Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents (ABAWDs)

Last Published: 11/19/2015

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA) limits the receipt of SNAP benefits to 3 months in a 36-month period for able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs) who are not working at least 80 hours per month, participating in qualifying education and training activities at least 80 hours per month, or complying with a workfare program. Individuals are exempt from the time limit if they are:

  • Under 18 or 50 years of age or older,
  • Responsible for the care of a child or incapacitated household member,
  • Medically certified as physically or mentally unfit for employment, pregnant, or
  • Already exempt from the general SNAP work requirements.

States frequently assign individuals subject to the ABAWD time limit to their SNAP Employment and Training (E&T) Program.  Participation in E&T is one way individuals subject to the time limit can fulfill the ABAWD work requirement, maintain their eligibility to receive SNAP, and learn the skills they need to obtain gainful employment.  For information on the E&T program, go to the Employment & Training page.

ABAWD Policy Resources

ABAWD 15 percent Exemptions

Federal law provides that each State agency be allotted exemptions equal to 15 percent of the State's caseload that is ineligible for program benefits because of the ABAWD time limit.  These exemptions allow the State agency to extend SNAP eligibility for ABAWDs subject to the time limit.  Each 15 percent exemption extends eligibility to 1 ABAWD for 1 month.  States do not earn 15 percent exemptions in areas that are covered by ABAWD time limit waivers.  Food and Nutrition Service considers a State's ABAWD time limit waiver status as of approximately July 1 of each year when allotting annual 15 percent exemptions.  State agencies have flexibility to apply 15 percent exemptions as they deem appropriate.

ABAWD Waivers

States may request to waive the ABAWD time limit in areas with an unemployment rate above 10 percent or a lack of sufficient jobs.  SNAP regulations provide a number of ways States can demonstrate that an unemployment rate above 10 percent or a lack of sufficient jobs.  Below is a summary of the common criteria by which States can qualify for a time limit waiver: (For complete regulations, please visit the Electronic Code of Federal Regulations).

  • A recent 12-month unemployment rate above 10 percent;
  • A recent 3-month unemployment rate above 10 percent;
  • Designation as Labor Surplus Area (LSA) by the Department of Labor;
  • Qualification for extended unemployment benefits; or
  • A recent 24-month average unemployment rate 20 percent above the national average for the same 24-month period.

An ABAWD time limit waiver does not waive the general SNAP work requirements.

DOL Labor Surplus Area List  

The Department of Labor issues an annual list of Labor Surplus Areas.  A Labor Surplus Area is a civil jurisdiction that has a civilian average annual unemployment rate during the previous two calendar years of 20 percent or more above the average annual civilian unemployment rage for all States during the same 24-month reference period.  An updated list of Labor Surplus Areas can be accessed by visiting the Labor Surplus Area page.