Help stop harsher time limits for food assistance

Take Action to Protect Hungry People from Harsh Time Limits on Help

The primary program that helps struggling Americans afford food, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), is at risk of being seriously restricted from helping those in need.

SNAP is the most important and effective anti-hunger program in our country and in our state. We witness the power of SNAP in our work daily.

But the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA, the federal agency that oversees SNAP) is now considering plans to expand harsh time limits on people who receive food stamps. They are taking public comment to hear people’s thoughts on this plan. We must make sure to share the thinking of all anti-hunger advocates:

Cutting off people from food assistance is cruel. This only increases hardship, not reduces it.

What are the current SNAP time limits?

There are already strict rules limiting SNAP food assistance for able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs): people age 18-49 who aren’t taking care of a child or household member and who don’t have an officially recognized physical or mental disability. All ABAWDs must spend 20 hours a week working, at a job training program, do a combination of work, or doing community service activities – or some combination of these – to meet the work requirements.

Otherwise, ABAWDS can only receive food assistance for 3 months in a 3-year time period. (You can read more about the rules here.) This has been the case since 1996, though during the recent recession the federal government allowed states to waive the work requirement time limits due to high unemployment.

Why do work requirements with time limits on food assistance not make sense?

Most SNAP recipients (2/3) aren’t expected to work because they are children, seniors, or people with disabilities.

Of the remaining working age adults:

  • slightly more than half aren’t working in a given month. Some of them are only temporarily out of work – they have a strong work history, but are between jobs. This is growing more and more commonplace in an economy where full-time full-year work is harder and harder to come by.
  • Others are out of work for longer periods, often because they are caregivers (either for children or other family members) or because they have health limitations that don’t rise to the level of qualifying for disability benefits.

In other words: most ABAWDS are working. If they’re not, arbitrary work requirements they can’t meet aren’t going to help them. Making it harder for them to afford food certainly won’t help the situation. And calling these requirements “workforce development” is cruel.

Our government spends far too little on real workforce development: job creation, skills training, education, and helping match people to local industries. Their plan to spend less on this and food assistance in order to spend more on enforcement of bureaucratic work requirements — rules that will only increase hunger and hardship — is a huge waste of tax dollars.

What is happening with work requirement time limits now?

The USDA budget contains large cuts to SNAP that would result in 4 million current recipients losing food assistance. Advocates believe they will accomplish this by expanding mandatory work requirements with harsh time limits. This would override states’ ability to determine where, when, and which SNAP recipients are subject to these rules, based on their understanding of their own population and local economies.

This would cut even larger numbers of people off of food assistance when they need it the most.

They are having a public comment period for people to weigh in on what changes, if any, the USDA should make to the SNAP time limit rule for ABAWDs.

What can I do to help?

We need the USDA to hear, loud and clear: we oppose any changes that would expose more people to the harsh 3-month time limit for food assistance. This would only increase hunger and hardship in our community.

The comment period ends Tuesday, April 10. Here’s how to take action to participate before then:

orange arrowCopy the following text and submit it on this public comments page at Feel free to make changes that personalize it. You will also need to fill out short form with your name and address. Your submission will go to the SNAP Program Division in the USDA.

Dear Ms. Gersten-Paal,

I am deeply concerned by attempts to create further restrictions on food assistance for hungry people in my community. I am opposed to any policies that will increase hunger by subjecting more people to work requirements and time limits. People should not be punished for grappling with hardship.

Most participants in SNAP who can work are working and don’t need to be given a “requirement” to do so. Putting up barriers to food assistance will not incentivize or equip those who are the least able to work — the un-skilled, caregivers, the homeless, people with physical and mental health problems — with what they need to maintain paid employment. It is not the real training and education that would comprise true workforce development.

Mandating participation in work programs, with the priority placed on attendance, ciphons much-needed resources away from actual education and training programs. We need programs that actually provide clients with skills that match their abilities and the needs of local employers.

I strongly support any measures that allow states to suspend the SNAP time limit to best respond to local needs. The federal government should continue to allow states the flexibility to forego SNAP time limits in areas they determine there is a “lack of sufficient jobs”.

I also oppose limiting the definition of “unfit for employment” to only certain chronic physical or mental health conditions. This will subject people with significant employment barriers to time limits, increasing their risk of hunger.

The best recommendation I can make regarding the SNAP time limit is to abolish it.



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2 Responses to Help stop harsher time limits for food assistance

  1. Avatar
    pegwitch March 28, 2018 at 4:38 am #

    I agree with work requirements for able bodied adults, even those with children.

  2. Avatar
    Bennifer July 24, 2018 at 1:30 pm #

    I have mental health problems that have kept me out of work for long periods of time. I could not even find out if I would qualify for a health waiver because my case worker told me that the only people who would get the waiver were people with severe physical disabilities. She said that “they were cracking down on mental health.” She did everything in her power to deter me from completing the application – She bullied me right off the bat knowing that I had a history of being severe emotionally/verbally abuse – This caused me to have a panic attack. She used the information she had about me being in a domestic violence situation against me by requiring that I agree to allow them to contact my abuser for information about my living situation, even though there was a landlord they could contact to get the same information. I told her that if they contacted my abuser, it would put me in harm’s way and she SHRUGGED, said “Okay, so then you can’t complete the application,” and moved on like it was nothing. She implied that because I didn’t qualify for a domestic violence waiver I wasn’t being abused. I signed a form stating that I was a victim of domestic violence so whether or not I qualify for the waiver doesn’t change the fact that I’m being abused. They don’t care about non-physical abuse (ie financial, verbal, emotional, psychological). They don’t care if your abuser indirectly harms you – for example exacerbating your health conditions (ie like using things you have severe allergies to) or putting you in danger through negligence (ie leaving you alone in the house with something on the stove or with the front/back door unlocked/open, leaving you in the house alone with dangerous people). They don’t care if you are being deterred or prevented from working by your abuser through indirect means. They don’t care about REALITY. They don’t care if you are actually in danger as long as your abuser doesn’t use physical force against you. They have a form and it’s worded where they can easily disqualify you if it’s not a typical domestic violence situation. So after I failed to qualify for the dv waiver, my case worker used the information – the fact that I was in a domestic violence situation to back me into a corner and force me out of the application process by requiring that I allow them to do what would tip off my abuser to my plans. So I couldn’t even find out if I would qualify for a health waiver. Most likely I wouldn’t because the only people who qualify are those on disability, and they look for very obvious typical physical disabilities or mental retardation. If you have something like severe ptsd you probably won’t get disability even if you are unable to work. Their process for determining who is able to work is SEVERELY flawed. They are preying on people who are very weak forcing them to kill themselves working or do without just to avoid having to give them money. As far as I’m concerned, it’s fraud. Their workforce needs to be downsized and we need to implement living wages. Or there needs to be some type of oversight from the types of people that depend on these services. It’s very hypocritical to me that they are so concerned about fraud when they are defrauding citizens out of what our own tax dollars pay for.

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