Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents (ABAWDs)

Last Published: 07/17/2018

SNAP supports work.

While SNAP is intended to ensure that no one in our land of plenty should fear going hungry, it also reflects the importance of work and responsibility.  SNAP rules require all recipients meet work requirements unless they are exempt because of age or disability or another specific reason. (Children, seniors, and those with disabilities comprise almost two-thirds of all SNAP participants.)  Forty-three percent of SNAP participants live in a household with earnings. 

Some of these working individuals are ABAWDs, or able-bodied adults without dependents.  ABAWDs must meet special work requirements, in addition to the general work requirements, to maintain their eligibility.

Who is considered an ABAWD?

An ABAWD is a person between the ages of 18 and 49 who has no dependents and is not disabled.  ABAWD stands for Able Bodied Adult Without Dependents.

What is the ABAWD time limit?

ABAWDs can only get SNAP for 3 months in 3 years if they do not meet certain special work requirements. This is called the time limit. 

To be eligible beyond the time limit, an ABAWD must work at least 80 hours per month, participate in qualifying education and training activities at least 80 hours per month, or comply with a workfare program.  Workfare means that ABAWDs can do unpaid work through a special State-approved program. For workfare, the amount of time worked depends on the amount of benefits received each month.  Another way one to fulfill the ABAWD work requirement is through a SNAP Employment and Training Program.

The time limit does not apply to people who are unable to work due to physical or mental health reasons, pregnant, care for a child or incapacitated family member, or are exempt from the general work requirements.

Why did the ABAWD time limits go away?  Why are they coming back?

The time limit on ABAWDs is part of the law that governs the operation of SNAP.  It has been part of the law since 1996.  Under the law, States can request to temporarily waive the ABAWD time limit when unemployment is high or when there are not enough jobs available.

Due to the economic downturn, many States qualified for and chose to waive time limits in all or part of the State.  (Even when ABAWD time limits are waived, general work requirements still apply.)  Some parts of the country still have waivers in place.  But, as the economy continues to improve, many places no longer qualify for time limit waivers, unless they have high unemployment or not enough jobs available.

ABAWDs participating in SNAP in locations where time limits are no longer waived need to take steps to meet the special ABAWD work requirements in order to maintain their benefits.

Where can I find out more?

Here are some resources to find out more about SNAP ABAWDs and related information

Number 1 General Background on SNAP. The main SNAP Eligibility page
Number 2 FAQs on the ABAWD time limit
Number 3 FAQs on waivers of the ABAWD time limit.
Number 4

Characteristics of nondisabled adults aged 18 through 49 who live in childless households.

Number 4 Employment and Training. Participation in a State SNAP Employment and Training (E&T) Program is one way individuals subject to the time limit can fulfill the ABAWD work requirement, maintain their SNAP eligibility, and learn skills to obtain gainful employment. For information on the E&T Program, please visit the Employment & Training page



ABAWD Policy

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA) limits the receipt of SNAP benefits to 3 months in a 36-month period for able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs) who are not working at least 80 hours per month, participating in qualifying education and training activities at least 80 hours per month, or complying with a workfare program. Individuals are exempt from the time limit if they are:

  • Under 18 or 50 years of age or older,
  • Responsible for the care of a child or incapacitated household member,
  • Medically certified as physically or mentally unfit for employment, pregnant, or
  • Already exempt from the general SNAP work requirements.

States can assign individuals subject to the ABAWD time limit to their SNAP Employment and Training (E&T) Program.  Participation in certain E&T activities is one way individuals subject to the time limit can fulfill the ABAWD work requirement, maintain their eligibility to receive SNAP, and learn the skills they need to obtain gainful employment.  For information on the E&T program, go to the Employment & Training page.

ABAWD Policy Resources

ABAWD 15 Percent Exemptions

Federal law provides that each State agency be allotted exemptions equal to 15 percent of the State's caseload that is ineligible for program benefits because of the ABAWD time limit.  These exemptions allow the State agency to extend SNAP eligibility for ABAWDs subject to the time limit.  Each 15 percent exemption extends eligibility to one ABAWD for one month.  States do not earn 15 percent exemptions in areas that are covered by ABAWD time limit waivers.  Food and Nutrition Service considers a State's ABAWD time limit waiver status as of approximately July 1 of each year when allotting annual 15 percent exemptions.  State agencies have flexibility to apply 15 percent exemptions as they deem appropriate.

Current and prior year exemptions

ABAWD Waivers

States may request to waive the ABAWD time limit in areas with an unemployment rate above 10 percent or a lack of sufficient jobs. SNAP regulations provide a number of ways States can demonstrate that an unemployment rate above 10 percent or a lack of sufficient jobs. Below is a summary of the common criteria by which States can qualify for a time limit waiver: (For complete regulations, please visit the Electronic Code of Federal Regulations).

  • A recent 12-month unemployment rate above 10 percent;
  • A recent 3-month unemployment rate above 10 percent;
  • Designation as Labor Surplus Area (LSA) by the Department of Labor;
  • Qualification for extended unemployment benefits; or
  • A recent 24-month average unemployment rate 20 percent above the national average for the same 24-month period.

An ABAWD time limit waiver does not waive the general SNAP work requirements

Current and prior year waivers

DOL Labor Surplus Area List  

The Department of Labor issues an annual list of Labor Surplus Areas. A Labor Surplus Area is a civil jurisdiction that has a civilian average annual unemployment rate during the previous two calendar years of 20 percent or more above the average annual civilian unemployment range for all States during the same 24-month reference period.  An updated list of Labor Surplus Areas can be accessed by visiting the Labor Surplus Area page.