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How does my work history help so I don’t wait five years for SNAP?

Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Reviewed March 2023

LPRs with 40 qualifying quarters (10 years) of work history can often qualify for SNAP without the five year waiting period. 106 C.M.R. § 362.220(B)(7)(f) and (g). Establishing work history may also qualify you for TAFDC benefits, certain MassHealth benefits, or federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits if you are severely disabled or age 65 or older.

You can get work quarters credit for the following:

  • Work you did in the United States or a U.S territory. 
  • Work in any of 25 foreign countries where the U.S. recognizes work, including Europe, Australia, Chile, France, Japan, and South Korea, after certain dates (for example, work done in Ireland after Sept 1993 counts). See the DTA Online Guide page on LPRs Verifying 40 Quarters for current list of allowable countries and dates.  
  • Work done by your spouse while married, including work done by a common law spouse even if you were not legally “married”, after separation but before divorce (you lose your spouse’s quarters upon divorce), and/or in the US and 25 foreign countries. 
  • Work done by your parents before you were 18. This includes work done by your parents before you were conceived, born, or adopted – including work done in the US and the 25 approved foreign countries. 

Unfortunately, under the federal rules, only LPRs can claim work history to jump the 5-year bar. Parolees and battered immigrants cannot claim work history.

You can get credit for past work history even if you did not earn a lot. For example, based on the Social Security Administration's quarters of coverage tables, you will get credit for 4 quarters if you earned at least $6,040 or more in gross annual earnings in calendar year 2022. In many cases, you may have worked for just one month or quarter and still get the full 4 quarters of countable work depending on your gross earnings.


Check with an immigration specialist before claiming credit for work done in the U.S. when the wage earner did not have work authorization or a valid Social Security Number. You can also correct your earnings record with Social Security in some situations if the earnings report is not accurate, but we recommend contacting an advocate to do this.

Restrictions on getting credit for work history

Under the federal rules, the LPR adult or child cannot claim credit for work done after December 31, 1996, if the wage earner also received one of the following federal means-tested benefits while working: TAFDC, SNAP, Medicaid or MassHealth, or SCHIP (health benefits for children). 

If the wage earner was a grantee for an eligible child or spouse, but did not receive any benefits for him or herself, the wage earner does not lose the right to claim the countable work quarters.

Example 1

Clara has been a lawful permanent resident for 3 years. She recently lost her job in a factory. Her husband Jose has been here for 8 years. They both have been working consistently, and paying taxes since they arrived in the U.S. Clara has 12 quarters of work (3 years with 4 quarters in each year). Jose has 32 quarters of work (8 years with 4 quarters in each year). The couple never received SNAP, Medicaid or any other federal means-tested benefits. Clara can count her 12 quarters and her husband’s 32 quarters of work for a total of 42 work quarters. Clara can apply for SNAP, she is not required to wait 5 years.

Example 2

Siobhan is from Ireland. She is age 31 and got her LPR status a few years ago. Her mother and father both lived and worked (and paid taxes) in the U.S. for 21 years, including for 8 years when Siobhan turned age 10 while she was staying with her grandmother in Ireland. Siobhan has been working as a home health aide but her income is inconsistent so she applies for SNAP. Siobhan can count her own work history for SNAP, but also her parent’s work history in the U.S. before she turned age 18. Even though she is 30 and got her LPR status less than 5 years ago, she can likely qualify for SNAP through the combination of her current work history and her parent’s work history when she was a minor.

Proving 40 quarters of work history


Work history can be confirmed through pay stubs, employer statement, union records, W-2, federal or state tax returns, SSA records, proof of self-employment earnings and business expenses, records of employment in other states or from foreign countries where work history is accepted.

Receipt of Social Security survivor’s benefits as a surviving spouse should be sufficient proof of work quarters for SNAP purposes because the deceased spouse’s work quarters are used to calculate the survivor’s benefits. See DTA Transitions, Quality Corner, pg 6 (July 2002)

DTA can also get information about an individual's work history through the SSA Quarters of Coverage History System (QCHS). If you think your spouse (or parent before you turned 18) may have work history, be sure to tell DTA so they can inquire about this person’s work history as well. DTA should send the Social Security Administration a request for quarters of work history coverage. 

DTA should issue you SNAP benefits for up to 6 months if you need time to verify work history or while DTA is waiting on a response from SSA response. 106 C.M.R. § 362.220(B).


DTA Online Guide: See Appendix G for links to the DTA's BEACON 5 Online Guide for this section.

Show DTA Policy Guidance

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