Food Stamps Work Requirements: What You Need to Know

Unemployed - what you need to know about food stamps work requirements

Work requirements for people receiving food stamps were put back in place in Pennsylvania on March 1, 2016, after the federal government declared that the massive recession that begin in 2008 was finally over.

Here is what you need to know when applying for or maintaining your SNAP benefits:

Many able-bodied adults will have to be working to receive food stamps for more than three months.

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 3 months in a 3-year period. If you meet the work requirements you can continue receiving food stamps.

Who is in the able-bodied adult without dependents (ABAWD) category?

The food stamps work requirements will apply to you if you are between the ages of 18-49, do not have a physical or mental disability that would prevent you from working, and are not caring for a child or incapacitated household member.

Are there exceptions to the SNAP work requirements?

Yes! Food stamps work requirements will not apply to you if you are:

  • Aged 17 or younger, or aged 50 or older
  • Mentally or physically “unfit” for work
    The mental or physical condition(s) must be documented and signed by a licensed medical practitioner unless you are eligible for SSI, social security disability, Medicaid disability, VA needs-based pension payments, or other government benefits due to an inability to work.
  • Living with any child in your SNAP household (does not have to be your own child)
  • Caring for an ill or incapacitated household member or relative
  • Pregnant
  • In a drug or alcohol treatment program
  • Receiving or have applied for Unemployment Insurance
  • Expecting to return to work within 60 days
  • Enrolled as a student at least half-time
  • A victim of domestic violence
  • Living in an area that is exempt. In Allegheny County the only exempt areas are McKeesport, Penn Hills, and West Mifflin.
  • Homeless
    • Lacks a fixed and regular nighttime residence OR
    • Their primary nighttime residence is
      • — a shelter (intended to provide temporary living accommodations)
      • — an institution that provides temporary residence for individuals intended to be institutionalized
      • — a temporary accommodation in the residence of another individual (“temporary” is defined as no longer than 90 days in one specific residence)
      • — a public or private place not designed for sleeping – parks, benches, etc.

What are the SNAP work requirements?

Able-bodied but jobless adults without children or a disability (ABAWD) must either be working or participating in a job training program at least 20 hours per week (an average of 80 hours per month), or volunteering with a community service provider for a certain number of hours (see below for details and required number of hours) to continue receiving food stamps for more than three months. You may also do a combination of work, work program, and community service activities to meet the 20 hours per week requirement.

If I am in the ABAWD category, how can I make sure to keep my SNAP benefits?

Work Programs:

If you are working but are working less than 20 hours per week, talk to your employer to see if you can increase your work hours. You can also participate in an eligible job training or work program for at least 20 hours per week. You can also combine work hours or hours in a job training program with community service to meet the 20 hour requirement. If you are in the ABAWD category, talk with your PA Department of Human Services (DHS) caseworker to learn more about your options.

You can ask your caseworker about enrolling in the KEYS program to meet your work requirement. KEYS is a program at community colleges that can include GED classes, non-credit certification programs, or college level courses, and provides support throughout your enrollment.

Community Service (or “Workfare”):
Volunteer at an eligible non-profit or community organization to “work for benefits.” The required hours are found by dividing your total SNAP benefit by the state minimum wage of $7.25/hour. For example, if you are receiving the maximum amount of food stamps — $194 for a single person — you will need to serve an average of 26 hours per month ($194 / $7.25 = 26 hours per month or about 7 hours per week. You can use the handy calculator on this page to figure out how many hours of community service you would need to do based on your benefit level.) You must give your DHS caseworker documentation of your community service time.

VolunteerMatchJust Harvest in partnership with 2-1-1 of United Way of Allegheny County has put together a network of non-profit organizations that will host people needing to do community service to meet the ABAWD work requirement. >> Find a volunteer position.

Is there help with things like transportation and clothing for people required to do community service?

Yes. The Department of Human Services (DHS) can give you Special Allowances (SPAL’s) to help you meet the requirement. SPAL’s include things like: money for transportation (public and private), clothing (if specific clothing is necessary for the work program), and supplies, books, or tools needed for education, work, or community service. These allowances must be requested and approved before their purchase, and verification (receipts) must be provided.

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