Only 1 in 5 eligible adults are using the SNAP medical expenses deduction to get more benefits, according to the National Council on Aging. That means about 80% of eligible seniors and people with disabilities are missing out on extra food benefits!
When Camellia started using this strategy, her monthly benefit increased from $35 per month to $192 per month. That’s $157 more per month!!!
That’s especially true because most adults in this category get the minimum food benefit, which is currently $23 per month. This is a ridiculously low amount of benefits that barely helps at all. Of course, it’s nearly impossible to survive on a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program budget under the best circumstances, so it’s important to make sure that you are getting all the benefits that you may qualify for.
In this article, we’re going to explain what the SNAP medical expenses deduction is, who qualifies for it, what expenses count toward it, and what you need to do to claim that deduction for yourself.
What is the SNAP Medical Expenses Deduction?
The SNAP Medical Expenses Deduction is a special feature of the food stamps law that helps low income seniors and people with disabilities get more food benefits. Basically, the deduction reduces the amount of income that the office will count against you when the calculate your benefits.
According to the NCOA, there is no maximum on this deduction. This means that if your medical expenses are high enough, they could theoretically offset all of your income and make you eligible for the maximum amount of food benefits every month.
This deduction is limited in scope and only available to certain eligible people, as described below. It is also not automatic, unlike many other SNAP deductions. You will have to take action in order to get this deduction.
Who is eligible for the medical expenses deduction?
Shockingly, only about 1 in 5 eligible adults are claiming the SNAP medical expenses deduction. That means about 80% of eligible users are missing out on this critical benefit.
You can only claim the SNAP Medical Expenses Deduction if the following criteria apply to you:
- You are currently receiving or applying for SNAP benefits.
- You are either disabled or age 60+.
- You have out-of-pocket medical expenses that exceed $35 per month on average.
Not sure about your monthly medical expenses? That’s okay. There are a lot of things that can count and it doesn’t have to be overwhelming or difficult to claim this deduction.
What counts as a medical expense?
There are many different things that can count as medical expenses. Since this basically includes any cost associated with diagnosing, treating, curing, preventing, or mitigating a health-related condition, medical expenses can include anything from prescribed vitamins to surgical procedures. Dental and vision services also count, as do caregiving and even transportation to and from medical appointments.
For the purposes of this program, any costs that count toward your deduction must be paid by you. If you are reimbursed or paid back for the expense, such as through the VA Travel Pay program, then that expense cannot count toward the SNAP medical expenses deduction because you have already been compensated for that cost.
This is a partial list of expenses that can count toward this deduction:
- Medical services:
- Doctor’s visits
- Nursing home costs
- Caregiver costs (including attendants, home health aids, etc.)
- Prescription drugs
- Eye exams
- Dental visits
- Emergency Transportation Services (ambulances, etc)
- Medical equipment:
- Hearing aids
- Service animals (including pet food and veterinary care for your service animal)
- Other medical expenses:
- Health insurance premiums, deductibles and copays (including Medicare!)
- Medications bought over-the-counter, including vitamins and supplements
- Transportation and lodging (including mileage to and from the pharmacy and doctor’s appointments)
- Housekeeper services (if required due to age or disability)
- Child care services (if required due to age or disability)
Some states allow you to deduct even more obscure health care costs, but this can vary depending on where you live.
For example, in Montana, you can deduct these as well:
- Housekeeper services
- Medical alert systems
- Medical debt loan payments, including credit card balances due to a medical expense
- Postage for prescriptions
- Service animals (including service monkeys! How fun is that?)
In California, the rules also specifically include:
- Meals for your caregiver
- Rehabilitation services
- Specialized telephone equipment
In Florida, the SNAP Medical Expenses Deduction Toolkit explains that you can also claim 44.5 cents per mile in mileage costs! Their guidelines also include other specific expenses, including:
- Batteries for your aids
- Denture cleaning supplies
- Incontinence supplies
- Medical alert devices
- Pain relief
- Walkers and other Durable Medical Equipment
As you can see, there are a ton of costs that can count toward the SNAP medical expenses deduction. Nearly any cost associated with your medical, dental, vision, or home safety can count toward this expense.
How do I calculate my medical expenses?
It can be overwhelming to try to calculate your out-of-pocket costs, especially since so many different things can qualify. What if you didn’t save your receipts for your service animal’s pet food? What if you have a once-a-year appointment in a major city? What if your expenses change every month?
One of the biggest complaints about the SNAP medical expenses deduction is that it has historically been difficult to qualify for because some states make the paperwork very complicated. Fortunately, that is something that has started to change in recent years and it is now easier than ever to get this deduction.
Average Your Annual Costs
The Florida guidelines specifically instruct you to average annual costs. The document gives the example of someone who has to travel to Gainesville for heart treatment once per year. In the example, the bus fare is $80 round-trip and the hotel is $88 for one night so the total cost of the trip is $168 per year. The document states that this cost can be averaged across 12 months for a total of $14 per month in expenses. This would be factored into the $35 per month out-of-pocket expense requirement.
