The federal government is considering a proposed change to long-standing policy in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that would limit states’ ability to waive work-related time limits for able-bodied adults without dependents (referred to as “ABAWDs” in statute) who receive nutrition assistance through the program.
Nearly all states waived work-related time limits during the Great Recession. In 2016, Kentucky began reinstating time limits for this category of SNAP participants; by May 2018, Kentucky had reinstated time limits for all but eight of its 120 counties—although many of them still qualified for waivers under federal criteria for economic disadvantage.
This report explores the effects of Kentucky’s reinstatement of work-related time limits on the SNAP participation of able-bodied adults without dependents by examining SNAP caseload data from January 2017 to September 2018. During this time, we find that:
- The ABAWD caseload declined by 30 percent compared to a 12 percent decline for the overall caseload. The decline in participation among adults in the ABAWD category cannot be solely attributed to time limits, but the limits appear to account for a significant portion of exits from the program.
- In a comparison of two sets of counties that face similar economic challenges and had similar caseload trends prior to state’s decision to reinstate time limits, counties with reinstated time limits experienced a 44 percent decline in their ABAWD caseload compared to 2 percent decline in counties that have the waivers still in place.
- At least 13,122 able-bodied adults without dependents lost SNAP benefits because they reached the three-month time limit, representing 20 to 22 percent of the ABAWD caseload.
The federal proposal would further tighten the criteria of economic disadvantage states would have to meet to waive work-related time limits. The report also sheds light on the potential consequences of this proposed policy change, which would result in more people subject to stricter work requirements even in areas with limited job opportunities and other economic challenges.
The loss of SNAP benefits associated with reinstating work-related time limits for able-bodied adults without dependents without clear evidence that individual well-being is improving merits further evaluation and attention from policymakers.