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SNAP - Preparing for Reinstatement of Time Limit for ABAWDs

EO Guidance Document #
FNS-GD-2021-0096
Resource type
Policy Memos
Guidance Documents
Resource Materials
PDF Icon Policy Memo (320.98 KB)
DATE: September 20, 2021
SUBJECT: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Preparing for Reinstatement of the Time Limit for Able-Bodied Adults without Dependents (ABAWDs)
TO: All SNAP State Agencies
All Regions

This memorandum provides guidance to help states prepare to implement the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) time limit for able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs) once the temporary and partial suspension under the Family First Coronavirus Act (FFCRA) lapses. States must properly implement the time limit for ABAWDs while ensuring program access for all eligible participants. 1

While this letter will assist states in their planning efforts for the eventual end of the public health emergency, it does not signal or confirm when the federal public health emergency declaration will end.

Preparing for Reinstatement of the ABAWD Time Limit

Adults ages 18-49, who are subject to the general work requirements (also referred to as “work registrants”) and who do not have dependents, and are not pregnant, are considered ABAWDs. ABAWDs cannot receive SNAP benefits for more than 3 months within a 3-year period unless the individual meets the ABAWD work requirement or is otherwise exempt.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress passed the FFCRA, which temporarily and partially suspends the ABAWD time limit nationwide, as explained in the March 20, 2020 memo, SNAP – Families First Coronavirus Response Act and Impact on Time Limit for Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents (ABAWDs). The partial suspension applies through the end of the month subsequent to the month in which the Public Health Emergency based on an outbreak of COVID-19 is lifted by the Secretary of Health and Human Services. During this period, states cannot apply the time limit to an ABAWD unless the individual is not complying with a work program or workfare program offered by the state that meets standards of section 6(o)(2)(B) or (C).

While we do not yet know exactly when the public health emergency declaration will be lifted, states must prepare now to resume administration of the time limit once the FFCRA suspension lapses. Administering the time limit incorrectly can result in individuals losing SNAP benefits for which they are eligible, cause payment errors, and negatively impact quality control (QC) error rates. As a fundamental first step, state eligibility workers must determine whether each work registrant meets an exemption from the ABAWD work requirements. The state must screen work registrants for all of these exemptions at certification and at recertification, though it may also be appropriate outside of these points. For example, it may be appropriate if a household voluntarily reports a change in a person’s exemption status during the certification period or requests the addition of a new household member. State agencies must track ABAWDs so that they will be ready to transition from the partial and temporary suspension of the ABAWD time limit.

State agencies should also consider that economic conditions remain difficult in many parts of the country. Many ABAWDs will continue to face significant barriers to employment. FNS highly encourages states to consider requesting waivers of the ABAWD time limit and to use discretionary exemptions2 as appropriate.

Resetting Countable Months to Zero
Sec. 2301(b) of FFCRA requires that all ABAWDs have zero countable months beginning in the month subsequent to the month in which the COVID-19 public health emergency declaration by the Secretary of Health and Human Services is lifted. States must comply with the FFCRA requirement that no ABAWDs have countable months when the time limit is reinstated. Therefore, states must reset countable months to zero for all ABAWDs—ABAWDs for whom the time limit was suspended and ABAWDs who did not comply with a work program or workfare program offered by the state. It is crucial that state agencies successfully implement this provision of FFCRA to ensure equitable program access for all ABAWDs. FFCRA and federal regulations are not prescriptive on how to disregard prior countable months, therefore, states have discretion to make the programming changes necessary. States may:

  • Reset the 36-month clock for the entire caseload; OR
  • Keep the 36-month clock as it currently exists, but remove all countable months from each ABAWD’s case.

Requesting Waivers of the ABAWD Time Limit
Waivers of the ABAWD time limit are intended to help promote food security for ABAWDs who live in areas where there is high unemployment and/or lack of sufficient employment opportunities. Therefore, states have a responsibility to assess unemployment rates and job availability across the state and in sub-state areas, such as counties and reservation areas, to determine whether waivers of the ABAWD time limit may be appropriate.

States may continue to request waivers of the ABAWD time limit at any time, including during the FFCRA suspension of the time limit, covering the entire state or certain geographic areas. To receive FNS approval for a waiver of the ABAWD time limit, state agencies must identify the area subject to the request, support their request with evidence that corresponds to the requested areas, and identify the criteria used to support the request. A non-exhaustive list of criteria, methodologies, and data that states can submit in support of waivers of the ABAWD time limit is available in the Guide to Supporting Requests to Waive the Time Limit for Able-Bodied Adults without Dependents. FNS highly encourages states to submit requests for waivers of the ABAWD time limit 60 days in advance of the requested implementation date.

FNS recognizes that state agencies may have some questions surrounding the requirements for requesting waivers of the ABAWD time limit given recent regulatory changes and the subsequent rescission of those changes. The Dec. 5, 2019, final rule, SNAP - Requirements for Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents (84 FR 66783), would have revised the criteria for waivers of the ABAWD time limit. The 2019 rule was vacated by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. FNS published the SNAP - Rescission of Requirements for Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents: Notice of Vacatur (86 FR 34605), which removed from the Code of Federal Regulations the Dec. 15, 2019, rule. The electronic Code of Regulations reflects the current regulations. The Guide to Supporting Requests to Waive the Time Limit for Able-Bodied Adults without Dependents, provides an overview of the current standards for waivers of the ABAWD time limit.

Availability of Discretionary Exemptions
Discretionary exemptions allow the state to extend eligibility to 1 ABAWD for 1 month, at the state’s discretion. Each state receives a number of exemptions equal to 12 percent of the state's caseload that is ineligible for program benefits because of the ABAWD time limit.

The 2019 rule, SNAP - Requirements for Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents (84 FR 66783), would have revised states’ ability carry over discretionary exemptions. As explained in an earlier paragraph, this rule was vacated and as a result states can carry over the full quantity of unused discretionary exemptions into subsequent fiscal years. Information on the number of exemptions available to each state for FY 2021 is in the May 11, 2021 memo, SNAP – ABAWD Discretionary Exemptions Totals for FY 2021. FNS encourages states to use discretionary exemptions when appropriate.

Additional FNS Resources to Support State Agencies
In the Nov. 19, 2015 memo, SNAP – ABAWD Time Limit Policy and Program Access, FNS outlined important requirements, flexibilities, and best practices for administering the time limit while also protecting program access for all eligible individuals. FNS encourages state agencies to review the memo, as it addressed a similar set of circumstances: states were beginning to reinstate the ABAWD time limit after the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 had temporarily lifted the time limit.

For more information on screening, informing, and tracking ABAWDs, please reference the ABAWD Policy Resources webpage. Please contact your regional office representatives with any questions.

Sasha Gersten-Paal
Director
Program Development Division
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs

 

____________________

1 Activities associated waivers of the ABAWD time limit are included in OMB Control Number 0584-0479. Activities associated with identifying and tracking ABAWDs are included in OMB Control Number 0584-0064.
2 The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 reduced the allocation of exemptions from 15 percent to 12 percent for fiscal year (FY) 2020 and subsequent years. FNS now refers to these exemptions as discretionary exemptions.

Updated: 09/20/2021

The contents of this guidance document do not have the force and effect of law and are not meant to bind the public in any way. This document is intended only to provide clarity to the public regarding existing requirements under the law or agency policies.