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

Produced by Patricia Baker and Victoria Negus
Reviewed January 2018

Many childless adults – ages 18 through 49 years – can only get 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 age 18 through age 49 who are “able-bodied without dependents” or ABAWDs.  106 C.M.R. 362.320.

The new 36 month “clock” re-started on January 1, 2018. This means that any 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.

If you are ages 18-50, 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 Question 65.
  • 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, called “community 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, currently $11/hour. 

Example: James receives the max $192/month SNAP. He needs to do 17 hours a month of volunteer or community service work.  If his SNAP benefit was $110/ month, he would need to do 10 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 for a list of sites at 1-888-483-0255. Or check out the through the SNAP Path to Work webpage. DTA also has a form that the community service organization needs to sign.  See Appendix C.

Example:  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 17 hours a week ($192/$11 hour) to keep his SNAP. ​


Does DTA find me 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 Question 65.  

How do I know if I need to meet the ABAWD work rules?

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

  • For more resources, including a checklist of exemptions, see MLRI’s webpage. You can find copies of all the forms and information you need. As updates become available about ABAWDs we will post them. 
  • If you get a SNAP termination notice sent just a few days before your SNAP benefits will end, MLRI thinks this violates federal notice rules. 7 C.F.R. § 273.24(e)..  DTA should give SNAP households at least 10 days of advance notice before a SNAP case closes. A termination based on an inadequate notice may not be valid. Contact Legal Services. 

DTA Policy Guidance

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

Show DTA Policy Guidance