What is the shelter deduction and is it calculated?

We are in the process of updating the SNAP Advocacy Guide, so some of the information is no longer current.  In the meantime, you can read or download a pdf of the 2023 guide from www.masslegalservices.org/FoodStampSNAPAdvocacyGuide

Produced by Patricia Baker and Victoria Negus, Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Reviewed January 2020

The SNAP rules allow you to deduct shelter expenses that exceed half of your net income, but not a dollar for dollar deduction of shelter costs. This is called the “shelter deduction.” 106 C.M.R. § 364.400(G).


Rita’s total shelter expenses are $1,346/month: $700 rent and the $646 heating/cooling standard utility allowance. She pays oil heat, electricity, phone, internet. Her gross earnings are $1,500/month and her net income (after pre-shelter allowable deductions) is $1,030 per month. DTA will calculate Rita’s SNAP using the $569 capped shelter deduction, even though her shelter expenses above half of her net income are higher than that.

The SNAP shelter deduction is complicated but important. After Section 8 and public housing, it is the biggest source of federal assistance to low-income households based on their housing needs.
Remember, shelter costs may be self-declared by the household unless questionable. See What information can I self-declare?

Two shelter deductions:

  • The shelter deduction is capped at $569 per month for households that do not include an elder, disabled adult or disabled child, regardless of how high the shelter costs are.
  • 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 costs that exceed 50% of net income.

Shelter costs that can be claimed

■ monthly rent paid that you pay or owe, including the amount you are responsible for if you sublet or share an apartment. If you have a rent subsidy, only the amount of rent you pay should be reported;
■ mortgage fees, including payments on the principal, interest, legal fees, home improvement loans (even if you are behind in payments) and condo fees. If you pay mortgage quarterly or semi-annually, list your monthly average;
■ property taxes and homeowner insurance (even if you have no mortgage);
■ trailer payments and parking fees;
■ repair costs on your home or condo needed as a result of a fire, flood, severe storms or other natural disaster and not reimbursed by insurance (e.g. a new boiler, new roof, replacement of windows, etc.);
■ shelter expenses for a home not occupied by you if you are planning to return to it, not renting it and had to leave because of employment and training away from home, illness or a natural disaster; and
■ the appropriate standard utility allowance (SUA) for your household. See What is the child support deduction? Actual utility costs and heating costs are not allowed as they are covered under the SUA.

SNAP rules on shelter costs: 106 C.M.R. §364.400(G)(1)

How shelter costs are calculated

Step 1: Calculate your preliminary net income – gross monthly income after subtracting the earned income deduction, standard deduction, any dependent care , child support payments, and allowable medical costs.

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. If the answer is more than $569, you can deduct only $569 unless the household includes an elderly or disabled person.


Carl works party time and earns $1,500 per month. He lives with his wife Cindy and their child. The family pays $800 per month in rent, and pays for heat and utilities. Here’s how DTA calculates Carl’s shelter costs to determine his net income:

$1,500 Carl’s Gross earned income
- 300 20% earnings deduction from gross
- 167 Standard deduction for household of 3
$ 1,033 Preliminary net income

Shelter deduction calculation
$ 800 Rent
+ 646 SUA
$1,446 Shelter expenses
- 516 One-half prelim net income (1/2 of $1,033)
$ 930 Shelter expense > half net income

- 569 Maximum shelter deduction (capped)
$ 464 NET INCOME for Carl’s family (preliminary net income minus max shelter deduction)


DTA Online Guide Sections: SNAP > Expenses and Deductions > Household Expenses > Shelter Expenses > Shelter Expenses Deduction

Additional Guidance:
● Mortgage or rent payments still included as shelter costs even if household is in arrears and cannot make payments, but household cannot claim arrearage payment for back rent/mortgage if previously deducted while getting SNAP. Transitions Hotline Q&A (Feb. 2010)
● 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 mortgage amount billed is countable, even if household pays the bank more than monthly mortgage. Transitions Hotline Q&A (October 2000).

Show DTA Policy Guidance

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