Work requirements for food stamps became law in 1996

The work requirement for some on food assistance that is being reinstated Oct. 1 actually is a longstanding rule that was made law 17 years ago during comprehensive welfare reform.

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 limited food assistance to three months in a three-year period for “able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs) who are not working, participating in and complying with the requirements of a work program for 20 hours or more each week,” according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Individuals are exempt from the requirements 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
  • Already exempt for the work requirements of the Food Stamp Act

The USDA said 45 states, including Ohio, and the District of Columbia applied to extend the waivers in the current fiscal year, down from 49 states last year.

Ohio (Gov. Kasich) decided to be “a little more strategic” and partially apply the exemptions to 16 Ohio counties with high unemployment, said Benjamin Johnson, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Job & Family Services.

“We realize that there are parts of the state still struggling with especially high unemployment, but in most parts of the state the economy has started to improve,” Johnson said. “And while the waiver made sense at the time, it now makes sense to not only provide a monetary food assistance benefit, but to also provide job training, work experience and the types of activities that can put people on a path toward a career.”

While the waiver expires on Oct. 1 for most Ohio counties, including all of southwest Ohio, Johnson said no one is at risk to lose their food assistance immediately, because they are allowed three months within three years without the work requirement.

But people who decide to take that three months this year will have to wait until 2017 to get more food assistance without meeting the work requirement.