Debt Ceiling Deal Limits SNAP Eligibility with Work Requirements

by Marissa Sheldon, MPH
SNAP work requirements

Part of the Food Policy Snapshot Series

Policy name: Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023

Overview: The debt limit deal that President Joe Biden has signed into law to avoid a national default includes stricter work requirements to receive SNAP benefits. 

Location: United States

Population: 0.3 million

Food policy category: Food security

Program goals: To save the federal government money by further limiting SNAP benefits. 

How it works: Previously, able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWD) between the ages of 18 and 49 were only able to receive SNAP benefits for three months out of every three years unless they worked for at least 80 hours per month, paid or unpaid. Under the new legislation, the work requirement is extended to individuals between 18 and 54 years old. 

Beginning in October 2023, adults aged 50 through 52 will also have to prove that they work at least 80 hours per month in order to receive benefits, and by the fall of 2024, the new standards will apply to all adults aged 18 to 54.

Veterans, individuals experiencing homelessness, and adults under 25 who were previously in foster care are now exempt from the work requirement. 

The provisions expire in 2030. 

Progress to date: The ABAWD work requirement and three-month eligibility time limit for SNAP eligibility was first implemented through the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008. For years, Republican lawmakers have been advocating for stricter measures. The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 proposed a work requirement for individuals aged 18 through 59, and the America Works Act, which was introduced in March 2023, would extend the requirement to all adults aged 18 through 65. 

Conversely, proponents of the Improving Access to Nutrition Act, first introduced in 2021, seek to repeal the ABAWD work requirements altogether. 

Why it is important: In fiscal year 2022, 41.2 million Americans (12 percent) participated in SNAP. Participation in SNAP helps to reduce food insecurity by up to 30 percent, which, in turn, improves long-term health and reduces healthcare costs. March 1, 2023, marked the end of SNAP emergency allotments, which left the country on the edge of a hunger cliff. Increasing the age range of the ABAWD work requirement will make it even more difficult for many Americans to receive the food assistance they need, and 250,000 individuals may lose coverage. 

Advocates for the expanded work requirements argue that unemployed SNAP recipients are taking money from the federal government without contributing back to the economy and that a work requirement will give them the impetus to find a job. However, most unemployed individuals who are receiving SNAP benefits are caring for their family, attending school, temporarily between jobs, or unable to work because of health problems. The work requirement adds more paperwork to the SNAP application process, meaning that many individuals who do qualify for assistance will be too intimidated to apply and will, therefore, lose their benefits. 

Furthermore, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that the changes to SNAP work requirements will not significantly reduce federal spending and may actually increase spending by $2.1 million due to the new exemptions for veterans, homeless individuals, and young adults who have aged out of foster care. 

Program/Policy initiated:  The Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023 (the debt limit deal) was signed into law on June 3, 2023. 

Point of contact: N/A

Similar practices: The debt limit deal also included provisions that tightened work requirements and increased restrictions for TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) recipients. 

Evaluation: Evaluation has not been conducted because the law has not been fully implemented yet. 

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