The Online Resource for Massachusetts Poverty Law Advocates

SNAP Time Limit for Able-bodied Adults without Dependents (ABAWDs): Advocacy Tools and DTA Forms


SNAP Time Limit for able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs)

The federal SNAP "time limit" for able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs) went back into effect January 1, 2016 in Massachusetts. An ABAWD is an "able-bodied" adult between the age of 18 and 49 who is not on SSI or othewise disabled, not pregant nor living with minor children. This is a federal law implemented after the 1996 Welfare Reform law that was suspended for many years during the Recession.  

Under these SNAP rules, adults considered “ABAWDs” may only receive SNAP benefits for a total of 3 full months within a 36 month period—unless the adult meets an “exemption” or complies with certain work or training requirements.  Included below are DTA and MLRI materials to help you understand: 

  • the 3-month SNAP time limit (and second 3-month benefit option);
  • the wide range of exemptions based on medical condition, homelessness or where they live; 
  • and the work/training and volunteer rules that allow ABAWDs to continue receiving benefits; and
  • how ABAWDs can "regain" SNAP for 3 consecutive months.

​Watch this two minute video from Center on Budget and Policy Priorities to learn more about this issue:

Resources for Community Organizations and Health Care Providers:

DTA's ABAWD Forms:

Helping Adults with Limited Work Ability Keep Their SNAP:

Many ABAWDs are not in fact "able-bodied" - but DTA does not know this where the individual does not receive SSI or other dsability benefit. An individual can be exempt from the 3 month time limit if he or she has a physical or mental incapacity or disabilty that "reduces his or her ability to financially support him or herself."  The ABAWD medical exemption is a lower incapacity standard than SSI or Social Security, and does not require a specific disagnosis or medical testing results. If you have clients with a short or long term illness or incapacity, urge them to bring the DTA ABAWD Medical Report Form to a health care provider as soon as possible. 

Helping Homeless Individuals Keep Their SNAP:

A significant number - nearly 13,000 - of the ABAWDs in Massachusetts are homeless. DTA will screen homeless clients and determine if they are "exempt" from the time limit and work rules based on one of three factors:

  • The homeless individual is coded as living in a homeless shelter and/or identifies the address of that shelter or a homeless day program as their residential or mailing address for SNAP purposes.
  • The homeless individual is coded as receiving the $143/month "homeless deduction" in their SNAP math.  See Question 75 of the SNAP Advocacy Guide.
  • The homeless individual meets the the critera listed below. (These homeless individuals do NOT need to provide a DTA ABAWD Medical Report form if they meet this criteria, for as long as they are homeless).

We encourage advocates who work with homeless clients to contact DTA directly and ensure that these questions be asked. DTA has also developed a homeless screening form: DTA Homeless ABAWD Exemption Form. So, homeless individuals can either fill out and send to DTA the homeless exemption screening form or call DTA to answer the questions below. 

For individuals who indicate they are homeless, DTA asks - by phone or the DTA form - questions listed below. 

  1. Do you have a stable night time residence?
  2. Do you have a high school diploma or GED?
  3. Have you been employed or a full time student for less than 6 months (total) in the last 3 years?
  4. Do you have regular access to health care that you need, such as dental care, psychiatric care, and treatment for ongoing illness?
  5. Have you been hospitalized during the last 6 months?

If a homeless client tells DTA they do not have a stable nighttime residence (answers "no" to question 1), they will be exempt from the time limit. USDA has recognized chronic homelessness is sufficient for an exemption. 

If the individual has a "temporary" night time residence but it's not permanent or secure, then two (2) of the questions above must be answered correctly for the individual to be exempt. For example - a couch surfing individual who lacks a high school diploma/GED and has been unemployed for at least 6 months in the last 3 years would be exempt. 

Finding an Employment and Training Program:

ABAWDs can meet the work requirement by doing 20 hours per week on average of an employment and training program. To learn more about available job training opportunities, visit DTA's SNAP Path to Work website:

Fulfilling the Work Requirement Through Community Service Hours:

ABAWDs who are not exempt and are not meeting the work requirement through work or employment and training can meet the requirement with community service hours. See the MLRI fact sheet for more information about the work requirement. The number of community service hours needed per month is the amount of your SNAP divided by the MA minimum wage ($11 per hour). For example, if you receive $194 in SNAP, you need to do 17 hours of community service per month. 

DTA has a Commmunity Service Hours Participation Form that needs to be filled out, signed by the community service provider and sent back to DTA. This report must be filled out each month to show the ABAWD is meeting the work requirement through volunteer work/community service. An ABAWD who is exempt - or who is working 20 hours a week, or in a training/job search program 20 hours a week - does NOT need to do community service or fill out this form. 

DTA reports it currently has very few community service (volunteer) options. Many groups note that the lack of volunteer placements in the state is largely driven by: a) the lack of CBO staff to train and supervise volunteers, b) the costs to CBOs to accept volunteers (e.g. fees for mandatory CORI checks for volunteers working with children, elder or disabled), and c) the lack of funds to help incomeless ABAWDs pay for travel, bus or T passes to get to sites to volunteer. 

Helping ABAWDs "Regain" SNAP for 3 Months:

Both state and federal SNAP rules allow ABAWDs to qualify for three additional months of SNAP benefits – even if the ABAWD is not currently meeting the work rules.  Known as “regaining” benefits under the SNAP rules, ABAWDs can qualify for more SNAP if they got back on SNAP while meeting a work rule, OR they were off SNAP but worked enough hours in 30 days.  Here is a flier that explains how to regain SNAP with three client examples.  

Other Information You Should Know:

  1. DTA ABAWD phone line: DTA has set up a special phone line for clients and advocates to speak with a DTA SNAP ABAWD specialist: 1-888-483-0255. Staff on this line can answer questions about exemptions and the work requirements and send copies of the  DTA ABAWD forms.  DTA has also posted information and ABAWD related forms at: 
  2. Community Service Providers: If you are an organization interested in having ABAWDs fulfill their work requirement through volunteer/ community service hours at your site, please contact a DTA ABAWD specialist at  1-888-483-0255.
  3. Waived Areas of Massachusetts:  The map below, created by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, show the areas of MA that USDA has approved for a waiver of the 3 month time limit for 2019. ABAWDs who live in the shaded areas are exempt from the time limit (they do not need to fulfill the work requirements to keep their SNAP). This map is for January through December 2019. Starting January 1, 2019, fewer areas of Massachusetts will be "waived" from the 3 month time limit. The most up to date list of zip codes for the exempt areas is in the DTA materials above.

Map of waived areas produced by Center for Budget and Policy Priorities,  Please contact Pat Baker at or Vicky Negus at with any questions. 

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