Guidance for States on Use of Discretionary Food Stamp Program Time Limit Exemptions
The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PROWRA) stipulates that able-bodied, childless adults may only receive food stamps for 3 months in a 36-month period unless they work at least 20 hours a week; participate in an approved work or training program; or live in an area that has been waived from the time limit due to either an unemployment rate higher than 10 percent, or insufficient jobs. A provision of the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 permits States to exempt up to 15 percent of their unwaived, unemployed, childless able-bodied (ABAWD) population from the PRWORA three-month time limit. Since this population is at risk of losing their food stamps without appropriate work opportunities, these exemptions give States broad discretion to allow selected ABAWDs to continue receiving food stamps beyond their initial three-month period of eligibility. Because the exemptions are limited to 15 percent of each State’s unwaived unemployed ABAWD caseload, States must exercise this discretion responsibly in order to grant the maximum number of exemptions without exceeding their average monthly allotment.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) has prepared this guidance to assist States in managing their exemptions by estimating the effects of certain policy choices states may make in deciding which ABAWDS are in the greatest need of exemptions, and how long those exemptions should last. This guidance gives States background information on how the exemptions were determined, discusses the food stamp participation dynamics of the ABAWD population, describes the method FNS has created to help States determine the number exemptions it can use to exempt a certain number of ABAWDs for various periods of time, and provides information on specific groups States may want to exempt.