because an individual was sanctioned or is repaying an overpayment due to an intentional failure to comply with requirements of these programs. See Does DTA count money don't receive?

Advocacy Reminders:

  • DTA can use government data bases to verify a number of income sources including: Social Security (RSDI), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Unemployment Insurance and child support that is paid to a family through the Department of Revenue (DOR). DTA should use these data bases to verify unearned income and not ask you to produce a written statement about the benefit amount.
  • Unearned income that is “recouped” for an overpayment is not countable unless it is both:a) a needs-based benefit and b) recoupment is due to a fraud-based overpayment. See Does DTA count money don't receive?.
  • Anything that is not clearly listed as excluded as “non-countable” under the SNAP rules is usually considered countable income. Always be sure to report to DTA any source of income, even if you think it is non-countable. See What income is not counted?

DTA Policy Guidance:

Online Guide Sections: SNAP > Eligibility Requirements > Income > Other Income (Unearned) > Other Income Introduction (Unearned)  

Additional Guidance
  • Pension or retirement savings account withdrawals that are more frequent than one time withdrawals are likely countable as unearned income. Interest income is also countable. Hotline Q&A (Feb 2014) 
  • State Veterans’ Services Benefits (VSB) considered countable unearned income but certain portions may be excluded—if vender payments are made by VSO, etc. Transitions Hotline Q&A (May 2013)
  • Payments from a “reverse mortgage” (where homeowner draws money out of equity from home) is a loan and non-countable as income for SNAP. Transitions Hotline Q&A (April 2007)
  • Social Security received by household for child residing in institution is not countable if money used for the care and maintenance of the institutionalized child. Transitions Hotline Q&A (June 2000).

Show DTA Policy Guidance

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