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Issue Alert - 02-09-01

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Oct 01, 2002

Issue Summary:

Standard utility allowances have changed.

Persons Affected:

FAP recipients who have utility costs.


Food Assistance Program (FAP - formerly known as Food Stamps)

What's Happening?

Utility standards have been restructured. The new structure still includes a single, combined Heat and Utility standard for households that do not have all of their heating costs included in their housing payment, but all other households receive "Individual Standards" for each type of utility they pay. There are individual standards for Non-Heat Electric, Water and/or Sewer, Telephone, Cooking Fuel and Trash Removal. The new utility standards follow: Heat and Utility Standard $365 Non-Heat Electric $ 75 Water and/or Sewer $ 40 Telephone $ 30 Cooking Fuel $ 27 Trash/Garbage Removal $ 13Households that have ANY obligation to pay for heating costs qualify for the Heat and Utility Standard, including households that are only required to pay for "excess heating costs." In addition, households that share heating expenses now each qualify for the FULL Heat and Utility Standard (previous policy would pro-rate the standard among households, see Issue Alert 02-09-02). Households that receive the Heat and Utility Standard cannot receive any of the Individual Standards.Actual utility expenses are allowed for utility installation charges (not deposits or reconnection fees), water well installation and maintenance, and septic installation and maintenance.

What Should Advocates Do?

Advocates should make sure their clients know to report all of their utility costs to their caseworkers. Many Food Stamp recipients who do not pay for heat separately from their regular housing payment only had to show their obligation to pay for electric, telephone, or water to qualify for the appropriate standard under the old policy. Because there are new,individual standards for all utilities, households that do not qualify for the Heat and Utility Standard should tell their worker about any additional costs they have, such as garbage removal or cooking fuel. FAP households that currently receive the Heat and Utility Standard will automatically be switched to the new standard on 10/01/02. Many of these recipients may notice a small reduction in their FAP grants as a result of the new Heat and Utility standard. All other FAP households will not have their standards automatically switched. FIA will adjust their utility standards "next time the case is acted upon." This means that some households may wait months until their redetermination to begin receiving the new standards. Advocates should advise clients who would benefit from the new structure to contact their caseworkers as soon as possible to have their budgets adjusted. Advocates should keep in mind that some recipients will not benefit from the new structure. Advocates should calculate clients' Food Stamp budgets using the old utility standards and the new ones to see whether they would benefit from asking their workers to adjust their utility standards prior to redetermination.

What Should Clients Do?

Clients who do not pay for heat separately from their housing payments should report all of their utility costs to their caseworkers as soon as possible. Households that are obligated to pay for "excess heating costs," and have in the past received the "Utility-Only Standard" of $133, should remind their worker of that obligation so they can be reassigned to the new Heat and Utility standard.

Finding Help

Most legal aid and legal services office handle these type of cases, and they do not charge a fee. You can locate the "free" legal services or legal aid office that serves your county on the Michigan Legal Assistance Network website ( or look in the yellow pages under "attorneys" or call the toll-free lawyer referral number, (800) 968-0738