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

Produced by Patricia Baker and Victoria Negus
Reviewed January 2018

Legal permanent residents (LPR) with 40 qualifying quarters (10 years) of work history meet immigrant eligibility without the five year waiting period. 106 C.M.R. § 362.220(B)(7)(f) and (g). If you are an LPR adult who is not disabled and DTA said you must wait five years for to qualify for SNAP, it is important to determine if you have countable work history. Establishing sufficient work history may also qualify you for TAFDC benefits, certain MassHealth benefits as well as federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits if you become severely disabled or are age 65 or older.

If you think you have enough countable work history, you can qualify for SNAP for 6 months pending verification. 106 C.M.R. § 362.220(B)

You can get work quarters credit for the following:

  • Work you have done in the United States or a U.S territory.
  • Work done in any of 25 foreign countries, including Europe, Australia, Japan and South Korea after specific dates (for example, work done in Italy after 11/1/1978). See the DTA Online Guide for full list of allowable countries.
  • Work done by your spouse while married. This includes work done by a common law spouse even if you were not legally “married.” It also includes work done after separation but before divorce (though you lose your spouse’s quarters upon divorce) and including work done in the US and the 25 approved foreign countries.
  • Work done by your parents before you were 18, including work done by your parents before you were conceived, born, or adopted, including work done in the US and the 25 approved foreign countries.

You can get credit for work history even if the work was not continuous or the wages not high. For example, for calendar year 2014, the Social Security Administration counted gross earnings of $4,800 or more as four (4) quarters of qualifying work history. The work can be one in just one quarter or over 12 months and still count as 4 quarters (the minimum amounts are adjusted annually and are lower for years prior to 2014).

Check with an advocate 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.

When can I not get credit for work?

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, SCHIP (special Medicaid 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 legal permanent resident for 3 years. She recently lost her job in a factory. Her husband Jose has been here 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 and 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 is 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. 

How do I prove 40 quarters of work history?

You can get SNAP benefits for up to 6 months if you need time to verify work history or while DTA is waiting on an SSA response.

Work history can be confirmed through pay stubs, union records, federal or state tax returns, proof of self-employment business or SSA records.

DTA can also get information about work history through the SSA Quarters of Coverage History System (QCHS). DTA sends an inquiry to SSA to find out whether you have enough qualifying quarters. DTA can also request from SSA the work records of a spouse or parent if you are able to provide enough information to identify that person. 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 Coverage History Based on Relationship” (SSA-513 Form).

Advocacy Reminder:

  • Only LPRs with countable work history are exempt from the 5 year bar. Immigrants with humanitarian parole or battered immigrants cannot claim work history, unless granted LPR status.
  • You can correct your earnings record with Social Security in some situations if the earnings report is not accurate. Contact an advocate for more information about work history.

DTA Policy Guidance:

DTA Online Guide:

Additional Guidance
  • Receipt of Social Security survivor’s benefits as a surviving spouse is sufficient proof of work quarters for SNAP purposes. Transitions, Quality Corner (July 2002)
  • LPR may receive SNAP benefits for six months pending verification of work quarters through SSA QCHS. No recoupment of SNAP benefits if work history ultimately not verified. Transitions FYI (June 2006)

Show DTA Policy Guidance

Find Legal Aid

You may be able to get free legal help from your local legal aid program. Or email a question about your own legal problem to a lawyer.

Ask a Law Librarian

If it's
9am and 4pm