Feds Tighten Food Stamp Rules-Thousands Could Lose Benefits

March 2, 2020

The clock is ticking for tens of thousands of people in Illinois who will be impacted by a rule change in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps, known as LINK in Illinois). The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers the SNAP program, instituted a new work rule on January 1, 2020, that limits or stops specific recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program from receiving food stamps if they work fewer than 20 hours a week.

Here is what the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service says: “Federal law generally limits the amount of time an able-bodied adult without dependents (ABAWD) can receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to 3 months in a 36-month period, unless the individual meets certain work requirements.” This means that for many food stamp recipients, their benefits will expire the first of April.

An ABAWD is an “able-bodied” adult between the ages of 18 and 49 who is not on SSI (Supplemental Security Income) or otherwise disabled, not pregnant, nor living with children under the age of 18.

Under these new SNAP rules, ABAWDs can meet the work requirement if they:

  • work at least 80 hours per month; or
  • take part in an approved workfare program of a local governmental unit for 80 hours a month; or
  • participate in a qualifying education or training activity, including certain SNAP employment and training programs for 80 hours a month; or
  • do community service at agencies, churches, or other not-for-profit organizations for 80 hours a month (this must be verified using DHS Form 3675).

If you are an ABAWD, you can do a combination of any of the above for a total of 80 hours a month (for example, 40 hours of work and 40 hours of community service) in order to meet the work requirement. Exemptions to the new work rules may be granted depending on an individual’s medical condition, where they live, if they are homeless, and a few other factors.

About 1.8 million individuals receive food stamps in Illinois and around 140,000 of them fit the definition of an able-bodied adult. In Cook County, it is estimated that about 50,000 people will be impacted by this change.

Work requirements have existed since the mid-1990s, but many states receive waivers for counties with higher unemployment rates or where jobs are scarce. The new rule makes those waivers harder to get. The Illinois Department of Human Services (DHS) says that nearly all the state’s counties will be ineligible for waivers as a result of the new rule. Illinois DHS has adamantly opposed the changes.

If you are receiving SNAP benefits, you can contact your local Cook County Family Community Resource Center (FCRC) to discuss how these changes affect your specific situation. You can also send in questions or comments about your case to DHS.FCS.ABAWDs@illinois.gov or call the DHS Helpline at 800-843-6154/TTY 866-324-5553.

To learn more about the new work rules: