Assistance Units - Basic Food

Revised May 22, 2023


This section shows who must be in an assistance unit (AU) for the Washington Basic Food Program and explains how certain living arrangements impact a client's AU and eligibility for Basic Food.

WAC 388-408-0034 - What is an assistance unit for Basic Food?

WAC 388-408-0035 - Who is in my assistance unit for Basic Food?

WAC 388-408-0040 - How does living in an institution affect my eligibility for Basic Food?

WAC 388-408-0045 - Am I eligible for Basic Food if I live in a shelter for battered women and children?

WAC 388-408-0050 - Does the department consider me as homeless for Basic Food benefits?

Clarifying Information - WAC 388-408-0035

  1. Buying and Preparing food:
    1. This rule (formerly known as the “purchase and prepare concept”) applies to the typical shopping and food preparation arrangements of the people who live in the home. Persons who normally buy and prepare their food separately can be in separate AUs if they do not have to be in the same AU for some other reason. This rule does not force people to be in the same AU if they occasionally share a meal or share insignificant items such as seasonings. It also doesn’t force people to be in the same AU if they buy food and make meals separately, but eat their meals together.
    2. Persons sharing a residence can be separate households when they regularly buy food and prepare meals separately.

Persons sharing a residence must be one Basic Food household when they:

  • Buy food together;
  • Prepare meals together; or
  • Buy food and prepare meals together.
EXAMPLE: Kari and Steve are unmarried and share an apartment. They pool their resources for grocery shopping, but don’t normally prepare meals together because they work opposite shifts. Since they buy food together, Steve and Kari would be a single AU for Basic Food.
EXAMPLE: Art and Larry share an apartment. Larry prefers a vegan diet and Art typically eats a meat-based fare. Because of their different diets, they normally do not buy or prepare food together. They take turns buying salt, pepper, and spices that they both use. Since Art and Larry do not normally buy and prepare food together, they are separate AUs for Basic Food.
  1. Transitional Food Assistance (TFA) AUs:

When a mandatory member as described in WAC 388-408-0035 moves into the home of an AU already receiving benefits under TFA, this person cannot be added to the TFA AU unless the household opts out of TFA to apply for regular Basic Food. The new member cannot receive benefits separately if they are required to be in the AU under the WAC. Refer to WAC 388-489-0015 for more information.

EXAMPLE: Mandy, Pete, and Lucy receive Transitional Food Assistance benefits from March 1st through July 31st. In April, Mike moves into the home. Mike normally buys and prepares food with the family. Based on the food arrangements, Mike can’t be a separate AU from Mandy and the others. Since Mandy receives Transitional Food Assistance, the family would have to reapply for Basic Food to see if adding Mike to Basic Food would give them more benefits than they would get under TFA. If Mandy chooses not to reapply for Basic Food, Mike cannot get Basic Food on his own.
EXAMPLE: Ruth and her son Kenny receive Transitional Food Assistance from January 1st through May 31st. In March, Ruth’s younger son Bryce and his father Charlie move into the home. Charlie and Bryce are currently Basic Food recipients. Based on Bryce’s relationship to his parents, Charlie and Bryce cannot continue to receive Basic Food on their own. Ruth and Kenny could choose to remain on TFA, but Charlie and Bryce would no longer be eligible for Basic Food until the TFA expired. Otherwise, Ruth and Kenny would have to opt out of TFA and re-apply as one Assistance Unit for Basic Food with Charlie and Bryce.
  1. Buying and Preparing food – Temporary arrangements based on no food money:

If a client does not currently buy and prepare food separately from others in the home **only** because they have no food or money to buy food, they may be a separate AU from the others in the home if they are not required to be in the same AU under WAC 388-408-0035 (2) **and** they intend to buy and prepare food separately from the others.

EXAMPLE: Bob applied for Basic Food on January 5th. He is homeless and staying at his friend’s house. Because he has no food or food money, he currently prepares the food his friend has purchased. The agreement between the two of them is that Bob will buy and prepare his own food as soon as he is able to do so. Because Bob and his friend are not required to be in the same AU based on relationship, and the two plan to buy and cook food separately as soon as the client has food money, they can be separate AUs for Basic Food. We use January 5th, the date Bob applied for Basic Food, as the date of application.
  1. Homeless Youth:

If a minor is homeless and is temporarily living at the residence of an adult who is not their parent and does not provide for them financially, they are not considered to be under parental control and can be their own assistance unit.

Examples of when a minor is not under parental control include, but are not limited to, when the minor is:

  • Receiving a TANF grant as the person's own payee; or
  • Receiving, as the person's own payee, gross income equal to or exceeding the TANF grant payment standard; and
  • Living in the home of a non-parental adult temporarily with no intention to remain permanently.

