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SNAP - Applications' Statements about Unreported and Unverified Expenses

EO Guidance Document #
FNS-GD-2009-0076
Resource type
Policy Memos
FAQs/Q&As
Guidance Documents
Resource Materials
PDF Icon Policy Memo (715.78 KB)
DATE: November 18, 2009
SUBJECT: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP); Applications' Statements about Unreported and Unverified Expenses
TO: All Regional Directors
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program
Background

This memorandum applies only to state agencies that include the following (or similar) wording on a SNAP application: "Failure to report or verify any of the above listed expenses will be seen as a statement by your household that you do not want to receive a deduction for the unreported expense."

In a memorandum dated Dec. 18, 1998, Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) wrote that a state agency may use the wording in the preceding paragraph (or similar wording) on a SNAP application. On Feb. 25,2008, FNS issued another memorandum to describe how this policy affects recertifications and reported changes. On Nov. 5, 2008, FNS issued SNAP Memorandum Quality Control (QC)-09-01, which described QC's treatment of unreported and unverified expenses. Copies of these three memoranda are attached.

Since 1998, many state agencies have shortened their applications, while others use addenda, scripted interviews, interactive interviews, or on-line applications. In light of these changes, FNS is clarifying the treatment of unreported and unverified expenses.

In preparing this clarification, FNS has had three over-riding considerations. First, FNS does not have the authority to approve or to disapprove state agencies' SNAP applications. Therefore, this memorandum only explains how a state agency will treat unreported or unverified expenses when a statement similar to the one in the first paragraph appears on a SNAP application.

Second, state agencies are responsible for ensuring that all eligible applicants receive the SNAP benefits to which they are entitled. A household cannot be responsible for failing to report information, or for not verifying information, if the household is not aware of the requirement.

Third, there is a wide range of deductible medical expenses that includes expenses that are not readily apparent to clients, such as transportation costs. FNS is concerned that elderly and disabled clients need to understand what expenses are deductible and how those expenses may affect their benefit levels.

To illustrate this situation,25 state agencies' SNAP applications do not ask about medical transportation expenses that households incur in order to receive medical care. One cannot conclude that applicants in these states do not want to deduct these expenses when they do not know that they are deductible.

However, the Louisiana Department of Social Service's (DSS's) SNAP application offers a different approach. DSS's SNAP application specifically addresses common deductible medical expenses and also provides detailed questions about medical transportation costs. In addition to asking whether any household member incurs such costs, the form asks:

  • Whether the person uses a vehicle that belongs to the household;
  • What places the person visits (like doctors, drug stores, and hospitals);
  • How many miles each round-trip requires;
  • How often the person makes the trip; and
  • A series of questions about whether anyone in the household pays anyone else for medical transportation, how much, and to whom.

Accordingly, if a Louisiana household does not report medical transportation costs DSS can properly conclude that the household did not want to deduct those costs.

Guidance

With this in mind, FNS offers the following guidance about six issues for those state agencies that choose to include on their applications a statement notifying applicants that failure to report or to verify expenses indicates that a household does not want to receive a deduction for that expense.

1. Under what circumstances must a state agency conclude that a household does not want to deduct an expense?
When the following are all true:

  • The state agency asked about the unreported expense or requested verification; and
  • The household did not report or verify the expense; and . The state agency complied with all requirements regarding verification (please see question three); and . The state agency documented the reason for not deducting the expense.

2. How specific must the state agency's question be before the state agency concludes that the household does not want to deduct the expense?
The question must be specific enough so that a household who is completely unfamiliar with SNAP's policy can answer the question.

This policy only applies to questions that are specifically addressed on the state agency's application form or during the interview. For example, suppose a state agency asks: "Do you have any child day care expenses?" but does not ask "Do you have any adult day care expenses?" and the household answers "None". Suppose also that the household really does have adult dependent care expenses.

It would be wrong to conclude that the household does not want to deduct adult day care expenses; the state agency never asked about adult day care. It is not necessary for every application to ask about all deductible expenses. In fact, doing so is not administratively feasible. However, a state agency may find a "tiered approach" to be an effective way to ask households about deductible expenses. For example, a household with an elderly or disabled member could receive a brief addendum that asks general questions about medical expenses. If the household then reported owning a service animal, the state agency could then ask more detailed questions about food and medical care for the animal on another addendum or as part of the interview. If the household failed to report the costs of the service animal's food and medical care, the state agency would correctly conclude that the household does not want to deduct unreported veterinary bills.

It is also not necessary that the questions appear on SNAP's printed application, as long as the state agency covers the questions in the interview and documents the questions and answers.

3. If the household has not verified a deductible expense what must the state agency do before concluding that the household does not want to deduct it?
The state agency must meet all of its responsibilities under federal regulations, including:

  • Notifying the household that verification is required (273.(c)(5));
  • Giving the household sufficient time to provide the verification(273.2(h)(1)(C)); and
  • Offering to help the household obtain verification (273.2(h)(1)(C)).

4. When a state agency concludes that a household does not want to deduct an expense, does the expense become non-deductible?
Yes. The state agency would then not include the expense in any calculation of net income. For example, suppose a household has a health insurance premium and does not report it on the application or during the interview. The health insurance premium is now nondeductible, as if it were a life insurance premium, a cable television bill, or payment on a car loan (none of which are deductible under the Food and Nutrition Act and federal regulations).

5. When a household later reports or verifies an expense, would the state agency then deduct it?
Yes

6. What wording is acceptable, when telling a household about this policy?
There is no single statement that all state agencies must use. The wording that FNS approved in 1998 remains acceptable. If a state agency chooses to deviate significantly from this wording it should consult with its FNS Regional Office to make sure that the alternative wording is adequate. The state agency must be clear in its explanation. For example, it is not appropriate to tell the household that they "may not receive the deduction". Such a statement does not tell the household what will happen. Instead the state agency would tell the household that they "will not receive the deduction".

Commonly Reported Deductible Expenses

FNS examined over one hundred reviews in quality control's active sub-sample, to find the most commonly reported expenses; the review is not intended to be a statistically valid representation of expenses. State agencies may want to use this information, along with information from their own case records and quality control reviews, to decide which expenses to list on their SNAP applications.

More than 50 percent of households reported these expenses
     Electricity, Rent, Heating, Cooling

Between 10 percent and 50 percent of households reported these expenses
     Telephone, Water, Mortgage, Trash collection, Sewage

Fewer than 10 percent of households reported these expenses
     Property tax, Child dependent care, Property insurance, Gas, Child support, Prescription medicines, Health insurance, Doctors' bills, Personal medical care, Irrigation tax, Fire insurance, Medical supplies, Medical attendant, Adult dependent care, Condominium fee, Hospital treatment

No households reported these expenses
     Twenty-eight deductible expenses appeared on this list, including Transportation for dependent care, Transportation for medical care, Over-the-counter medicines, Medical equipment, and Eyeglasses

For further information about this, or to raise questions or comments, please contact your office's team leader in the Certification Policy Branch.

Arthur T. Foley
Director
Program Development Division

 

Attachment
11/18/2009

The contents of this guidance document do not have the force and effect of law and are not meant to bind the public in any way. This document is intended only to provide clarity to the public regarding existing requirements under the law or agency policies.