Do you need an address to get access to government services such as Welfare, Food Stamps, Medicaid, and Social Security Disability?

**** The information written here is not legal advice and the author of this blog is not your lawyer.  These posts merely contain ideas to help you plan and organize your legal research and identify potentially helpful sources of law. ****

Government agencies have to verify residency and citizenship when providing ongoing services to clients. They realize, however, that residency for people who are homeless is in places like lobbies, halfway houses, bus stations, churches, and other people’s houses.  When people have those kinds of non-permanent residences, the agencies have a variety of ways to confirm that somebody is who he claims to be and that he generally resides in the place he claims.

The Social Security Administration, which provides financial support for people who are elderly and disabled, has detailed policies in place for verifying an applicant’s identity.[i] Because that agency is one of the country’s official registrars of citizens,[ii] it has an enormous database of identifying facts about each person here. Using that database, the staff can ask applicants to state their social security number and then answer simple questions including date of birth and parents’ names to establish their identity without having to show an ID card with a street address.

When determining where an applicant can usually be located, Social Security staff are required to “assume that transient or homeless individuals need assistance in providing evidence of their living arrangements.”[iii] This means that the staff will make note of the shelters and other services and places where the applicant reports spending time and will rely on verification from witnesses who regularly see the claimant at any of those places.

There is a specific provision of the Social Security Disability regulations asserting that people are still eligible for the benefits when they are in a homeless shelter.[iv]

Food stamps, Temporary Aid to Needy Families (a.k.a. “TANF” or “cash assistance”), and Medicaid are federally funded public assistance programs that are administered through state agencies rather than through federal branch offices located in those states. All of these are available to homeless people but, because they have state administration, do not follow exact federal identification rules the way the Social Security programs do. Instead, the public assistance or welfare office in each state makes its own rules about how claimants can prove that they are homeless and lack sufficient financial resources to pay for their own food,[v] healthcare, and other basic needs.[vi]

The United States Code has a basic standard for states to follow in establishing their public assistance eligibility requirements. “The State shall require…that each applicant for or recipient of benefits under that program furnish to the State his social security account number and the State shall utilize such account numbers so as to enable the association of the records pertaining to the applicant or recipient with his account number.”[vii] In other words, if someone does not have a street address, his social security number will be used as the fall-back I.D. validation.

Supplemental to that, the Department of Health and Human Services declares in its fact sheet about Medicaid prescription drug coverage for the homeless that “a Post Office Box, an address of a shelter or clinic, or the address where the individual receives mail (e.g. social security checks) may be considered the place of permanent residence.”[viii]

The United States Department of Agriculture, in its regulations about how states can verify the residency of food stamp applicants says that if a homeless person does not have documents showing that he is affiliated with a street address, “the State agency shall use a collateral contact or other readily available documentary evidence…Any documents or collateral contact which reasonably establish the applicant’s residency must be accepted and no requirement for a specific type of verification may be imposed. No durational residency requirement shall be established.”[ix]

The State offices tend to follow these guidelines with minor variations.

Sample laws:

In California, the residency regulation for food stamps says that the welfare department “shall not require an otherwise eligible household to reside in a permanent dwelling or have a fixed mailing address as a condition of eligibility”.[x] If a California applicant declares a shelter as his residence, the local food stamp office has to confirm that the shelter primarily houses people who are homeless, limits the amount of time that people can stay there, and does not have any kind of lease arrangements with people who stay there.[xi] If a California applicant is not affiliated with a shelter, the food stamp office will decide, after interviewing the applicant, what proof of residency to obtain.New York’s regulations merely declare that an application for food stamps will be accepted even if it only has the applicant’s name and signature and no other information, not even an address. Those regulations do not tell how the department will confirm that an applicant is truly homeless.

