Section 815 - Disqualification
Q. Section 815 states, in part, that "no physically and mentally fit individual over the age of 15 and under the age of 60 shall be eligible to participate in the Food Stamp Program if ... the individual refuses without good cause to register for work, participate in an employment and training program, accept employment, provide information, .... However, Section 824 indicates that individuals under 18 or over 50 would be subject to the able-bodied adult without dependents (ABAWD) disqualification provisions. Can this apparent discrepancy in the age requirements be reconciled?
A. We do not see these as conflicting provisions although the age limits are not consistent. Section 815 requires a person to register for work, participate in an employment and training (E&T) program, etc., and it contains its own disqualification penalties for failure to comply. Section 824 is an additional (and overriding) requirement and provides time-limited benefits to certain people (ABAWDs) if they are not working or participating in a work program. This distinction was deliberately made by Congress.
Q. If a recipient meets an exemption criteria while under an employment and training sanction, what happens to the sanction?
A. The sanction will end if the sanctioned individual becomes exempt from work registration.
Q. Would a penalty be imposed in a situation where a recipient has earnings equal to 30 hours a week times the minimum wage and subsequently reduces hours of work so that the earnings were no longer equal to 30 hours a week times the minimum wage?
A. The Act requires a penalty for those who are working more than 30 hours per week and then cut their hours to less than 30. The Secretary has the authority to determine the meaning of "reducing work effort." Proposed rules incorporating the welfare reform changes will address situations in which an individual has earnings equal to 30 hours times the applicable minimum wage—but does not actually work 30 hours—and reduces their work hours.
Q. If an applicant or recipient quits a 40 hour per week job that pays $5 per hour to go to work at a 26 hour per week job that pays $10 per hour, would they be subject to a penalty because they reduced their hours below thirty per week or would this be acceptable because the wage at their new job equals or exceeds 30 hours per week X minimum wage and also exceeds the earnings from the old job?
A. Although the Act requires a penalty for those who are working more than 30 hours per week then cut their hours to less than 30, the Secretary has the authority to determine the meaning of "reducing work effort." Current regulations, which provide for comparable hours or wages (working 30 hours weekly or receiving weekly earnings at least equal to the Federal minimum wage multiplied by 30 hours), will remain in effect.
Q. Lack of child care has been deleted as good cause exemption for refusal to meet work requirements. Are there exceptions to this provision?
A. The new law eliminated the language that included the lack of adequate child care for children above the age of 5 and under the age of 12 as a good cause reason for refusing an offer of employment. The Secretary has the authority to determine the meaning of good cause for paragraph 6(d)(1). Proposed rules will address the determination of good cause. In the interim, States should be encouraged to consider the child care needs of prospective workers.
Q. Would a temporary, voluntary reduction in earnings agreed to by a client in order to eventually obtain a higher rate of pay at a different job subject the client to a penalty?
A. Current rules recognize that such job changes occur and, to prevent forcing food stamp recipients to remain in dead end jobs, allow the individual to avoid the voluntary quit penalty by accepting employment of comparable hours or salary. Although the term "comparable" has not been defined, State agencies are not expected to reject a new job as not comparable simply because the number of hours or the salary of that job is lower than the job that was quit. Proposed rules will retain this approach.
Q. If a mandatory work registrant who has failed to comply, complies (or agrees to comply) during the NOAA period, is the disqualification imposed?
A. If the work registrant actually complies with the requirement during the NOAA period, the proposed disqualification can be canceled. Once canceled, the proposed disqualification would not count as an "occurrence."
Q. If the State agency fails to take timely action to disqualify an individual or household for its non-compliance with work registration requirements, how is the disqualification applied?
A. In the event a State agency fails to take timely action to disqualify an individual or household, the State agency must implement the full disqualification at the end of the adverse action period.
Q. Does a voluntary quit still have to be within 60 days of application? Does the 20 hours per week provision still apply for voluntary quit?
A. The 60 day period will continue to apply. Since the Secretary has the authority to determine the meaning of voluntarily quitting, proposed rules will address the standards—including hours worked—that actually establish voluntary quit.
Q. Does a reduction in work effort have to occur within the past 60 days to subject an individual to disqualification under Section 815?
A. The proposed rule will address reduction of work effort.
Q. A State intends to impose the following sanctions: 1 month for the 1st offense; 3 months for the second offense; and 6 months for the third and subsequent offenses. Is the following statement correct? An individual fails to comply a second time and is sanctioned for October-December. The individual cures the noncompliance in November but doesn't begin to receive benefits again until January (assuming he's otherwise eligible).
A. The statement is correct. Assuming the State agency opts to limit the sanction for the second violation to 3 months, the individual may not regain eligibility until the end of the 3 month period. The Act specifies that the individual will remain ineligible until the later of the date the individual becomes eligible or the date that is 3 months after the date the individual became ineligible.
Q. The law provides that USDA define the meaning of good cause, voluntary quit, and reducing work effort. Also under disqualifications, the State is required to determine the meaning of other terms. Are there parameters or restrictions to the State developed definitions? Will these State defined terms be subject to FCS approval?
A. The law requires States to determine the meaning of terms other than good cause, voluntary quit, and reducing work effort. (Examples of terms subject to State determination include: the meaning of physically/mentally fit; what constitutes sufficient information or a refusal.) The parameters and restrictions are that none of the States' determinations can be less restrictive than comparable determinations under Title IV-A of the Social Security Act. FCS approval is not required.
Q. This provision deletes lack of adequate child care as an explicit good cause exemption for refusal to meet work requirements. According to the summary by DHHS on Title VI (Child Care), single parents with children under 6 who cannot find child care would not be penalized for failure to engage in work activities. Is Title VI only referring to the TANF? Are the provisions in Title VI and Section 815 mutually exclusive? Will waivers be considered for extremely rural areas or other extenuating circumstances?
A. Title VI refers to TANF. The provisions are not necessarily mutually exclusive. The language of the new law eliminated the previous language concerning lack of adequate child care as a good cause for refusing an offer of employment. However, the statute gives the Department the authority to determine the meaning of good cause for section 6(d) of the Food Stamp Act.