Food Stamps Work Requirements [2020 Guide]

Last updated on 12/7/19

The primary goal of the food stamps program is to help low-income individuals and families afford nutritious food. In addition, the program seeks to help recipients achieve self-sufficiency by emphasizing the importance of work – through the food stamps work requirements.

Current federal law states that adults ages 18-59 receiving SNAP benefits are required to work part-time or agree to accept a job if offered one.

Stricter work requirements apply to able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs) that are 18-49.

ABAWDs are subject to a three-month limit of benefits in three years unless they meet a work requirement of 80 hours per month as detailed below.

In this post, we will explain what the food stamps work requirements are in general, including what happens if you fail to meet the work requirements.

In addition, we will provide details about the Trump administration food stamps work requirements that were recently announced.

We will also answer the most frequently asked questions about the SNAP work requirements.

The new work requirements by the administration are projected to cause cuts in food stamps for an estimated 3.9 million individuals and families, especially some 700,000 adults without dependents.

This post on Food stamps work requirements will cover:

  • What are Food Stamps Work Requirements?
  • Food Stamps Work Requirements Exemptions
  • What Happens to People Who Fail SNAP Work Requirements?
  • What are ABAWD Food Stamps Work Requirements?
  • What Happens to People Who Fail ABAWD Work Requirements?
  • Trump Administration New Work Requirements
  • Food Stamps Work Requirements FAQs

"Food Stamps Work Requirements"

What are Food Stamps Work Requirements?

The food stamps program is the largest and most effective safety net for Americans facing financial instability and hardship.

SNAP feeds about 36 million Americans annually, at an average cost of $1.86 per meal.

The food stamps program has two sets of work requirements – a general work requirement that applies to all program participants.

In addition, there are additional work requirements that apply to Able-Bodied Adult Without Dependents (ABAWD)

General Food Stamps Work Requirements

If you are age 18 – 59 and able to work, you must meet the general work requirements in order to receive food stamps, unless you are exempted.  To meet the general work requirements, you

  • must be registered for work
  • must not quit a job voluntarily
  • must not voluntarily reduce hours at a job
  • must accept a suitable job that is offered. (The job must be 30 hours weekly or equal to 30 hours X minimum wage).

If you fail to meet work requirements, you will be denied benefits.  

Food Stamps Work Requirements Exemptions

You are exempted from the general work requirements if you meet one of the following requirements:

  • Already working at least 30 hours a week (or earning wages at least equal to the Federal minimum wage multiplied by 30 hours)
  • Meeting work requirements for another program (TANF or unemployment compensation)
  • Taking care of a child under 6 or an incapacitated person
  • Unable to work due to a physical or mental limitation
  • Participating regularly in an alcohol or drug treatment program
  • Studying in school or a training program at least half-time (note that college students are subject to other eligibility rules).

What Happens to People Who Fail SNAP Work Requirements?

If you have to meet the general work requirements but you don’t, you are disqualified from getting SNAP for at least a month.

In addition, you must start meeting the requirements in order to start receiving food stamps benefits again.

Once you start getting food stamps again, if you then fail to meet the requirements again, you will be disqualified from receiving SNAP benefits for longer than a month, and you could possibly be disqualified forever.

What are ABAWD Food Stamps Work Requirements?

If you are between 18 and 49 years old and have no children and are not disabled you are considered Able-Bodied Adult Without Dependents (ABAWD).

Federal law requires that ABAWDs meet special work requirements in order to get food stamps for more than 3 months within a 3 year period. 

You can meet the ABAWD work requirement by doing any one of these things:

  • Work at least 80 hours a month.  Work can be for pay, for goods or services (for something other than money), unpaid, or as a volunteer;
  • Participate in a work program at least 80 hours a month.  A work program could be SNAP Employment and Training or another federal, state, or local work program;
  • Participate in a combination of work and work program hours for a total of at least 80 hours a month;
  • Participate in workfare for the number of hours assigned to you each month (the number of hours will depend on the amount of your SNAP benefit.)

NOTE: Your state may have stricter work requirements for ABAWDs. See below for additional state restrictions if applicable. 

ABAWD Food Stamps Work Requirements Exemptions

However, there are exceptions to the AWABD work requirement. An ABAWD can get food stamps for more than three months if the person meets any one of these exceptions:

  • Unable to work due to a physical or mental limitation
  • Pregnant
  • Have someone under 18 in your SNAP household
  • Exempted from the general work requirements listed above

What Happens to People Who Fail ABAWD Work Requirements?

If you fail to meet the ABAWD, you will lose your benefits after 3 months.

To start receiving food stamps again, you must meet the ABAWD work requirement for a 30-day period or become exempted.

Otherwise, you need to wait until the end of your 3-year period, when you’ll get another 3 months under the time limit.

Trump Administration New Work Requirements

The Trump administration is tightening work requirements for the food stamp program, as we previously explained in this post.

The new work requirements, announced in December 2019, will limit the ability of states to exempt work-eligible adults from having to obtain steady employment in order to receive SNAP benefits.

