SNAP's New Requirements for Food Stamp Eligibility Coming Soon
The latest round of debt ceiling-related brinksmanship, horse trading, and hostage-taking brought the U.S. to the very edge of defaulting on its debts. This narrowly-avoided catastrophe was brought on by a certain party’s sudden and desperate need to cut spending, and a divided Congress forced President Joe Biden to make some significant concessions to avert the manmade disaster. It took a lot of finagling to appease the opposition; President Biden's team took months to strike a deal that preserved as many social programs as possible, ending with him signing the The Fiscal Responsibility Act (FRA), in order to limit spending for two years and prevent the country from entering a debt default.
But casualties couldn't be totally avoided, regardless of attempts to avert them. The new budget deal and the FRA included changes to a lot of federal programs. Many programs remain under threat, while some have bitten the dust. Among those casualties were certain provisions of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). SNAP is also known as the program that provides "food stamps." Most of the program remains in place, and the Biden administration is fairly confident that their own provisions will limit the FRA’s impact on SNAP. But the legislation still institutes changes to eligibility and work requirements that may hurt some recipients.
Current SNAP Rules
SNAP is administered as a federal-state partnership, meaning each state uses its own criteria to determine eligibility for benefits based on federal policy. For many years, the federal guidelines have included the following requirements.
If you’re between the ages of 16 and 59 and able to work you, you must
- register for work;
- participate in SNAP Employment and Training (E&T) or workfare (if assigned by a state SNAP agency);
- take a suitable job if offered one; and
- not voluntarily quit a job or work fewer than 30 hours per week without a good reason.
If you’re between the ages of 18 and 49, able to work, and don’t have any dependents (meaning you are classified as an Able-Bodied Adult Without Dependents, or ABAWD), you need to meet additional requirements. In this case, you must also
- work for money, goods and services, or volunteer at least 80 hours per month;
- participate in a work program for at least 80 hours per month;
- participate in a combination of work and work program hours for at least 80 hours per month; and
- participate in workfare for the numbers of hours assigned to you each month.
Failing to follow the requirements doesn’t necessarily disqualify you from the program, but it does limit you to claiming SNAP benefits for only three months over a 36-month period.
New SNAP Rules
The changes to SNAP’s work requirements are relatively minor. Where the old requirements applied to people older than 18 and younger than 50, the new requirements raise the upper limit to 55 years old.
Under the previous system, an ABAWD would be exempt from the work requirements if they were
- medically certified as unfit for employment;
- responsible for a dependent child;
- exempt from work registration requirements as listed in this code; or
The new rules add three exempt categories, in addition to the exemptions above. Under the new rules, the following people are also exempt:
- homeless individuals
- those currently between the ages of 18 and 24 who were in foster care on their 18th birthday
The new requirements will be phased in over the next few years. While the changes will make it harder for some people to claim more than three months of SNAP benefits over the 36-month period, they also come with the added exemptions to the requirements to offset the increased hardship for affected groups.
The End Result
It’s hard to argue that the new work requirements for able-bodied adults without dependents are as burdensome as some pundits have made them out to be. Most programs consider 65 to be the appropriate retirement age, so it stands to reason that SNAP recipients should be expected to work until they’re at least 55. That said, the impact may have been much more severe if the Biden administration hadn’t fought for additional exemptions for veterans, homeless individuals, and recent graduates of the foster care system.
Whether or not work requirements present burdensome obstacles to entry for social programs is still a matter of debate. It may prevent some people from receiving benefits they need, or it may not. The only thing that’s certain is that we won’t know until the age increases have been in effect for at least a few years.
- Could Biden Use the Fourteenth Amendment to Solve the Debt Ceiling? (FindLaw's Practice of Law blog)
- The Fourteenth Amendment's Public Debt Clause (FindLaw's U.S. Constitution pages)
- What Are 'Right to Work' Laws? (FindLaw's Learn About the Law)
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