A minor is not required to have a residence or income to be eligible for Basic Food. A child should not be considered "financially dependent" unless the child receives significant and sustained financial or other in-kind support from a non-parental adult.

If the minor regularly buys and prepares food with others, everyone who does must be in the same assistance unit for Basic Food.

While there are no special eligibility requirements for homeless youth, they must be provided the same rights, protection, and accommodations as homeless individuals, including the exception to the requirement to verify residency. Other important considerations include:

  • Homeless youths' living arrangements are often different than many other households, as they commonly share the housing of others in temporary, informal conditions.
  • Unlike foster or kinship care, the non-parental adults have no legal responsibility or authority to control the youth. They provide temporary shelter, which may be inadequate and often unsafe for the youth. Youth may move on a weekly or even daily basis.
  • There isn't a minimum age requirement to apply for Basic Food. If there isn't an adult exercising parental control of a minor, the minor can apply on their own behalf.
  • Homeless youth may not have readily available photo ID. Just as with adults, we can accept a collateral contact to verify identity as needed and we must assist the youth in gathering needed verification.
  • There is no requirement to provide information about persons outside of their household including the youth's parents. We would only request information on their parent's whereabouts if the individual circumstances of the case are questionable.
  • Temporary living arrangement refers to an arrangement which will last less than 90 days.
NOTE: While homeless youth can apply on their own and are not considered to be under parental control of an adult in the household who isn’t supporting them, staff are still required to report if they receive information of potential abuse or neglect of a minor. To report abuse or neglect, contact 1-866-END HARM. (1-866-363-4636)
  1. When a minor child doesn't live with an adult:

If a minor child doesn't live with an adult, we decide whom to include in the AU as if the minor child was an adult. A minor child who lives alone is independent of an adult even if they have been assigned a payee.

  1. When a minor child lives with their payee:

If a minor has a payee, but they get and have control of income of at least the TANF payment standard in WAC 388-478-0060 (2), we consider them as financially independent from unrelated adults in the home.

If the payee has control of the minor’s income such as deciding which bills to pay and shopping for the minor, the child is not financially independent and must be in the adult’s AU.

  1. When parents have shared custody of a child:

An individual can only be in one AU during a given month. A child may get Basic Food in the AU where they are "living". We do not use a set number of hours or days someone must sleep in the home to decide if a child is living in the home. If a child stays with their parents who do not live together, we decide where the child lives based on the actual living arrangements.

  1. If the child lives in one home 51% of the time, and the other home for the rest of the time, they can only get Basic Food in the home where they live 51% of the time. This is true even if the parent the child lives with the majority of the time doesn't apply for benefits.
  2. If a child lives with two people for an equal amount of time, the child can get benefits in the AU that applies for benefits first.
  1. Unmarried parents of a child in common:

If a child lives with both parents, both parents must be in the AU regardless of whether or not the parents buy and cook food together. An unmarried parent cannot choose to be excluded from the AU if the other parent has applied for Basic Food for the child.

EXAMPLE: Jane applies for Basic Food for herself and her ten-year old child. The child’s father, who is not married to Jane, lives in the home, but wants to be excluded from the AU. The child’s father claims to buy and prepare food separately from Jane and his child. WAC 388-408-0035 requires Jane and her child to be in the same AU. The same rule requires the child and her father to be in the same AU. Because of this, all three must be in the same Basic Food AU.
  1. Adults living at the same address as their parents:

If a person age 18 through 21 lives at the same address as their parents, this person can be a separate AU from the parents only if they have separate living, cooking, and sanitation facilities.

EXAMPLE: An 18-year-old woman lives in a basement apartment at her parent’s residence. The apartment has a small kitchen, living room, and bathroom that only the 18-year-old uses. If this person usually buys and cooks her food separately from her parents, she can be a separate AU.
EXAMPLE: Applicant, age 21, lives in a camper in the parent’s yard. The camper does not have a bathroom (only a porta-potty) so the applicant uses the bathroom in the parent’s residence for showers. This person is not a separate AU.

 Also see WASHCAP rules (WAC 388-492-0030, (1)(c)(ii)) for SSI recipients, ages 18 through 21 living with a parent.

  1. Spouses who live at the same address:

If someone lives at the same address as their spouse, this person can be a separate AU from their spouse only if they have separate living, cooking, and sanitation facilities.