As far as I can tell, several (if not all) states will allow you to average annual expenses this way. This helps you more accurately estimate your monthly out-of-pocket costs.
In fact, that’s what Camelia did to get her deduction! She gathered as many receipts as she could find for the previous year. The state averaged those costs over 12 months to determine her monthly medical expenses.
Keep Your Receipts & Bills
The easiest way to calculate your expenses is to store all of your medical receipts, bills, invoices and costs separately. That way, you can quickly find and gather those expense reports.
If you haven’t been saving receipts, you may be able to find sufficient evidence on your bank statements, credit card statements, credit report, email, past text messages, or other documentation.
If you don’t have receipts on hand, please don’t panic. Many states will allow you to submit a sworn statement testifying to your costs, even if you cannot supply evidence.
How do I claim the SNAP medical expenses deduction?
The steps required to claim the SNAP medical expenses deduction vary by state. In most cases, you will need to talk to the office in charge of food stamps about how to get the deduction applied to your account.
Depending on where you live, you may be asked for one or more of the following:
- Sworn statement
- Receipts, bills, invoices, etc.
- Itemized expense list
In California, you can simply submit a sworn statement testifying of your expenses. It helps if you can submit proof of those expenses, but I did find some government documents that indicated a sworn statement can be accepted without evidence.
In Florida, the Florida Policy Institute has a nifty toolkit (linked above) that you can print out, fill out, and submit to DCF to request the deduction. This makes the process very easy.
In Massachusetts, the state will accept a self-declaration as long as the total expenses do not exceed $190. If you have medical expenses that exceed $190 per month, you will need to provide receipts, bills, invoices, or other documentation to verify those costs. However, even if you don’t want to bother submitting that evidence, it appears that you could simply claim the standard medical deduction and still get more benefits than you are currently.
How easy is that? In many states, a sworn statement will be enough to get you at least a partial medical deduction… and in other states, you will have to provide some documentation. But that doesn’t have to be an overwhelming or constant task.
Camellia was asked to submit documentation of her expenses but could not do the calculations herself. She simply provided the receipts for the previous year and asked the office to sort it out, which they did.
“They wanted me to show what my projected recurring monthly expenses but I said I couldn’t do that. They were different every month. I turned in receipts for the previous year and told them to figure it out. And they did.”Camellia, as told to Lily at How to Get On
It is not clear what state Camellia was in so I am not sure if that same process will work in your state. However, it never hurts to ask.
If you need help completing the application for the SNAP medical expenses deduction, please contact your local Area Agency on Aging or your local senior center. They often have caseworkers or social workers on hand who can help you with that paperwork.
How does the deduction work?
The amount of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits you receive is based on a complex calculation involving your household size and income. The SNAP medical expenses deduction is used to reduce the amount of income that counts against you, thereby increasing the amount of SNAP benefits you are eligible for.
First, the office will look at your total medical expenses and subtract $35. That’s because the first $35 per month doesn’t count toward the deduction, because the deduction is only for costs that exceed $35 per month.
Second, the office will look at your total income and subtract the amount of your excess costs (as calculated in the previous step). In some states, the state may apply a standard medical deduction instead of using this exact figure. It depends on your state’s rules. Either way, the amount of your income will be reduced by the amount of the deduction.
This reduces the amount of income that counts against you in the SNAP calculation. Less income results in more benefits, which is why people who claim the deduction tend to get more benefits than those who don’t.
How much will you get from the SNAP medical expenses deduction?
The exact amount you receive from the SNAP medical expenses deduction is going to depend on how much your household income is and how much your costs are.
When Camellia did this, her benefits soared from $35 per month to $192 per month. That’s $157 more per month, or almost $2,000 per year in more food benefits. Unfortunately, she did not provide any information about how much her medical costs were.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates, “for a typical senior living alone, claiming $50-$200 in medical expenses can result in an additional $7-$69 in SNAP benefits a month.”
The difference in your benefits could be more or less, depending on your location, household size and other pertinent details. You won’t know for sure until you try.
What is a state standard medical deduction?
In order to make the process easier on their case managers, some states have chosen to enact a state standard medical deduction. The standard deduction is a flat amount determined by the state that is used in these calculations. It does not take your personal expenses into account. The state standard may be more or less than your actual out-of-pocket expenses.
According to the National Council on Aging, you can receive a deduction for the actual amount of your medical expenses if it is higher than the state’s standard medical deduction. This will require more paperwork but could result in more food benefits.
The NCOA recommends checking your state’s SNAP policy manual to see if your state uses a standard deduction. If they do, the policy manual may tell you how much it is so that you can make an informed decision about whether or not you want to pursue a more accurate deduction.
The SNAP medical expenses deduction helps seniors and people with disabilities get more food benefits by reducing the amount of income that counts against them. This deduction is only available to people with disabilities and/or seniors who are at least 60 years old. In order to qualify, you must have medical expenses that are more than $35 per month. If you are willing to do the paperwork and follow the steps outlined in this article, it could drastically increase the amount of food benefits you receive every month.