What is the “ABAWD” 3-month time limit for childless adults age 18 to 50?

We are in the process of updating the SNAP Advocacy Guide, so some of the information is no longer current.  In the meantime, you can read or download a pdf of the 2022 guide from www.masslegalservices.org/FoodStampSNAPAdvocacyGuide

Produced by Patricia Baker and Victoria Negus, Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Reviewed January 2020

Many childless adults – ages 18 through 49 – can only receive three (3) months of SNAP in a 36 month period unless the individual is exempt or meeting certain work rules. This federal SNAP rule affects individuals determined to be “able-bodied adults without dependents” or ABAWDs. 106 C.M.R. §362.320. If you are ages 18-49, you may be exempt from this rule if you are disabled, homeless or meeting other rules. See Who is exempt from the 3-month ABAWD time limit?

If you are not exempt, you may only get 3 months of SNAP in a 3 year period– unless you are:

  • Working at least 20 hours a week on average. This includes paid or unpaid work (“in-kind” work such as working for a landlord in exchange for rent).
  • Participating in a DTA approved training or education activity for at least 20 hours a week on average. See more about the SNAP Path to Work in See Can I enroll in an education or training through DTA’s “SNAP Path to Work” program?
  • Doing a combination of training or education and job search activities for 20 hours/week (but the job search cannot exceed 9.5 hours a week), or
  • Doing volunteer work, calledcommunity service” at an approved non-profit organization that agrees to track your volunteer hours. The number of hours you need to do community service is determined by the amount of your SNAP grant divided by the state’s minimum wage ($14.25/hour as of January 2022).


James receives the max $213.75/month SNAP. He needs to do 15 hours a month of volunteer or community service work. If his SNAP benefit was $114/month, he would need to do 8 hours of community service per month.

You need to verify community service hours with DTA each month. DTA maintains a list of community service sites, Call DTA’s Employment and Training line 1-888-483-0255. Or check out the through the SNAP Path to Work webpage. DTA also has a form they will mail you each month that the community service organization needs to sign.


Samuel is age 45 and unemployed. He is physically able to work but has not been able to find a job since he was laid off and his unemployment ran out. Samuel applied for SNAP in January and will get 3 months of SNAP benefits. After March 31st, Samuel must meet the work or training rules above, or find a place to volunteer for 15 hours a week ($213.75/$14.25 hour) to keep his SNAP.

Finding a job or community service program

Unfortunately, under the federal SNAP rules, DTA has no obligation to find you a job or a community service site if you cannot find one. DTA also is not required to help you with transportation costs. DTA does have SNAP Employment and Training programs that they can refer you to. See Can I enroll in an education or training through DTA’s “SNAP Path to Work” program?

DTA notices about the ABAWD work rule

DTA should send you notices telling you if you or other members of your SNAP household need to meet the ABAWD work rules. Each month you will receive a “strike” notice if DTA thinks you are not meeting the ABAWD work rules and you are not exempt. Before the end of the 3rd month, DTA will send you a SNAP termination notice.

Advocacy Reminders

  • The currently 36 month clock in Massachusetts is from January 1, 2018 until December 31, 2020. Because the clock re-started in 2018, ABAWDs who lost SNAP between April 2016 and December 2017 may be eligible for at least 3 more months of SNAP and should re-apply. On January 1, 2021 a new clock will start.
  • For more resources and DTA forms, see MLRI’s webpage: Masslegalservices.org/ABAWD. As updates become available about ABAWDs we will post them.

DTA Online Guide Sections:SNAP > Work Requirements > ABAWD Work Program Requirement >

Show DTA Policy Guidance

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