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What is the Standard Utility Allowance and what is Heat and Eat?

Produced by Patricia Baker and Victoria Negus
Reviewed January 2020

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.

Note: In 2019 the Trump Administration proposed a rule change that would affect utility expenses, in particular, the value of the heating/cooling SUA. As of January 2020, no rules have changed. Contact MLRI for more information.

There are three different SUA amounts and the amounts are periodically adjusted by DTA with USDA approval:

Heating (or air conditioning) SUA – currently $646. This is used 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 $396. This is used 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 $45. This is used 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 rent costs. The application and recertification paperwork have questions 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.

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.

How Heat and Eat works

DTA identifies SNAP households not getting the full “heating/cooling standard utility allowance” (SUA) and then exchanges a data file with DHCD to confirm if any of these SNAP households received regular Fuel Assistance in the past 12 months. If not, DTA provides the SNAP household 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 supplies such as light bulbs, flashlights, or blankets. If the H-EAT payment increases your SNAP you will get a notice from DTA. DTA should automatically issue another $21 H-EAT payment annually if you are eligible for this special payment.

SNAP households who do not receive the H-EAT payment are:

  • Bay State CAP (SSI) households,
  • homeless households (who get a special $152 homeless income deduction), and
  • households already identified has having separate heating or cooling costs, or getting maximum SNAP.

Advocacy Reminders:

  • If your SNAP benefits do not include a Heating/Cooling SUA and you are not on Bay State CAP or homeless, call the DTA Ombuds office or Legal Services.
  • 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 Online Guide Sections:SNAP > Expenses and Deductions > Household Expenses > Shelter Expenses > Shelter Expenses Deduction

SNAP > Expenses and Deductions > Household Expenses > Heat and Eat (H Eat) > Heat and EAT

 

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