The MSA Benefit

MSA Assistance Standard

The MSA assistance standard is the minimum amount of income Minnesota believes that a person needs in order to pay for his or her basic expenses. The amount of the MSA assistance standard depends on your living situation:

  • If you are single and living alone, it's $796/month.

  • If you are single and live with others, it's $582.66/month.

  • If you are an eligible couple and the two of you live on your own, it's $1,194/month.

  • If you are an eligible couple and live with others as well, it's $799.34/month.

  • People living in certain residential facilities get $97/month for personal needs and clothing.

MSA and SSI classify living situations differently

When MSA looks at your living situation, it checks whether you live on your own or live with others. When SSI looks at your living situation, it checks whether you pay your fair share of expenses or somebody else helps pay for your food and shelter.

What this means is that sometimes MSA lowers the assistance standard for a person who lives with others, while SSI does not lower the maximum benefits that person could get, as long as he or she is paying a fair share of living expenses.

Here are a couple of ways this could matter:

  1. If you are living with others and not paying your fair share of food and rent, you may get lower SSI benefits, but keep getting MSA benefits as well.
  2. If you are living with others but paying your fair share of food and rent, you may get full SSI benefits, but not qualify for MSA unless you have Special Needs Expenses.

Below you can see exactly how this impacts benefit amounts.

Special Needs Expenses

Some people have additional expenses called special needs expenses. Special needs expenses are added to the MSA assistance standard when calculating the MSA grant. They must be fully documented with receipts or other proof.

Special needs expenses can cover one-time needs or ongoing monthly costs. Some examples are:

  • People on medically prescribed diets can get an extra $29 - $243/month.
  • People who pay fees to a representative payee who collects their SSI payments can get an extra $25/month.
  • People who pay fees to a legally appointed guardian or conservator to take care of their money or other arrangements can count up to $100 of these fees as a special needs expense.
  • You may be able to get a special needs payment for needed home repairs or for furniture and appliances. You’ll need to get approval from the county agency before paying for these things.
  • Some extra payments can be approved in emergencies if you don’t have money for basic needs, like food and shelter, and going without these things is dangerous to your health or safety.

MSA Housing Assistance

MSA Housing Assistance gives an additional $194 per month to people on MSA who spend more than 40% of their income on housing. It helps people who are waiting for or can’t get housing assistance from another program.

If you are on MSA, you should ask your county worker if you qualify for MSA Housing Assistance. There are many people on MSA who would qualify for MSA Housing Assistance if they applied.

To get MSA Housing Assistance, you must be in one of these situations:

  • Eligible for Medical Assistance (MA) personal care assistance (PCA) services
  • Living in your own home or apartment and getting services through an MA-Waiver program, or
  • Moving out of an institution or an intensive residential mental health treatment program and into a location in the community, such as your own home or apartment.

Tip: Due to the way MSA’s rules work, some people who apply for MSA only qualify if they also apply for MSA Housing Assistance. If you get SSI benefits and your application for MSA is denied, try applying for MSA again while applying for MSA Housing Assistance at the same time. To learn more, Talk to an ExpertPopup Link.

To learn more, read Housing Benefits 101's article about MSA Housing Assistance.

Example

Jake lived in his own apartment, where he got help from a personal care assistant (PCA) paid for by his MA coverage. Because he was in a tough financial situation, he applied for SSI and for a Section 8 voucher.

Jake was approved for SSI, but put on a waiting list for Section 8. Since Jake was spending almost all of his money on his rent, his county worker recommended he apply for MSA and make sure to note on his application that he also needed MSA Housing Assistance. He told Jake that he'd have to include proof that he'd applied for Section 8 in order to get the Housing Assistance.

So when Jake filled out the Combined Application Form, he made sure to check the box that he wanted to apply for "Cash Programs" (including MSA) and he wrote down in a blank space that he also needed MSA Housing Assistance. He attached a form showing he had applied for Section 8.

