Food for People

The Food Bank for Humboldt County


SNAP / CalFresh ABAWD Time Limit

In December 2019, the federal government published a final rule enacting significant cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or CalFresh in California). The rule is scheduled to go into effect on April 1, 2020.

Starting on April 1, 2020, SNAP/CalFresh recipients who fall under the following criteria:

  • between the ages of 18 and 49, and
  • who do not reside with a child uner age 18, and
  • who do not have a documented disability, and
  • who do not satisfy the 20 hours-per-week work requirement

...are considered "Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents" (ABAWDs) and may be subject to a 3-month time limit on receiving SNAP/CalFresh during a 36-month time period.

The ABAWD Time Limit makes it more difficult to find work--not less. The time limit denies food aid to:

  • people who cannot prove that they have worked the requisite number of hours per week
  • individuals with undiagnosed impairments or disabilities
  • individuals without impairments or disabilities who are actively looking for work but unable to find an employer who will hire them or a job
  • individuals whose employers do not give them enough hours to comply with the 20-hour per week requirement

As a result, many individuals will be denied food help and go hungry, making it more difficult to find work, not less. When enacted, this rule will impact basic food assistance for an estimated 700,000 people that are struggling to find work. This is a cut of historic proportions. The rule will require almost every California county to enforce the harsh time limit on providing nutrition assistance for adults who are working less than 20 hours each week, no matter how hard they are looking for a job, have irregular schedules, or are employed more than 20 hours a week but unable to document their hours. The federal rule also restricts the state's ability to utilize individual exceptions to provide food assistance to those with the greatest barriers to work.

On January 16, 2020, two separate law suits were filed against the rule and to seek a national injunction. The Attorney General of Washington, D.C. and 13 other states, including California, and New York City filed one case. The Legal Aid of D.C. filed a separate case. These cases have now been joined and they will have a hearing on March 5th, 2020. More news will be available after that.

Impact on Hunger

If the rule is implemented, the nation would see higher rates of hunger and poverty. The final rule would cause serious harm to individuals, communities, and the nation while doing nothing to improve the health and employment of those impacted by the rule. In addition, the rule would harm the economy, grocery retailers, agricultural producers, and communities by reducing the amount of SNAP dollars available to spur local economic activity.

Contrary to the USDA’s rationale, in reality, this rule does not promote self-sufficiency, wellbeing, or economic mobility. Rather it targets our community members – like veterans and the formerly incarcerated – with the greatest barriers to work by making these individuals hungrier and poorer. It also places an impossible burden on food banks and other emergency food providers to fill in where government falls short.

To quote Andrew Cheyne, director of government affairs for the California Association of Food Banks, "’s grounded in the myth that people receiving food assistance are 'lazy' and don’t want to work. Nothing could be further from the truth: the people impacted by this rule have been systematically disenfranchised and face real barriers to maintaining and documenting full time employment. Taking away basic food assistance only makes people hungry, and does not help anyone find a job.”

History of Time Limits on SNAP

In 1996, when Congress enacted time limits on SNAP (then called food stamps) for certain adults who were unable to document sufficient hours of work each month, Congress provided that states could request, from USDA, waivers on the time limits for areas with too few jobs. The area waivers are important safety valves for protecting food assistance for persons who are seeking but unable to find sufficient hours of work. In the decades since, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has followed the decision of Congress and processed area waiver requests, across the political spectrum, based on accepted economic factors and metrics.

The administration has now narrowed states’ ability to waive the time limit in many areas with insufficient jobs. This action flies in the face of congressional intent, coming almost a year after Congress passed the Farm Bill that left the current area waiver provisions in place. Congress deliberated for two years, with a significant debate about the role of SNAP in helping both working and out-of-work Americans prevent hunger and maintain employment or prepare to re-enter the workforce. The Farm Bill that passed in 2018, with historic bipartisan support, rejected cutting access to the program. The finalizing and publication of this rule follows numerous similar attempts over the past two years to circumvent Congressional decision-making with proposed policies that seek to make it increasingly difficult for low-income Americans to receive the support they need.

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