Community service opportunities needed for people on food stamps

volunteersWork requirements for people receiving food stamps are due to take effect in Pennsylvania on March 1, 2016. As many as 9,500 Allegheny County residents may lose their food assistance benefits as a result of this requirement.

Starting in March, able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs) who are not meeting federally defined Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) work requirements will only be eligible for those benefits (“food stamps”) for three months in a three-year period, unless they are working 20 hours a week or doing about 6 hours of community service a week.

In other words, many able-bodied adults will soon have to be working to continue to receive food stamps.

One way that people in the ABAWD category can meet the food stamps work requirement is by volunteering at a non-profit organization.

How can you help? Just Harvest is putting together a coalition of non-profits that can provide volunteer opportunities (of no more than 26 hours per month, or just three full days a month) to people who are at risk of losing their food stamps.

While we recognize that many people in this population will have limited skills and face other barriers to employment (which have prevented them from finding full-time work), many will have valuable work and life experience that would benefit any organization. And a volunteer opportunity could mean that they gain valuable employment experience while being able to keep critical food assistance. Hunger, on the other hand, is not an effective work incentive.

What is the community service option?

Affected individuals can “work-for-benefits” by volunteering at a non-profit. The required hours are found by dividing the total SNAP benefit by the state minimum wage of $7.25/hour. For example, if a person is receiving the maximum amount of food stamps — $194 for a single person — he will need to serve an average of 26 hours per month ($194 / $7.25 = 26 hours per month) or about 6-7 hours per week.

What types of projects are needed?

Many people in the ABAWD category will have limited education and skills. The projects that would be best for affected individuals will take these limited skills into account, but also recognize that many individuals will have valuable life and work experience that can still benefit an organization.

What kind of documentation is required of my organization?

An individual will receive a documentation form from their caseworker, which you can see here. The volunteer will fill out their information, and then someone from your organization will fill out what the volunteer will be doing as service, and then sign that they will be completing their work requirement (26 hours per month, or about 6-7 hours per week) at your organization. This form only needs to be updated every six months.& So, after submitting the form, you will only need to contact DHS in the following six months if the volunteer ends her service, or if she fails to show up to volunteer for 10 days. After six months, you’ll need to send in another form.

Will volunteer requirements for people in the ABAWD category be different from other volunteers at my organization?

Besides the required documentation described above, no. Your organization can use whatever volunteer enrollment process you typically use, including screenings, interviews, orientations, etc. This is entirely up to the discretion of your agency.

How does the Just Harvest network of volunteer sites work?

Volunteer Match - Where volunteering beginsVolunteer opportunities will be listed on as part of the SNAP Consumer Community Service Coalition, posted on Just Harvest’s website, and also available via the United Way’s 2-1-1 Southwest PA helpline.

Organizations that will host SNAP volunteers will connect with us to get login information for the SNAP coalition account, and can then upload and edit their volunteer opportunities as needed.

Potential volunteers will be directed to this database of organizations (either through VolunteerMatch, the Just Harvest website, or the United Way 2-1-1 helpline), so volunteers themselves will choose where they volunteer, likely based on location and skill level.

How do I sign up?

Contact Ann Sanders at Just Harvest at (412) 431-8960 or via email at

Can I distribute information about the new ABAWD rule to the people my organization serves?

That would be great! Download our two-page fact sheet or one-page flyer and distribute as you see fit.

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