WASHINGTON—(ENEWSPF)–February 24, 2018
By: Rosemary Piser
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) had announced that it is looking for innovative ideas to promote work and self-sufficiency among able-bodied adults participating in the department’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
The public is invited to provide input through a notice in the Federal Register. Comments can be submitted on the web through the Federal Register. USDA intends to use the input received to find improvements to SNAP policy and related services that can best assist SNAP participants return to self-sufficiency.
Federal law limits the amount of time an able-bodied adult without dependents (ABAWD) can receive SNAP benefits. Such ABAWD are eligible for benefits for three months in a 36-month period, unless the individual is working and/or participating in a work program half-time or more, or participating in workfare. Individuals are exempt from this time limit including:
- Unfitness for work
- Having a dependent child.
State agencies are allowed flexibility to request a waiver of this time limit if the unemployment in the state is high or does not have a sufficient number of jobs to provide employment.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said, “Long-term dependency has never been part of the American dream. USDA’s goal is to move individuals and families from SNAP back to the workforce as the best long-term solution to poverty. Everyone who receives SNAP deserves an opportunity to become self-sufficient and build a productive, independent life. Too many states have asked to waive work requirements, abdicating their responsibility to move participants to self-sufficiency. Past decisions may have been the easy short-term choice, but USDA policies must change if they contribute to a long-term failure for many SNAP participants and their families.
The Trump Administration’s Fiscal Year 2019 Budget Proposal, released on February 12, proposes to limit waivers of the time limit for ABAWDs to counties with 10 percent unemployment over 12 months.
According to Perdue, “The SNAP safety net must be there for those unable to work due to disability or another legitimate reason. But for the able-bodied, we must reduce barriers to work, and hold both individuals and states accountable for participants getting and keeping jobs.”
The public is invited to submit comments or ideas on helping able-bodied SNAP participants find work and become self-sufficient through federalregister.gov. The comment period will be open through April 9, 2018.
ABAWD Policy Review Issues
The questions listed below represent particular areas in which the USDA is interested in receiving comments. The questions are focused on ideas for regulatory or policy changes and seek information on better ways to meet the needs of SNAP participants and State agencies. However, the USDA also invites commenters to address additional issues that are not described below but are within the scope of this review, particularly as it relates to opportunities to help participants move to self-sufficiency. Other comments that are not within the scope of this Notice will not be considered; therefore please refrain from including any comments that are not responsive to this particular request.
In addressing the questions that follow, commenters are encouraged to be as specific as possible. Commenters can address any or all of these questions. Please be sure to include the rationale underlying any suggested changes.
- The Department is reviewing how it could take action on limiting ABAWD waivers as proposed in the President’s budget proposals. In light of the Department’s interest in helping SNAP participants find and maintain meaningful employment, how could the process for requesting to waive the time limit, the information needed to support waiver approval, and the waiver eligibility parameters be changed in order to provide appropriate relief for areas of high unemployment and a clearly demonstrated lack of jobs?
(a) How could the definition of “lack of sufficient jobs” be revised to better support these goals?
(b) States currently have discretion to define the area they are requesting to waive. Should States maintain this flexibility? Should an “economic area” be limited in geographic scope, such as to a single county, metropolitan area, or labor market area?
(c) Should FNS accept data from additional sources of information that are currently not considered? If so:
- What data sources would that be?
- What review process should FNS use to verify the validity of the data?
(d) How recent should the data and information used in support of a waiver be in relation to the waiver implementation date?
(e) Waivers are typically approved for 1 year, although under certain criteria 2 year waivers are available. Should FNS consider waivers of different time periods? If so, what time period and under what conditions?
- How can existing authority and resources be best used to support ABAWDs as they transition to meaningful work and self-sufficiency? How could the Department better support State efforts to assess individuals’ work readiness and identify appropriate services to help participants obtain and retain employment?
(a) What challenges and barriers do States face in helping ABAWDs find and maintain employment? What do States need to build or strengthen their capacity, investment, and expertise in working with this population?
(b) What is the appropriate role of States in assessing ABAWDs for barriers to employment, job skills, and career interests in order identify appropriate opportunities for fulfilling the work requirements? At what point in the process is this most useful? During the interview? After certification?
(c) How can existing resources be leveraged by States to help ABAWDs find and maintain employment? Are there State/local/Federal or other stakeholders that can be leveraged to provide holistic services to ABAWDs?
(d) Are there evidence-based activities that States could offer through their SNAP E&T programs that would help reduce barriers to employment among ABAWDs? What kinds of support services, job-retention services and other activities would increase success of ABAWDs moving into gainful employment?
(e) Are there additional ways that States could incentivize employers to provide jobs to ABAWDs?
(f) Should ABAWDs be subject to additional reporting requirements or be limited to a specific type of reporting system (e.g., change reporting, monthly reporting, quarterly reporting, or simplified reporting)? Have States that have assigned ABAWDs to a reporting system other than simplified reporting found this to be beneficial?
(g) What approaches have States found effective in communicating with ABAWDs to educate them on the Start Printed Page 8016program’s work requirements, tools and resources that can help them find or keep employment, and crucial administrative actions or deadlines they must adhere to?
- The accurate determination of whether an individual is physically or mentally unfit for employment is fundamental to applying the time limit to the proper individuals, and exempting others, consistent with the Act. In addition, it allows States to focus work strategies on those individuals who are truly capable of benefiting from them.
(a) What is the appropriate scope of conditions and indicators of physical or mental unfitness for employment under current statutory authority, particularly in State determinations of whether an individual is obviously physically or mentally unfit for employment? What level of State flexibility is appropriate in this area? Why?
(b) How do current certification processes (use of technology, lack of face-to-face interaction) affect the ability to determine exceptions or exemptions to the ABAWD time limit? How can these processes be modified or enhanced to best support these determinations, while providing any needed reasonable accommodations for individuals?
(c) Who should determine whether a participant is fit to work? What technical and information resources, or other resources, would best support States to better screen for unfitness for employment and other exceptions to the ABAWD time limit? What performance and/or accountability measures would support this process?
(d) How can the Department/States better engage and serve individuals determined to be unfit for employment? How can State agencies provide these individuals with services or opportunities that may increase their fitness for work?
(e) What are best practices for the use of 15 percent exemptions in supporting the appropriate application of ABAWD requirements?
USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service administers 15 nutrition assistance programs. In addition to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, these programs include Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, the National School Lunch Program, and the Summer Food Service Program which together comprise America’s nutrition safety net. For more information, visit www.fns.usda.gov.