January 24 and February 5: Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents (ABAWD) Rule

Overview

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Food and Nutrition Services (FNS) has released three proposed rules to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) over the last year which will have significant impacts to Wisconsin’s FoodShare members. One of these rules—related to the work requirement for able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs)—has been finalized, and below is more information about this rule.

ABAWD Rule Background and Changes

  • Federal regulations have been in place since April 1, 2015, which require non-disabled adults, ages 18 through 49, who do not have any children under age 18 living in their home to meet a work requirement to continue receiving FoodShare benefits, unless they qualify for an exemption. This is often called the ABAWD work requirement.
    • Members can meet the work requirement by working (including volunteer work) or participating in a work program, like the state’s FoodShare Employment and Training program (FSET).
    • If a non-exempt member does not meet the work requirement, FoodShare benefits are limited to 3 months in a 36-month period.
    • There are many exemptions from this work requirement, including pregnancy, someone experiencing homelessness, and if the member is experiencing physical or mental health issues.
  • In addition to these standard individual exemptions from the work requirement, federal regulations give states the flexibility to exempt FoodShare recipients from the ABAWD work requirement based on where they live and the level of unemployment in that area.
    • DHS recently received FNS approval for geographic exemptions under the current methodology for people who live in Adams, Ashland, Bayfield, Forest, Iron, and Menominee counties, and some tribal lands or reservations. This policy went into effect for these areas on October 1, 2019.
      • DHS works with the Center on Budget and Policy priorities (CBPP) to identify the areas of the state that qualify under this option.
  • The ABAWD rule that was finalized in early December 2019 changes how FNS determines the areas of a state that would qualify ABAWD members living in those areas to be exempt from the work requirement, as well as the threshold to qualify for high unemployment.
    • CBPP has indicated that all of the counties and one of the tribal lands currently exempt under this option would no longer qualify for exemptions under the new rules.
    • The new FNS regulation sets new standards that will be effective on April 1, 2020.
  • Finally, federal regulations give states a yearly amount of exemptions from this work requirement to apply at their discretion. Each discretionary exemption can exempt one ABAWD member from the time limit for one month.
    • Up until this new rule, states were allowed to carry over any unused exemptions from year to year, indefinitely. The final rule limits the number of discretionary exemptions (previously called 15% exemptions) that a state can carry over from year-to-year. This goes into effect on October 1, 2020.
    • DHS currently has over 120,000 discretionary exemptions that, under the new rule, will be lost effective October 1, 2020, due to these changes.

Implementation of the ABAWD Rule in Wisconsin

  • To reduce confusion for members, our income maintenance (IM) and FoodShare Employment and Training (FSET) agencies, and stakeholders, DHS will be using discretionary exemptions to continue the current unemployment area exemptions through the end of the time period previously approved by FNS, which is September 30, 2020.
  • DHS will also be using our current allotment of discretionary exemptions to exempt any ABAWD in the state who is not meeting or is not exempt from the work requirement for another reason, beginning April 1, 2020.
    • This will be in addition to those individuals living in areas where the unemployment exemptions apply.
    • DHS anticipates being able to provide these exemptions through September 30, 2020. However, if DHS too quickly exhausts our allotment of exemptions, we will promptly notify members, stakeholders, and staff of the return of the time limit.
  • Individuals who would be at risk of losing their FoodShare benefits due to the time limit are generally those who face significant barriers to employment.
    • During this time period, DHS will be working with our FSET and IM agencies to identify and implement ways to improve the supports we provide to ABAWDs, so they can meet the work requirement.
    • DHS plans to work collaboratively with our partners to identify short and long-term policy and programmatic improvements that will support members in maintaining their FoodShare eligibility, reducing barriers to employment, and achieving their employment goals.
  • DHS is still determining how it will implement the ABAWD rule after September 30, 2020. 
ABAWD Rule Change Frequently Asked Questions

After March 31, 2020, will ABAWD FoodShare members who are currently exempt due to living in high unemployment areas, be required to meet the work requirement due to the ABAWD rule change?

No. DHS will be using its supply of discretionary exemptions to continue the current unemployment area exemptions through September 30, 2020, which was the end of the time period previously approved by FNS.

After September 30, 2020, will ABAWD FoodShare members who are currently exempt due to living in high unemployment areas, be required to meet the work requirement due to the ABAWD rule change?

DHS is currently reviewing this policy. Based on the information available to DHS at this time from the CBPP, all of the counties and one of the tribal lands currently exempt under this option would no longer qualify for exemptions under the new rules.

When the temporary exemption expires on September 30, 2020, ABAWD FoodShare members currently exempt due to living in high unemployment areas, may need to meet the FoodShare work requirement again. Unless they meet the work requirement or are exempt, they may only get three months of time-limited FoodShare benefits in a 36-month (three-year) period.

Will ABAWD FoodShare members who are not meeting the work requirement, be granted a temporary exemption in 2020?

Yes, but for only part of the year. Starting on April 1, 2020, ABAWD FoodShare members who are not meeting the work requirement, and do not qualify for any other exemptions, will be given a temporary exemption from the work requirement. During this temporary exemption they will not lose any of their three months of time-limited FoodShare benefits if they are not able to meet the work requirement.

These members will be notified at a later date telling them when their temporary exemption will expire. The temporary exemption will last until no later than September 30, 2020. When this temporary exemption expires, these members may need to meet the FoodShare work requirement again. Unless they meet the work requirement or are exempt, they may only get three months of time-limited FoodShare benefits in a 36-month (three-year) period.

Why are ABAWD FoodShare members who are not meeting the work requirement, being granted a temporary exemption in 2020?

Wisconsin currently has over 120,000 discretionary FoodShare work requirement exemptions that under the new ABAWD rule will expire on October 1, 2020. DHS is allotting these exemptions to all current ABAWD FoodShare members on a temporary basis from April 1, 2020, until no later than September 30, 2020.

Will ABAWD FoodShare members who are not meeting the work requirement, need to meet the FoodShare work requirement again when their temporary exemption expires?

Yes. When ABAWD FoodShare members who are not meeting the work requirement, and do not qualify for any other exemptions, have their temporary exemption expire no later than September 30, 2020, they may need to meet the FoodShare work requirement again. Unless these members meet the work requirement or are exempt, they may only get three months of time-limited FoodShare benefits in a 36-month (three-year) period.

These members will get a letter at a later date telling them when their temporary exemption will expire.

Where can I find a list of current FoodShare work requirement exemptions?

For more information about exemptions from the FoodShare work requirement, including a current list of work requirement exemptions, go to the DHS FoodShare Work Requirement Exemptions website.

Where can I find more information about the FoodShare program?

For more information about the FoodShare program, go to the DHS FoodShare website.

Where can I find more information about the FSET program?

For more information about the FSET program, go to the DHS FSET website.

Last Revised: February 21, 2020