What is the shelter deduction and is it calculated?

Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Reviewed March 2023

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 $1,560/month: $700 rent and the $860 heating/cooling standard utility allowance. She pays for oil, heat, electricity, phone, and internet. Her gross earnings are $1,500/month and her net income (after pre-shelter allowable deductions) is $1,007 per month. DTA will calculate Rita’s SNAP using the $624 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 $624 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 you 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, (including any child support paid out, see Question 78), standard deduction, any dependent care, 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 $624, you can deduct only $624 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
- 193 Standard deduction for household of 3
$ 1,007 Preliminary net income

Shelter deduction calculation
$ 800 Rent
+ 860 SUA
$1,446 Shelter expenses
- 504 One-half prelim net income (1/2 of $1,007)
$ 1,156 Shelter expense > half net income

- 624 Maximum shelter deduction (capped)
$ 532 NET INCOME for Carl’s family (preliminary net income minus max shelter deduction)

DTA Online Guide: See Appendix G for links to the DTA’s BEACON Online Guide for this section


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