In Illinois, only one application is needed when requesting cash assistance, medical assistance, and/or food stamps and that application simply asks “Are you homeless? Yes / No”.[xii] The Illinois Administrative Code explains that homeless people applying for assistance through the Department of Human Services can use a friend or relative’s address or the address of a social service agency or the closest DHS office.[xiii]

To find a state’s food stamp address requirement, look in the state health and human services department’s regulations.  Here is a link to a site that lists administrative codes Look in the administrative code’s index under “food stamps” or else look to see if there is an entire section or volume of health and human services regulations. Another way to find these regulations is navigating through the state health and human services department’s Web site.

Since an address is not merely used for benefit applications, but is also necessary for ongoing correspondence between clients and government agencies, the agencies might recommend that clients who are homeless identify a caseworker or social service agency as their contact person or “authorized representative.”[xiv] That way, there will be a consistent place where mail can be sent and where the client who is homeless knows to check-in. Someone who does not want to deal with an agency can use an address service instead. Here is a post about address services.

Serving as the authorized representative is often a basic job duty of someone who works in a shelter.[xv] Another possibility is that applicants can designate someone to serve as a “representative payee” to receive and deposit checks and generally manage their funds. That relationship clearly involves more than simply providing an address, but that is because it is available to claimants, not on the basis of homelessness, but because they cannot or don’t want to manage money.

A Pennsylvania case cautions about deciding which street address to list when applying for government services. The plaintiff in this case, who later became homeless, had applied for unemployment benefits at an address far away from where he now spent most of his time. He was not allowed to pick-up his benefits check at the office closest to his real location and was instead required to make the long, expensive, time consuming trek to the office near the original address.[xvi] There may be more efficient ways to change an address with a government agency now, and more understanding of the difficulties that homeless people have in documenting their actual whereabouts, but the caution is still worth noting.

[i] Social Security Administration, Program Operations Manual System (POMS)- Section SI 00601.062. The POMS is available online at  See also the Fact Sheet on Supplemental Security Income.

[ii] See the background note at the beginning of the Social Security Administration POMS- Section RM 00203-001. “Over time, the SSN has increasingly been used as a multi-purpose identifier by government, business, and other organizations.”

[iii] Social Security Administration, POMS – Section SI 00835.060

[iv] 20 CFR §416.201. Note that this regulation is part of a broader rule stating that people in the care of institutions are not eligible for the benefits. Since homeless shelters do not provide care, they are exempted from that rule.

[v] U.S. Dep’t. of Agriculture, eligibility for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program.  How to apply in each state:

[vi] U.S.Dep’t of Health and Human Services,  Here is the link to the States’ programs:

[vii] 42 USC §1320b-7(1)

[viii] U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, What Do I Need to Know to About Medicare Prescription Drug Coverage to Help My Homeless Clients?,

[ix] 7 CFR Ch.II §273.2

[x] California Dep’t of Social Services Food Stamp Regulations 63-401.5

[xi] California Dep’t of Social Services Information Notice # 1-04-04. Available at

[xii] Application available at

[xiii] Ill. Adm. Code tit. 89 §10.210 (2006).

[xiv]U.S. Dep’t of Agriculture, An Introduction to the Food Stamp Program, ; Wash. Admin. Code 388-408-0050 and 388-460-0005 available at

[xv] See, New Hampshire’s homeless resources list and the Massachusetts Legal Help list of SNAP facts about ways for homeless people to access food stamps.

[xvi] Regoli v. Commw Unemployment Bd. Rev. Unemployment Comp. Bd. Rev., 427 A.2d 1275 (Pa. Commw. Ct., 1981).

10 Replies to “Do you need an address to get access to government services such as Welfare, Food Stamps, Medicaid, and Social Security Disability?”

  1. I’m curious to know if there are requirements that homeless shelters that have programs for teenagers to young adults that serve breakfast, lunch & dinner are they required to have a monthly menu offered to the residence?

  2. Something I am curious about is a thing known as a third party statement. DSS requires this to prove you live where you live. We moved into a place a couple months ago. Managed to get assistance with the rent after being homeless and refused help, then they demand third party statements from people stating you live where you live. Being that we don’t know anyone in the neighborhood and its a bad neighborhood it is difficult to come up with this without soliciting a stranger or asking someone to lie. We have no family nearby and relatives aren’t allowed to sign this anyway. This seems a clever way to keep someone homeless.

