Can a Supplemental Needs Trust pay for restaurant meals?
It cannot if you're at home; it can if you're on vacation
The answer to the question is: “It Depends.” The SNT should not pay for a restaurant meal while the beneficiary is at home; but, it can pay for restaurant meals while the beneficiary is on vacation!
As a general rule, a special needs trust (a “SNT”) should not pay for “food” or “shelter” for a beneficiary. To do so will result in “in-kind support and maintenance” (“ISM”) and a reduction of the beneficiary’s Supplemental Security Income benefits (“SSI”) by as much as one-third of his or her monthly SSI benefit. The Social Security Administration (“SSA”) regulations (called “POMS”) include in the definition of “food” meals at a restaurant. Thus, despite the recreational or entertainment value of a night out while at home, the SNT cannot pick up the restaurant tab without a corresponding reduction in the beneficiary’s SSI benefits.
However; the POMS do allow a SNT to pay for restaurant meals occasioned during the beneficiary’s vacation trip; which can be otherwise characterized as a “temporary absence” from home. The SSA defines a “temporary absence” as an individual's physical move from his or her permanent place of residence which does not constitute a change in living arrangement. In general, a temporary absence is an absence from a permanent residence which is not intended to, and does not, exceed a full calendar month. During a temporary absence of the SSA will not count ISM (e.g., the cost of the restaurant meal) the beneficiary receives!