The Online Resource for Massachusetts Poverty Law Advocates

45. How does my work history help so I don’t wait five years for SNAP?

Legal permanent residents (LPR) with 40 qualifying quarters (10 years) of work history meet immigrant eligibility without the five year waiting period. 106 C.M.R. § 362.220(B)(7)(f) and (g). If you are an LPR adult who is not disabled and DTA said you must wait five years for to qualify for SNAP, it is important to determine if you have countable work history. Establishing sufficient work history may also qualify you for TAFDC benefits, certain MassHealth benefits as well as federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits if you become severely disabled or reach age 65 or older.

If you think you have enough countable work history, you can qualify for SNAP for 6 months pending verification. 106 C.M.R. § 362.220(B)

You can get work quarters credit for the following:

  • Work you have done in the United States or a U.S territory.
  • Work done in any of 25 foreign countries, including Europe, Australia, Japan and South Korea after specific dates (for example, work done in Italy after 11/1/1978).
  • Work done by your spouse while married. This includes work done by a common law spouse even if you were not legally “married.” It also includes work done after separation but before divorce (though you lose your spouse’s quarters upon divorce) and including work done in the US and the 25 approved foreign countries.
  • Work done by your parents before you were 18, including work done by your parents before you were conceived, born, or adopted, including work done in the US and the 25 approved foreign countries.

You can get credit for work history even if the work was not continuous or the wages not high. For example, for calendar year 2014, the Social Security Administration counted gross earnings of $4,800 or more as four (4) quarters of qualifying work history. The work can be one in just one quarter or over 12 months and still count as 4 quarters (the minimum amounts are adjusted annually and are lower for years prior to 2014).

Check with an advocate before claiming credit for work done in the U.S. when the wage earner did not have work authorization. or a valid social security number.

When can you not get credit for work?

Under the federal rules, the LPR adult or child cannot claim credit for work done after December 31, 1996, if the wage earner also received one of the following federal means-tested benefits while working: TAFDC, SNAP, Medicaid or MassHealth, SCHIP (special Medicaid benefits for children).

If the wage earner was just the grantee for an eligible child or spouse, but not part of the benefits grant, the wage earner should not lose the right to claim the work quarters.

Example 1: Clara has been in the United States for just three years but recently lost her job in a factory. Her husband Jose, from whom she is separated but not divorced, has been here eight years. They both have been working consistently, and paying taxes, since they arrived in the U.S. Clara has 12 quarters of work (three years with four quarters in each year). Jose has 32 quarters of work (eight years with four quarters in each year). The couple has never received SNAP, Medicaid or other federal means-tested benefits. Clara can count her 12 quarters and her husband’s 32 quarters for a total of 42 work quarters. Clara can apply for SNAP and is not required to wait five years.

Even if Clara or Jose have a U.S. citizen or LPR child for whom they received SNAP or Medicaid while they were working, their child’s benefits does not affect their right to claim the work quarters as long as they (the parents) were not on the benefits too. 

Example 2: Siobhan is from Ireland. She is 25 years old and finally got her LPR status last year.  Her mother and father both lived and worked (and paid taxes) in the U.S. for 6 years when Siobhan was 10 years old, living with her grandmother. They also worked before that in Ireland in the late 1990s. She stayed in Ireland with her grandmother. Siobhan can count her parent’s work history before she turned age 18. Even though she is 25 and just got her LPR status, she can qualify for SNAP.  Siobhan can also count any work done by her parents in Ireland after 1993 and before she turned 18 (Ireland is one of the 25 foreign countries for which work history counts). 

How to confirm 40 quarters of work history

Work history can be confirmed through pay stubs, union records, federal or state tax returns, proof of self-employment business or SSA records.

DTA can also get information about work history through the SSA Quarters of Coverage History System (QCHS). DTA sends an inquiry to SSA to find out whether you have enough qualifying quarters. DTA can also request from SSA the work records of a spouse or parent if you are able to provide enough information to identify that person. If you think your spouse (or parent before you turned 18) may have work history, be sure to tell DTA so they can inquire about this person’s work history as well. DTA should send the Social Security Administration a “Request for Quarters of Coverage History Based on Relationship” (SSA-513 Form).

Advocacy Reminder:

  • Only LPRs can claim work history to jump the 5 year bar. Immigrants with humanitarian parole or battered immigrants cannot claim work history unless granted LPR status.
  • You can get SNAP benefits for up to six months if you need time to verify work history or while DTA is waiting on an SSA response.
  • You can correct your earnings record with Social Security in some situations if the earnings report is not accurate. Contact an advocate for more information about work history.

DTA Policy Guidance:

DTA Online Guide: SNAP > Eligibility Requirements > Noncitizen > Noncitizen Introduction  and  Legal Permanent Residents > Legal Permanent Resident Overview  and  Legal Permanent Residents > Verifying 40 Quarters

Additional Guidance:

  • Receipt of Social Security survivor’s benefits as a surviving spouse is sufficient proof of work quarters for SNAP purposes. Transitions, Quality Corner (July 2002)
  • Adults who entered the U.S. as children can use their parent’s work history in the U.S., even if work was performed before the child arrived in the U.S. Transitions, Quality Corner (Feb.2002)
  • LPR may receive SNAP benefits for six months pending verification of work quarters through SSA QCHS. No recoupment of SNAP benefits if work history ultimately not verified. Transitions FYI (June 2006)