  3. I am an Oregon resident and was staying in Oak Harbor Washington with my xboyfriend and in and out of washington and Oregon as it was a very bad relationship that has ended me in being homeless but as I have kept moving to new places with a new address he has found me every time, I have a restraining order against him and has a warrant out for his arrest in Oregon and Washington but my question is that he keeps finding me though addresses can I get a PO BOX being on SSD also have UnitedHealth Care insurance medicare. I do not want him to find me so my next best thing to do is getting a PO BOX so that he can’t find me but I’m afraid that I’ll lose my SSD and health insurance having a PO BOX? I’m back in Oregon but I’m afraid that he will find me again.

    1. The Social Security Administration does send benefits to P.O. Boxes. It can also deposit the benefits directly into a bank account. But the Social Security Administration is not giving your address to your ex-boyfriend; your leak must be somebody who keeps in touch with both of you.

    2. Yep. What the admin said. First off, you wont lose SSD with a po box.
      Second, When you are running for your life you gotta sever ALL contacts. ALL of them. Sorry.

      If you wanna lose him do ALL these things. (They arent listed in any particular order of importance.) It will be difficult, but you have to do them. ALL of them. You don’t get to skimp.
      1. Change your phone, not just your #, but your entire phone. He probably downloaded parental nanny tracking software onto your phone.
      a) Get a STUPID phone for making calls. Do NOT use a phone with Internet, WiFi, or broadband capabilities. Use a phone as a phone.
      b) Get all new electronic devices that you owned while with him that have Internet, WiFi, and broadband capability – ie a phone, tablet, laptop, or any device you used while with him, because the same nanny tracker will be on those as well. (See *** under #6.)
      c) choose a state area code 1000 miles from where you are, and with a large populous like Chicago or NYC.
      2. Get new credit cards issued. Call your CC companies and get new #’s issued.
      3. Change your auto license plates. Go custom plates if the DMV wont change your plate #, and use a slogan he’d never expect, ie: fabnana, 5 kids, socrmom, etc etc. NOTHING that would remotely connect you if he saw you on the road (but dont use any of the ones I just listed of course)
      4. Get a different car, or paint the one you have, and throw out ALL inside identifying trinkets: your seat covers, dash fan, dash statues, floor mats, pillows, blankets, console add ons, mirror dangles, glovebox stickers, window decals, etc, etc. (youd be amazed at how much stalkers notice every small detail. You could change everything, but forget to remove the 2 inch happyface flower sticker off your glove compartment, and you’re found. Why? Bc stalkers KNOW youre going to change things like the color of your car, and will look inside EVERY car like yours, so it’s best to get a totally different car.
      5. Cut off contact with ALL current family, friends, etc for a year or until he’s gone. (Usually 2 years) Explain to them why you need to do this.
      a) IF you trust someone, (and it has to be someone who was not a mutual contact, and who, no matter how charming he is, or no matter what disastrous crisis he tells them, they wont be duped into telling him where you are – and there are very few people that strong), you can contact them by email.
      b) NEVER contact anyone VIA chat programs like skype or messenger. (In fact if youre serious about losing this stalker your social media days are over! And I mean over!)
      c)Best solution: If you have the money, get them a trac phone that is used only for you. That way they know if it rings it’s you, and he wont have any way of knowing that number. (Bc he probably knows all your contacts #’s.) (If your contact wont get a new phone for you, they ARENT the right contact person)
      6. Delete or deactivate all social media sites, as any activity on one of their sites gets posted on all their synced sites, and unless you have the time and saavy to keep track of all synced sites, (and sorry…but you don’t), stay off the internet!!!!! Social media is the BANE of anyone trying to get away from someone. STAY OFF ALL THESE SITES. DONT EVEN LOG ON! NOT EVEN ONCE, BECAUSE FACEBOOK EVEN TELLS EVERYONE THE LAST TIME YOU WERE ACTIVE AND WHERE YOU WERE. There is a way to shut off your location on your device, but no way to turn off facebook’s “last time active,” info.
      a) to use the public internet you must create a whole new identity, and get a new email through gmail. Yahoo MAKES you connect a phone number, gmail doesn’t…yet. Use a fake name, fake birthday, etc. Write it down in your wallet so you can memorize it. Do not contact anyone via this email. ***THIS is the email and name you will use to identify and register all your new computer devices, and the email you will use to log on to the internet. Never give this email to anyone.
      7. Only AFTER you have new devices, OR go to a public library, and change your passwords to every email, social site, shopping site, etc. Make sure all your shopping site profiles, ie your amazon site profile, are set to private. .
      a) after you change your passwords to all your sites, (write them down), NEVER LOG INTO THEM FOR AT LEAST TWO YEARS! (2 years is the police statistical standard they say it takes to rid a stalker. If you screw up and call someone, log into facebook, or outright contact them, it resets the clock).
      b) the only email you use now is your fake email for the internet, and one old email for your personal contact, and banking, purchases etc. (dont give your fake email to your contact)
      8. Get a po box for bank statements, car insurance, doctors, pharmacies, amazon purchases etc etc. Do not give them your fake email. Do not go to that po box unless you are safe. If youre not safe, then have the post office forward THAT mail to an RV mail service in another state, (its like 15 bucks a month) and use that service to send you your mail. Id advise contacting a safe house on ways to get your mail. They have great advice. Youd be surprised at how car insurances, banks, etc will give info inadvertently to a caller. I called my pharmacy for a refill. Heres how it went EXACTLY (name, BD, and street are changed):
      Me: “I need to refill a script for Sue Petersen.”
      Pharmacy: “Sure. OK. Looks like we’ve got 5 Sue Petersen’s. What’s your birthday?
      Me: “November 1985” (your stalker knows your birthday)
      Pharmacy: “I think I found you. The one on Teton street?”
      I was mortified
      9. Move far away.
      10. You should be contacting a safe house on ALL these things. I was advised by the police and a safe house. This stuff is not made up by me.