Under current rules, work-eligible able-bodied adults without dependents and between the ages of 18 and 49 can currently receive only three months of SNAP benefits in a three-year period if they don’t meet the 20-hour work requirement.

However, states with high unemployment rates or a demonstrable lack of sufficient jobs can waive those time limits.

The new rule imposes stricter criteria that states must meet in order to issue waivers.

Under the rule, effective April 1, 2020, an area eligible for a waiver would have to have a 24-month average unemployment rate that is not only 20 percent above the national average but also at least 6 percent.

The waivers will be good for one year and will require the governor to support the request.

Who will Lose Benefits under new Rules?

The new rule does not affect children and their parents, those over 50 years old, those with a disability or pregnant women.

However, according to the PBS News report below, the new rules are expected to end access to the SNAP benefit for nearly 700,000, mainly ABAWDs between ages 18-59.

Food Stamps Work Requirements FAQs

Here are the most frequently asked questions about food stamps work requirements.

How many hours do you have to work to get food stamps?

If you are age 18 – 59 and able to work, you must meet the general work requirements in order to receive food stamps, unless you are exempted (see exemptions above). 

To meet the general work requirements, you

  • must be registered for work
  • must not quit a job voluntarily
  • must not voluntarily reduce hours at a job
  • must accept a suitable job that is offered. (The job must be 30 hours weekly or equal to 30 hours X minimum wage).

In addition, Able-bodied but jobless adults without children or a disability (ABAWD) must meet the following additional work requirement. They must either:

  • Be working or participating in a job training program at least 20 hours per week (an average of 80 hours per month), OR
  • Volunteering with a community service provider for a certain number of hours to continue receiving food stamps for more than three months.

You may also do a combination of work, work program, and community service activities to meet the 20 hours per week requirement.

What should an ABAWD do to maintain SNAP if not employed at least 20 hours a week?

If the ABAWD is not participating in work or qualifying work/training activities and he/she wants to continue to receive SNAP beyond the three-month time limit, he/she should contact their local food stamps office to ask for help enrolling in a qualifying activity.

The local food stamps office is required to offer and provide a qualifying work or training opportunity to all ABAWDs who are subject to the ABAWD requirements to maintain or re-establish eligibility for SNAP benefits.

They will also help the individual by offering the ability to engage in an activity that will meet the ABAWD work requirement.

Can I get food stamps if I don’t have a job?

Generally, people who collect food stamps may be required to work or participate in a training program. See the general food stamps work requirement above.

However, there are some exceptions.

In addition, the work requirements may be are waived in most urban counties and many rural counties with high unemployment rates or a demonstrable lack of sufficient jobs.

To find out if food stamps work requirements have been waived in your area, call your county food stamps office.

If the work requirements apply to you, you must be working or be enrolled in a job training program for at least 20 hours a week.

Work can include activities like school, vocational rehabilitation, job search, and more.

If you fall below 20 hours a week, you must report that change to your caseworker.

If you do not meet these requirements, you can only get food stamps for three months every three years.

You can also be denied food stamps if you quit a job without a good reason or refuse a job offer.

Does my employer know if I get food stamps?

Whether or not you’ve received public assistance, such as food stamps isn’t a matter of public record, and no employer can get that information without your written consent.

As part of your pre-employment verification, your employer may want to pull a credit report before hiring you, however, these reports don’t include any public assistance payments.

In addition, an employer may ask on a job application if you’ve recently been on welfare or another form of public assistance.

This is generally because government incentives sometimes reward employers for hiring from specific groups, including welfare recipients.

For example, The Work Opportunity Tax Credit, or WOTC, pays employers a federal tax credit of up to $9,600 for hiring employees who have been on welfare.

Who is Not Subject to ABAWD requirements?

A SNAP recipient who meets any of the following conditions is not subject to ABAWD work requirements.

However, in some instances may still be required to participate in work activities that are assigned under public assistance and/or SNAP employment and training:

  • A person under 18 years of age, or 50 years of age or older
  • An adult in a SNAP household with a child under 18 years of age
  • A full-time caretaker of an incapacitated person
  • A pregnant woman
  • Physically or mentally unable to work at least 80 hours a month
  • A regular participant in an alcohol or substance abuse rehabilitation program
  • A recipient of Veterans Affairs (VA) disability compensation
  • A recipient of disability benefits from a public or private source, such as Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or NYS disability benefits
  • A recipient or pending receipt of Unemployment Insurance Benefits (UIB)
  • A student enrolled in any recognized school, job skills training, or institution of higher education at least half-time and meeting the student eligibility criteria to receive SNAP
  • An applicant for SNAP benefits and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) jointly or in receipt of SSI
  • Employed or self-employed and working at least 30 hours per week or receiving weekly earnings at least equal to the federal minimum wage times 30 (currently $217.50 per week)

Food Stamps Work Requirements Summary

We hope this post about Food Stamps Work Requirements was helpful to you. If you have questions about SNAP Work Requirements, please let us know in the comments section below.

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