The Online Resource for Massachusetts Poverty Law Advocates

55. What is the “ABAWD” 3-month time limit for childless persons age 18 to 50?

Starting January 1, 2016, many childless adults – ages 18 through 49 years – will receive only three (3) months of SNAP in a 36 month period unless the individual is exempt or meeting certain work rules. This federal SNAP rule affects individuals age 18 through 49 who are “able-bodied without dependents” or ABAWDs. 106 C.M.R. 362.320. You may be exempt from this rule based on illness, homelessness, living with a child or living in certain parts of the states.  See Question 56.

If you are not exempt, your SNAP benefits will end unless you meet one of the requirements below.

  • You work 20 hours a week or more (including unpaid or in-kind work),
  • You are self-employed and earning at least 30 times the federal minimum wage of $7.25/hour),
  • You are participating for 20 hours a week or more in an approved training or education activity,
  • You are participating for 20 hours a week in a combination of training or education and  job search activities, but job search cannot exceed 9.5 hours a week, or
  • You are engaged in volunteer or community service activity for up to17 hours a month. The amount of hours you need to work is based on your monthly SNAP grant divided by the state’s minimum wage, now $11/hour as of January 2017.
    • Note: You will need to verify your community service hours with DTA each month. DTA has a form that the community service organization needs to sign. See Appendix C.

Example:  Samuel is age 45 and unemployed. He is medically able to work but has not been able to find a job since he was laid off a year ago and his unemployment insurance ran out.  Samuel applied for SNAP on January 1, 2016 and receives $194/month.  He has no other income. After March 31st, Samuel must meet the work or training requirements above, or find a place to volunteer for 17 hours a week (194/$11 hour) to continue his SNAP benefits.

Under the federal SNAP rules, DTA has no obligation to find you a job, training program or community service site, nor help you with transportation costs.

Additional three months of SNAP

If you lost your SNAP due to the ABAWD rules, you can regain SNAP for an additional three consecutive months. This option is available if you met the work requirement in a consecutive 30 day period – even if the job or activity ended before you reapplied.  See 7 C.F.R. § 273.24(e). 

You will need to verify this. 

Example: Lee is an ABAWD. He is looking for work but could not find a job that would give him 20 hours a week and lost his SNAP after 3 months. After he loses his SNAP he gets a seasonal job and is able to work 80 hours in December. He is laid off after the holidays. He reapplies for SNAP in February and shows DTA his pay stubs to prove he worked 80 hours in December. Lee gets 3 more months of SNAP, giving him time to try to meet the work requirements.

Example: Mary is an ABAWD who struggles to find work. She loses her SNAP in April, but starts volunteering at her local food pantry after relying on the pantry for food. She volunteers for 17 hours in June. She reapplies for SNAP in July and proves she volunteered 17 hours in June. Mary gets 3 more months of SNAP, giving her time to try to meet the work requirements.

What is considered “good cause” for not meeting the ABAWD work rules?

Tell DTA if you are trying to meet the work rules through work or Employment and Training, but you had to miss some hours during the month because of a good cause reason.

Good cause for not meeting the work rules includes things that happen that are beyond your control and limit your ability to work, such as, but not limited to, illness, illness of another household member who needs your help, a household emergency, or a sudden lack of transportation. 

A good cause reason is temporary and while the situation is happening you need to keep your job or Employment and Training placement.

If you verify a good cause reason, DTA should not count that month against you. See Question 54 for more information about good cause and how to show DTA that you have good cause.

If DTA says you have used up one or more of your 3 months but you think you were exempt or meeting the rules, can you get that month back?

Yes! DTA has a policy to remove “Strike” months if they know you were exempt, meeting the rule s or had good cause to not meet the rules. Tell DTA if you think one or more of your “strikes” should be removed. 

What if you are having a hard time finding a job because of a CORI issue?

DTA has a limited number of months that they can use to extend the number of months of SNAP an ABAWD gets (from a special rule called the “15% exemption months). Current DTA policy says they can use these special months for up to 3 additional months if you are working to resolve CORI issues that make it hard to get a job or find a community service placement.

Contact Legal Services if you are an ABAWD struggling to meet the work rules because of a CORI or other challenge.  

DTA Policy Guidance:

Online Guide Sections:  SNAP > Work Requirements > ABAWD Work Program Requirement>

Additional Guidance on ABAWDs:

  • Initial DTA guidance announcing the end of the statewide “waiver” on ABAWD work requirements and reinstatement of 3 month time limit for individuals not otherwise exempt. OLGT #2015-67 (Nov. 20, 2015) 
  • Verification of an ABAWD exemption can’t hold up SNAP benefits, unless SNAP client has already used up their 3 months of SNAP after January 1, 2016. Transitions Policy Mailbox, December 2015.

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