      This list is not all inclusive, and could be better organized, but it’s accurate for what I did.

  4. About the no contact thing. I DO advise severing ALL contact with family, friends, snd any mutual contact yoyr ex knew or knows to contact. I DO NOT, however, mean you go out alone with no one you are accountable to, or check in with. I didnt clarify that in my last post.

    Yes, leave all old contacts behind. BUT…set up a professional contact who you check in with daily or weekly. I suggest a safe house contact mentor. Plan this all out with a domestic counselor, and keep them informed as you venture out. They will also be able to ascertain your strength for such a venture and your safety risks. It appears from your post that you are going this alone, as a good counselor would have already told you a po box and ssd are not connected.

    I realize your post is somewhat dated, but this kind of thing takes years, so i posted to help anyway

  5. If you are homeless I don’t think you can even access public assistance. How would you present id to apply for benefits? Most states have proof of residency to be issued an id card. They send it through the mail. If you don’t have an address how will you get mail? how will you get the documents to say you live there?

  6. I have been noticing that homeless people and applicants, use food stamps to buy alcohol and drugs, rather then food. Also, they use other people’s address and they don’t live there. To me 3 things should be done. 1.) Pass a drug test first; and follow up with a random second drug testing 2.) An address should be mandatory; if none is given, checks should be picked up at DSS (this way you can check their condition, and test them for drugs and alcohol, allowing you to place them in a drug or alcohol program. 3.) Any person that lets a DSS applicant use his address falsely, should be fined. 4.) Men who have these children w/o paying child support should be arrested and placed into a program. Girls who have a second child, should not get welfare for that second child, unless the Father pays child support with the receiving of the Benefit. 5.) to prevent welfare fraud place a fingerprint on the back of the card to insure non-duplication of benefits. 6.) Any child that does not go to High School; or graduate cannot get benefits; not a drivers license in any United States; they can get a PINK ID, but that’s it. Do you know that every teenager someday wants a car or can go to a bar, but not with a PINK embarrassing ID.

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