EXAMPLE: Husband and wife are separated. The wife lives in the house, but the husband lives in a trailer on the property. They both claim to buy and cook their food separately from each other. The trailer has separate heating, cooking, and sanitation facilities that the husband uses. The husband and wife can be separate AUs.
EXAMPLE: Husband and wife are separated. The husband lives in the house and the wife lives in a trailer on the property. The trailer has separate heating, cooking, and sanitation facilities, but the wife makes her meals in the house because the trailer only has a hot plate. The husband and wife cannot be separate AUs, because they use some of the same cooking facilities.

11.  Same-Sex Legally Married Couples:  

As of July 28, 2014, legally married same-sex couples are treated the same as heterosexual married couples and fall under the definition of "spouses" for the purposes of determining who buys and prepares food together and are in the same food assistance AU.

12.  Child living with biological parent:

Adoption ends a biological parent's parental rights as well as their legal and financial responsibilities to the child. If a child who has been adopted lives in the same home as one of their biological parents, we do not consider it any different than if they were living with an unrelated adult.

We determine if the child is in the same AU as their biological parent based whether or not the child is financially independent from their biological parent, and the arrangements for buying and preparing food.

NOTE: If a minor child is under another person’s guardianship and also lives with a biological parent that is not financially responsible for the child’s care and well-being under court order, consider reviewing if an Exception to the Rule (ETR) is applicable.

13.  Live-in attendants:

a.  A client does not have to be a paid employee to be a live-in attendant.

b.  Someone who must be in a client's AU under WAC 388-408-0035 (2) cannot be in a separate AU even if this person is a live-in attendant.

14.  Income of an elderly and disabled AU member's spouse:

a.  If an elderly and disabled person can't buy and cook their own food, but they want to be a separate AU, we compare the income of the other people who live in the home to the 165% standard.

b.  We don't count the income of the elderly and disabled person's spouse in the above step because spouses who live in the same home must always be in the same AU.

15.  Home-monitored AU members:

For Basic Food, AU members who live at home and are being monitored by the court or the Department of Corrections are not considered as living in an institution. They can get Basic Food benefits if they meet all other eligibility requirements.

16.  Clients living in a group home:

Clients who live in certain group homes may be eligible for Basic Food even though they are living in an institution. See WAC 388-408-0040 to determine if a client living in a group home can receive Basic Food.

17.  State-Funded Basic Food AUs:

We use the same rules to build an AU for state-funded Basic Food as we do for federally funded benefits.


Worker Responsibilities - WAC 388-408-0035

Deciding if a Boarder Pays a Reasonable Amount for Meals

  1. Use only the amount the boarder pays for meals to decide if they pay a reasonable amount.
  2. If you can't decide how much the boarder pays for meals, use the amount they pay for both meals and lodging.
  3. Decide if the boarder pays a reasonable amount for meals as follows:
    1. If the boarder gets two or more meals a day, the boarder must pay at least the maximum allotment under WAC 388-478-0060 for the boarder's AU size
    2. If the boarder gets one meal a day, the boarder must pay at least two-thirds of the maximum allotment for the boarder's AU size.
  4. If the boarder pays a reasonable amount for food, the AU that provides the board can choose if they will include the boarder in their AU. Do not allow boarder to be a separate AU.
  5. If the boarder doesn't pay a reasonable amount for food, they don't meet the definition of a boarder for Basic Food. In this situation the AU that provides the board must include the boarder in their AU.

Clarifying Information - WAC 388-408-0040

  1. Federally subsidized housing for the elderly:

    For someone to be eligible for Basic Food based on living in federally subsidized housing for the elderly, the housing must meet both of the following two conditions:

    1. The facility must be expressly for the elderly; and

    2. The facility must be federally subsidized.

  2. Optional meal plans:

    If a residence offers an optional meal plan as a part of their normal services, we only consider a resident to be living in an institution for Basic Food if they choose to get their meals through the optional plan.

    If someone chooses to get the majority of their meals through an optional meal plan, the person is living in an institution. For this person to be eligible for Basic Food benefits, the institution must meet the requirements of WAC 388-408-0040 .

  3. When someone in an ineligible institution may get Basic Food:

    A person who lives in an institution that provides meals may be eligible for Basic Food benefits when:

    1. The person living in the institution can't eat the institution's meals because they need a special diet; and

    2. The institution is unable or unwilling to provide the special diet.

  4. Release from a hospital or other institution:
    1. A person in a hospital or other ineligible institution is not eligible for Basic Food until they are released from the institution.
    2. If someone applies for Basic Food while in an ineligible institution and they are released within 30 days, we use the date of release as their date of application for Basic Food.
  5. Group living arrangements that are not Qualified Group Homes:

    Some group living arrangements are not qualified group homes, but we don’t consider them institutions, because the facility doesn’t prepare the majority of meals for the persons living there. In this case, we look at the client’s living arrangements and whether or not they buy and fix food together to determine who must be in the AU under WAC 388-408-0035.

