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Government Aid and Services
SNAP and Utilities—Make Sure You Get Credit for Utility Expenses

When SNAP decides the amount of your benefit, they consider the size of your household, your income, and some of your expenses. They take expenses like housing, child care, and medical expenses (for elderly and disabled people) into account when they look at your income by giving you a credit for certain, necessary expenses. They subtract these credits, called “deductions,” from your income, so your “countable income” is lower. Once they have calculated your countable income, they compare it to your household size to determine your monthly SNAP benefit. Generally, the lower your countable income, the higher your benefit will be.

How do my housing expenses affect my food stamps?

One of the things the SNAP agency must consider is the cost of your housing if these costs are very high compared to your income. If a family receives utility assistance from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance program (LIHEAP), the SNAP agency assumes the family is responsible for paying their utility bills and automatically factors that into their housing cost deduction. If the family does not receive LIHEAP benefits, the SNAP agency must ask whether they have utility costs that should be considered. If your total housing costs (including utilities) are high compared to your income, it is important that you get credit for the housing deduction because it may result in a higher SNAP benefit. There is a limit to how much you can deduct for most households, but there is no limit for seniors and SSI recipients.

What should I do to make sure that my utility expenses are counted?

Make sure the SNAP office knows if you pay for utilities, especially if you pay for any heating or cooling costs. Cooling costs include the cost of your electricity if you have air conditioning in your home (including a window unit).

  • Apply for LIHEAP if you haven’t already.LIHEAP can help with heating costs of oil, propane, and wood-burning stoves. It can also help tenants with incomes under 200% of the federal poverty limit, even if their utilities are paid by their landlord. The deadline for applying for LIHEAP is usually at the end of May, and the program reopens October 1. For more information or to locate your nearest application agency, call New Jersey’s toll-free energy assistance hotline at 1-800-510-3102. If you received a LIHEAP payment within the last 12 months, the SNAP office can use that receipt of LIHEAP to give you credit for utility expenses, without the need for other paperwork.

  • Document your expenses. If you share utility costs with someone else and the bill is in their name, try to document what you pay. Make a copy of the utility bill that lists your address. Get a statement from the person you share the bill with, stating that you are responsible for utilities. Pay your share of the bill by check or money order, made out to the utility company directly, and list the account number on the payment. If you have a rental agreement that shows that you are responsible for utilities, or if you have an arrangement with the landlord to pay a fee for utilities, get that in writing. Keep a record of those payments in case you need to provide them to the SNAP office.

Also, remember to let the SNAP office know if you have other expenses they could consider. These might include:

  • Medical Expenses: If someone in your household is age 60 or older or has a disability, your benefit may go up if you share all your out-of-pocket medical costs, such as insurance premiums, medical equipment, and transportation.

  • Child Care Expenses: If you pay for child or adult day care so you can work, look for work, or attend school, your benefit may go up if you share all your out-of-pocket costs, including co-pays, afterschool care, and transportation.

You cannot get more than the maximum monthly benefit, however, no matter how high your expenses.

Call the LSNJLAWSM Hotline

If you need help with your SNAP benefits or these deductions, you can call LSNJLAWSM, Legal Services of New Jersey’s statewide, toll-free legal hotline, at 1-888-LSNJ-LAW (1-888-576-5529) for legal advice, information, and referral. You may also apply for help online. ​

9/27/2017