The Online Resource for Massachusetts Poverty Law Advocates

Update on SNAP ABAWD eligibility 2020 – two steps forwards and backwards

There’s  been a lot of media since the early December  release of federal SNAP rules that impact individuals age 18 to 50 who are “able bodied without dependents” or “ABAWDs.”  What’s happening is very confusing, much like learning a new dance step where you move forwards, backwards and then spin around. Here’s what we can share.


·         More areas of MA waived for at least 3 months of 2020!  Yes, there are MORE areas of the state where residents are EXEMPT from the 3 month time limit from January 1st through March 31st (and possibly longer).  Historically most states sought geographic waiver from USDA on an annual basis, based on state and local unemployment information.  Thankfully, DTA applied and received USDA approval to waive 83 cities and towns for 2020 (an increase of 35 towns.  Attached is a list of the cities and towns where residents are NOT subject to the 3-month time limit, with highlights showing the 35 NEW areas waived.  Also included, a comparison map and DTA’s Online Guide Transmittal of 1/16/20 (today). The DTA field was notified earlier in the week.

·         The new ABAWD federal regulations will not take effect until April 2020.  They are NOT in effect now and many states are discussing litigation to raise concerns that USDA did not follow the proper federal rulemaking process.  If a court does not stop or slow down the final regulations, DTA will likely start notifying SNAP recipients who may be impacted in February or March. We do not have specifics yet. 

·         All the regular ABAWD exemptions will continue, even if the final rules are effective in April 2020.  There is NO change to the exemptions for individuals who live with a child (even if not their own child), have a disability or incapacity, are homeless, are caring for a disabled person etc.  And there are many other exemptions as well.  For information on the exemptions, see information HERE. 

·         DTA has expanded some of the work and training options for ABAWDs and other SNAP recipients.  DTA is working with Mass Hire Career Centers to provide SNAP ABAWDs with access to additional programs and services.  See also SNAP Path to Work.

·         NONE of the other SNAP rules proposed by the Trump Admin are in effect.  This includes the proposed rule to limit the gross income test and impose an asset test (broad-based categorical eligibility or to lower the utility deduction.  There are NO final SNAP regulations and we anticipate there will be legal challenges to those as well. 

UPCOMING SNAP 101 Training and Utility Rights Training on Feb 5th:

Just a reminder that we have the SNAP 101 Advocacy training  on Tuesday February 5th in Boston where you will learn all the nuts and bolts about SNAP including updates on ABAWDs and the other federal rules. You will also get the 2020 SNAP Advocacy Guide!  The afternoon is a Utility Rights Training by the National Consumer Law Center, a fantastic training.  You can register for both events, as well as the Tenant’s Rights training this Tuesday, Jan 21st.  Register HERE.


MLRI and the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts are hosting an ABAWD webinar on February 13th - from 10 to 11 AM.  This is for community advocates, health care and social services staff, homeless shelters who work with childless individuals to learn about all the options to protect SNAP benefits.  You will get the most up to date information on the ABAWD rules, which areas are still exempt based on high unemployment and ways you can help individuals claim an exemption or connect with a training program or other services to keep their benefits.  Register HERE


We know this is a hot button issue in the media.  The recent New York Times article, What Happened When a State Made Food Stamps Harder to Get - highlighting the impact of the ABAWD cuts in West Virginia is an excellent example of how to think about and frame the impact of this issue, including the surge in demand at food pantries and increased food insecurity. 

While Massachusetts enjoys a low unemployment rate now, the federal rules if implemented will significantly strip away the state’s ability to respond to local and regional economic crises where unemployment is elevated, such as the spike in closed businesses and unemployment due to the Columbia Gas fiasco in Merrimack Valley, the high seasonal unemployment on Cape and Islands and Western MA, the persistent high unemployment in the “gateway cities” of Lawrence, Springfield, Fall River, New Bedford. 

If you need talking points for a local media call, or some quick pick data, let me know. 

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