A few weeks later, Jake learned that he'd get $81 per month in MSA and an additional $194 per month in MSA Housing Assistance. This was a big help.

MSA Grant Amount

The amount of your MSA grant depends on:

  • The MSA assistance standard that applies to you, based on your living arrangements
  • Any special needs expenses you have, including MSA Housing Assistance, and either:
    • If you get SSI benefits: The maximum possible amount of SSI benefits a person in your living situation could get, as shown in the table below. Note: This is not the actual amount of SSI you get. How much you get in SSI doesn't matter for the MSA grant amount.
    • If you don't get SSI benefits: MSA looks at your countable income instead.

This table summarizes what a person could get in MSA and SSI in various living situations (without including special needs expenses and MSA Housing Assistance):

Living Situation

SSI
Rate

MN
Assistance
Standard

MSA
Grant*

Max possible
SSI + MSA benefits*

Summary of SSI and MSA Levels

Individual living alone

$735

$796

$81

$816

Individual living with others...

...and paying fair share $735 $582.66 $0

$735

...and not paying fair share $490.00 $582.66 $112.66 $603

Couple living alone

$1,103

$1,194

$111

$1,214

Couple living with others...

...and paying fair share $1,103 $799.34 $0

$1,103

...and not paying fair share $735.33 $799.34 $84 $819.33

In an institution or residential facility

$30

$97

$67

$97

* May be higher with special needs expenses or Housing Assistance.

MSA for People on SSI

If you’re getting an SSI benefit, the MSA calculation looks like this:

MSA Grant Calculation (for people on SSI):

(The first $20 of your SSI benefit is not counted.)

Example: Minnie is single and living alone, with no countable income.

Minnie's MSA Grant Calculation (on SSI, no special needs expenses):

She gets $735 in SSI and $81 in MSA, for a total of $816.

Example: Dick is single and living alone, with $677 in countable income. He gets just $58 in SSI, but still qualifies for the full $81 in MSA, for a total of $139 in benefits each month.

Your MSA Grant Calculation (individual with at least $1 in SSI):

MSA for People not on SSI

If don't get SSI benefits, but would qualify for SSI if you didn't have too much income, the MSA calculation looks like this:

MSA Grant Calculation (for people not on SSI):

Your MSA countable income is figured out the same way it is for SSI. The first $20 of countable income is not counted.

If you get a small SSDI benefit, you may qualify for MSA even if you don’t have any SSI.

Example: Jack is single and lives alone, with $761 in monthly income from SSDI and $800 in countable resources. MSA’s $20 general exclusion leaves him with $741 in countable income. Because his countable income is more than the maximum he could possibly get from SSI ($735), he doesn't get SSI benefits. His countable income from SSDI also reduces his MSA:

Jack's MSA Grant Calculation (not on SSI)

Jack gets $0 in SSI and $55 in MSA. His total monthly income is $761 + $55 = $816.

Your MSA Grant Calculation (individual not on SSI):

Note: This calculation only applies if you also have assets at or below MSA's $10,000 asset limit.

Receiving MSA

Depending on which county you live in, your MSA grant may come to you as:

  • A check
  • A direct deposit into your bank account
  • A debit card (EBT)

When you qualify for MSA, you will also qualify for a minimum of $16/month in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. This will usually come as an added account on your Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card —you will have an EBT Cash account and an EBT Food account. You can use the cash account to pay for anything you buy or you can take out cash at an ATM machine. You can only buy eligible food items from the Food account.

MSA Reporting Requirements

As long as you are on MSA, you need to report certain things to your local county human services agency within 10 days. You’ll need to report:

  • Changes in living arrangements or who you live with

The same changes also need to be reported to Social Security if you are on SSI. Social Security and the county agencies don’t always tell each other about these changes, so it’s up to you.

If you don’t report these changes right away, the state may pay you more in MSA than it should have. This is called an overpayment. If you have an overpayment, you will have to pay the money back to the State.