Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents (ABAWADs)

Current status of the ABAWD rule

California has a statewide waiver of the ABAWD rule effective from November 1, 2022 to October 1, 2024.  [ACL 22-103.]  California had been granted an extension of its statewide waiver until June 30, 2024.  [ACL 22-40.] California previously had a statewide waiver of the ABAWD rule effective from July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021 because of COVID-19.  [ACL 20-90.]  California previously had a waiver of the ABAWD rule for 52 of 58 counties.  [ACL 18-97.]  The counties that did not qualify for the ABAWD time limit waiver were San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Alameda, Contra Costa and Marin.

The Trump administration issued new federal rules changing the standard for geographic waiver of the the ABAWD and thereby greatly increasing the number of persons subject to the ABAWD rule.  On March 13, 2020, the federal district court for the District of Columbia entered a nationwide injunction blocking implementation of most of the new ABAWD rules, including the new waiver standard.  [District of Columbia v. U.S. Department of Agriculture and Bread for the City v. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Civil Action No. 20-119 (BAH), Memorandum Opinion, March 13, 2020.]  The court then entered a permanent injunction blocking the entire new ABAWD rule.  The United States Department of Agriculture has abandoned its appeal of the injunction.  [United States Department of Agriculture Press Release, March 24, 2021.] As a result, the new ABAWD rule did not go into effect.

Regardless of the waiver, counties must continue to identify ABAWDs, screen for exemptions and inform clients of the ABAWD rules.  Counties must also track and report data about work registration, ABAWDs, and Employment and Training. [ACL 22-40.]

Individuals who were previously discontinued from CalFresh for failure to meet ABAWD requirements and reapply to CalFresh may be approved for benefits if otherwise eligible. CalFresh Employment and Training and voluntary quit sanctions do not stop when the individual moves to a county with an ABAWD time limit waiver.  [ACL 22-40; ACL 21-67.]

What are ABAWDs?

“ABAWD” refers to Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents. The ABAWD change was the first time in federal legislation that a time limit was imposed on receiving SNAP benefits. Congress singled out for a three-month time limit, in any three year period, all those “able-bodied” recipients who are not working or in an acceptable work program. [7 U.S.C. § 2015(o)).]

What this means in practice is that anyone between the ages of 18 and 50 with no children and who is not disabled, might only be able to get three months of CalFresh benefits every three years.

The Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023 increases the age of those subject to the ABAWD rules to 50 effective September 1, 2023, 52 effective October 1, 2023, and 54 effective October 1, 2024. [ACL 23-80.]

ABAWDs get three full months of benefits, even if — due to prorating in the month of application — the ABAWD ends up receiving a partial fourth month of benefits as well. An ABAWD could also receive a partial fourth month if she became exempt or covered by a waiver part way through a month. [MPP §§ 63-410.35, 63-410.1, 63-410.3; 7 C.F.R. §§ 273.24(b), 273.24(c).] This cut-off applies if the person is not working, or in workfare at least 20 hours a week, or otherwise participating in an approved work/training activity. [MPP § 63-410; 7 C.F.R. § 273.24(b).] The work and training activities are defined in MPP § 63-407.8; 7 C.F.R. § 273.7(a)(1) and (2).

CDSS has decided to implement the 36 month period using a fixed statewide clock.  This means all ABAWDs will have the same time 36 month time period, and when the clock starts it will continue uninterrupted.  The clock will begin on January 1, 2017 and will reset on January 1, 2020.  When the statewide clock ends, all ABAWDs will have their clock restart and can again receive their 3 months of CalFresh.  [ACIN I-88-16.]

Exceptions to the ABAWD work rules and cut-off

The three-month cut-off does not apply if the person is:

  • Under age 18 or 50 or over. [MPP § 63-410.321; 7 C.F.R. § 273.24(c )(1).]
  • Mentally or physically unfit for work. [MPP § 63-322; 7 C.F.R. § 273.24(c)(2).]
  • Pregnant. [7 C.F.R. § 273.24(c)(6).]
  • Working 80 hours a month (including work in exchange for “in-kind income”). MPP § 63-410.221; 7 C.F.R. § 273.24(a)(3)(iii)]
  • Participating in an employment and training program 20 hours a week (if job search activities are less than half the hours). [MPP § 63-410.212-213; 7 C.F.R. § 273.24(a)(1)(iii).]
  • Participating in a workfare program for the required number of hours (determined by dividing the person’s CalFresh benefit by the minimum wage). [MPP § 63-410.212; 7 C.F.R. § 273.24(a)(1)(iv).]
  • The parent or stepparent of a household member who is under age 18, even if that person is not eligible for CalFresh benefits. [MPP § 63-410.323; 7 C.F.R. § 273.24(c)(3).]
  • Living with a household member who is under age 18, even if that person is not eligible for CalFresh benefits. [MPP § 63-410.323; 7 C.F.R. § 273.24(c)(4).]
  • Living in a geographic area that has an ABAWD “waiver.” [MPP § 63-410.33; 7 C.F.R. § 273.24(b)(1)(ii).]
  • Exempt from the CalFresh work requirements. (For example, the recipient is receiving unemployment benefits, is a student in an education or training program at least half-time, or in a drug treatment program.) [MPP § 63-410.31, MPP § 63-407.21.]).

