Worried about the 2020 food stamp changes?! You have good reason to be. Around 700,000 people will lose their food stamps on April 1, 2020.
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What food stamp changes are happening on April 1, 2020?
Basically, the federal USDA agency is cracking down on waivers that have enabled states to offer food stamps to more people for a longer period of time. On April 1, 2020, new rules go into effect that will end many of those waivers.
USDA is stopping states from extending food stamps to able-bodied workers without dependents.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps) is supposed to provide three months of benefits to able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWD). The rules say that ABAWDs can only receive food stamps for three months in a three-year period. The only way that three month period can be extended is if the person participates in at least 80 hours of work or volunteering per month.
However, 36 states have extended that period beyond the three month limit. This is especially common in areas that have high unemployment.
With the new rules, states will only be able to issue these waivers if the unemployment rate is over 6 percent. The waiver will only be available for specific areas, instead of entire states. The waivers will also be limited in duration and frequently reviewed so that they reflect the current economy.
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Why are these food stamp changes happening?
The SNAP program is designed to be a temporary source of help for those in extreme need. For low-wage workers, disabled people or families with young children, SNAP can become a long-term lifeline. However, the government wants to make sure that all able-bodied adults who can work are working.
The USDA press release states, “To put things in perspective, in 2000, the unemployment rate was 4% and the number of Americans receiving SNAP benefits was just over 17 million. In 2019, during the longest economic expansion in history, the unemployment rate is 3.6% and yet the number of Americans receiving SNAP is over 36 million.”
Will I still be able to receive food stamps?!
If you are an able-bodied adult without dependents, you will be required to participate in employment, volunteering or training programs in order to continue receiving food stamps. You will need to participate in eligible training, volunteering or employment for at least 80 hours per month.
This policy does NOT affect anyone who is disabled, pregnant, has dependent children or is over the age of 50.
What are the work requirements for food stamps?
There are two sets of work requirements, depending on your situation.
The General Work Requirements apply to almost everyone.
The General Work Requirements apply to people between the ages of 16 and 59 years old. These rules state that you need to register for work, participate in training or work programs, and take a suitable job if one is offered to you. You cannot quit a job or reduce your hours below 30 hours per week without a good reason.
You are exempt from these requirements if you meet ANY of these criteria:
- You are already working at least 30 hours per week (or you earn at least the equivalent of the federal minimum wage multiplied by 30 hours)
- You are already meeting the work requirements for another program (such as TANF or unemployment)
- You are taking care of a child under the age of 6 years or you are an incapacitated person.
- You are unable to work due to a physical or mental limitation.
- You participate regularly in an alcohol or drug treatment program.
- You are studying in school or a training program at least half-time. Please note that college students have other eligibility rules, too.
The ABAWD Work Requirements are even more strict.
If you are an able-bodied adult without dependents, you may need to meet additional work requirements in order to continue receiving food stamps for more than the three-month period.
The ABAWD work requirement can be met by doing ANY one of these things:
- You can work at least 80 hours per month. You can work for pay, goods or services (something other than money). The work can be unpaid or on a volunteer basis.
- You can participate in a work program for at least 80 hours per month. This could be a SNAP Employment and Training program, or another program that is administered by a federal, state or local agency.
- You can participate in a combination of work and work programs to meet the minimum 80 hour per month requirement.
- You can participate in workfare for the number of hours assigned to you each month. The number of hours will depend on the amount of food stamps you receive.
You can be excused from the ABAWD work requirements if you meet ANY of the following criteria:
- You are unable to work due to a physical or mental limitation.
- You are pregnant.
- You have someone under 18 in your SNAP household.
- You live in an area that is currently covered by a waiver.
- You are excused from the general work requirements.
If you are required to meet the ABAWD work requirements but do not do so, you will lose your benefits after three months. You will not be eligible for food stamps again until the end of your three-year waiting period unless you comply with the work requirements for 30 days before you reapply.
Can I get help finding work?
States have access to Employment and Training matching funds, which are supposed to be used to help people purchase uniforms, boots, bus fares and other things necessary to find and keep a job. We are working on getting a list of these programs, but in the meantime, please contact your caseworker for details.
You can also check out our helpful “How to Get a Job” series!
What if I can’t work?!
If you can’t meet the work requirements, you will need to prove that you are unable to work due to a physical or mental disability.
If you are receiving some sort of government disability such as SSDI or VA Disability, you can provide the SNAP office with an official letter about your benefits.
Otherwise, you will need your doctor to verify that you are unable to work due to an illness or disability. Some states have an official form for this, so you will need to contact your caseworker to ask for it. If your state does not use a form, you can ask your doctor for a letter. Make sure that the letter says that you are “unable to work” due to your physical or mental disability. The doctor does not have to disclose any specific details about your condition, only that you are unable to work because of it.
These food stamp changes will affect more than ABAWDs.
Although the rule specifically targets able-bodied adults without dependents, this change will ultimately impact everyone. More people will rely on food banks instead of purchasing food at grocery stores, which will affect the economy in massive ways.