  6. Supported Living Providers / ITS Homes:

    A Supported Living Provider (formerly Intensive Tenant Support Services or ITS Home) provides services to DDA clients and is licensed by DDA.

    1. Most clients who receive services through one of these providers receive home care or live-in attendant services and are not a licensed group home. These persons are not living in an institution. We look at requirements under WAC 388-408-0035 to determine who must be in a client’s AU.
    2. Some Supported Living Providers also run qualified DDD group homes. Since these clients are living in a qualified DDA group home, they can receive Basic Food.
NOTE: Knowing that a client gets services from a Supported Living Provider does not tell you if the client is in a qualified group home. To determine if the institution is eligible for Basic Food, review the group home files in ACES. 
  1. Nonprofit Drug & Alcohol Treatment Centers Authorized as FNS retailers:

Drug or alcohol treatment centers certified by FNS as eligible for Basic Food: (Nonprofit facility authorized as a retailer under 7 CFR §278.1(e))

  • Behavioral Health Resources - Harvest Home, Olympia, WA 98506
  • The Center for Alcohol & Drug Treatment, Wenatchee, WA 98807
  • Evergreen Recovery Centers, Everett, WA 98201
  • Holman Recovery Center, Arlington, WA 98223
  • Lifeline Connections, Vancouver, WA 98668
  • New Horizon Care Center dba Isabella House, Spokane, WA 98220
  • New Horizon Care Center dba Sun Ray Court, Spokane, WA 99220
  • Seattle Drug and Narcotic Center (SEADRUNAR), dba Key Recovery and Life Skills Center, Seattle, WA 98168
  • Triumph Treatment Services - Beth's Place, Yakima, WA 98902
  • Triumph Treatment Services - Casita Del Rio, Yakima, WA 98902
  • Triumph Treatment Services - Inspirations, Yakima, WA 98902
  • Triumph Treatment Services James Oldham, Buena, WA 98921
  • Triumph Treatment Services Riel House, Yakima, WA 98902
  1. DOH licensing and certification of nonprofit drug and alcohol treatment facilities:

A facility's status as "DOH licensed and certified" in this section only refers to the facility having a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) / Basic Food endorsement.

Drug and alcohol treatment centers endorsed by DOH as eligible for Basic Food:

(Nonprofit facility authorized as a retailer under 7 CFR §237.11(e))

  • Adult & Teen Challenge Women's Center, Graham, WA 98338
  • Adult & Teen Challenge International Pacific NW Center,  Renton, WA 98338
  • Adult & Teen Challenge Men's Center Spokane, WA 99224
  • Adult & Teen Challenge PNW, Pasco, WA 99302
  • The Salvation Army ARP, Seattle, WA 98178
  1. Nonprofit shelters for the homeless:

According to the Washington Department of Commerce's Housing Division/ Homeless Programs and the Washington State Coalition for the Homeless, there are no "for-profit" shelters for the homeless in the state of Washington. We can assume that all the homeless shelters in Washington are non-profit for the purposes of determining eligibility for homeless applicants.

Clarifying Information - WAC 388-408-0045

The rules for women and children living in domestic violence shelters (shelters for battered women and children) should be interpreted to include men and their children who are victims of domestic violence. The term "shelters for battered women and children" can be interpreted to mean "shelters for battered persons and their children".

Worker Responsibilities - WAC 388-408-0045

  1. If clients are already receiving benefits in an AU, remove those who are in the shelter from their previous AU.
  2. Tell the client they can:
    1. Use Basic Food benefits to buy meals prepared by the shelter if the shelter is authorized by Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) to accept them; or
    2. Designate an employee of the facility as an authorized representative when the shelter purchases food for shelter residents at retail stores.
NOTE: Clients who are in a shelter for battered women and children are often not able to access resources they legally own. Remember to exclude resources that aren't available to the client under WAC 388-470-0005

Clarifying Information - WAC 388-408-0050

If the AU is homeless at the time of application or recertification, we consider the AU homeless for the entire certification period.

Worker Responsibilities - WAC 388-408-0050

The 90-Day Period for Temporary Living Arrangements

  1. Start a new 90-day count when the client:
    1. Moves from the residence of one person to the residence of another person if the client is living there on a temporary basis; or
    2. Moves out of their current residence (for at least one day) and later moves back into that residence.
  2. Count the 90-day period consecutively from the date the client moved into their current temporary residence.

ACES Procedures

  • Assistance Units
  • Basic Food