[7 C.F.R. § 273.24(c)(5).]

California is required to screen for ABAWS exceptions.  [ACL 24-06.]  The new semi-annual reporting form SAR 7 includes questions to screen for ABAWD exceptions.  [Id.]  CDSS also has a screening form to help determine eligibility for exemptions from the ABAWD rules.  [CF 377.11E.]  The screening form does not eliminate the need for obtaining verification of exemptions.  [ACL 20-19.]

The Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023 also adds exemptions for individuals experiencing homelessness, veterans, and foster youth age 24 younger who were in foster care on their 18th birthday. [ACL 23-80.] These exemptions are effective September 1, 2023. [Id.]

In addition, federal law allows discretionary exemptions for 12 percent of the state annual CalFresh caseload. The Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023 reduces the number of discretionary from 12 percent of the caseload, to eight percent of the caseload. [Id.]

Good cause for missing work

If the person would have worked an average of 20 hours per week but missed some work for “good cause,” and if the absence from work is temporary, and they keep their job, the CalFresh office must find there was compliance with the work requirement. [MPP § 63-410.221; 7 C.F.R. § 273.24(a)(2).] Good cause includes circumstance beyond a person’s control, such as illness, illness of another household member requiring the recipient’s presence, a household emergency, or the lack of transportation. [MPP § 63-407.5; 7 C.F.R. § 273.24(b)(2).]

Extended benefits for job loss

If the person gets three months of benefits while not working or not exempt, and then gets a job, but later loses that job, they can get three more months of benefits. [MPP § 63-410.52; 7 C.F.R. § 273.24(e).] This extra three months of benefits is allowed only one time in three years, and the three months have to be in a row. [MPP § 63-410.521; 7 C.F.R. § 273.24(e).]

Regaining eligibility after three-month cut-off

One will be eligible for CalFresh benefits if the person:

  • Works at least 20 hours per week or 80 hours in a 30-day period in paid or volunteer employment;
  • Complies with the requirements of a work program for at least 20 hours per week or 80 hours in a 30-day period;
  • Performs any combination of work and training or education for at least 20 hours per week or 80 hours in a 30 day period (WIOA or CalFresh Employment and Training programs count toward the 20 h0urs per week);
  • Complies with a workfare program for the number of hours needed for one month’s worth of benefits; or
  • Becomes exempt.

[MPP § 63-407.5; 7 C.F.R. § 273.24(d)(1).]

Counties can also temporarily excuse up to fifteen percent of individuals from meeting the work rule.  These exemptions are only available persons at risk of losing their CalFresh because of the time limit.  [ACL 20-18.] Effective October 1, 2020, the number of temporary exemptions will go down to twelve percent of individuls.  [ACL 20-18.] The federal government will determine the number of exemptions that are allocated to each state and state distribute the exemptions among the counties that do not qualify for an ABAWD waiver.  [ACL 16-24.]  For more information about discretionary waivers, go to Waiver of the ABAWD work requirements in this guide.

ABAWDs who lose their benefits, then become exempt, can regain CalFresh benefits by reapplying. [MPP § 63-407.53; 7 C.F.R. § 273.24(d)(v) and 7 C.F.R. § 273.7(g).]

If an ABAWD has regained eligibility after losing the time-limited benefits, and then stops doing the work requirement during the 36 months of the time-limit bar, she can get CalFresh benefits for three consecutive months, beginning on the first month the county learns that the individual is not satisfying the ABAWD work requirement. [MPP § 63-407.52; 7 C.F.R. § 273.24(e).] In other words, successfully regaining CalFresh benefits, and then losing them, starts a new 3-month time-limited benefit.

“Notice of Action” of ABAWD status

A county must give a Notice of Action (NOA) in the person’s third month of benefits that a person’s CalFresh benefits will be cut off due to ABAWD rules. [MPP § 63-410.41.] The notice must state that the person may demonstrate that he was (or is) exempt from the work requirement, has good cause for non-compliance (per MPP § 63-410.221), or that he actually met the work requirements. [MPP § 63-410.413.] The notice must also tell him what months are at issue. [MPP § 63-410.412.] The person can always request a fair hearing on these issues if he cannot convince the county he should not be cut off.

For more details about the ABAWD rules, see the CalFresh Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents Time Limit Handbook attached to ACL 18-08.