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CalFresh ABAWD Time Limit Returns January 1, 2018


11.30.2016 The CalFresh time limit for able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs) will go back into effect January 1, 2018 in certain California counties, and will likely continue to affect new areas beyond 2018.

This is a federal law that was waived in the state for many years due to high unemployment. Individuals considered "ABAWDs" may only receive CalFresh benefits for a total of three full months within a 36-month period-unless the person meets an exemption or complies with certain work requirements.


As a result of 1996 welfare reform, non-disabled, childless adults age 18 – 49 are limited to three months of CalFresh benefits within a 36-month period unless they satisfy the 20-hours-per-week work or training requirement, or qualify for an exemption. The three-month provision even applies to ABAWDs who want to work but are unable to find a job or a position in a work or training program. In this sense, this rule serves as a punitive time limit rather than an incentive to work.

In states or sub-state areas experiencing high unemployment, the ABAWD time limit can be waived. USDA has approved California's most recent request for a two-year extension of its statewide waiver-through December 31, 2017. When that extension ends (January 1, 2018), state administrators and local caseworkers will need to implement the ABAWD rules for the first time in many years. With that in mind, 2017 will be a critical time for state and county administrators to issue guidance and implement procedures to minimize negative effects on CalFresh participants.

Once the statewide waiver expires, ABAWDs will be at risk of losing their benefits. That loss of benefits stands to do great harm to this vulnerable population, among which, according to national estimates, four out of five individuals have incomes below the poverty line, more than 40 percent are women, and one-third are over the age of 40.1

What Needs to Be Done to Prepare

To mitigate unnecessary harm to CalFresh recipients potentially subject to the ABAWD time limit, the state should:
  • Continue to seek local and regional waivers for all areas experiencing high unemployment;
  • Prepare to provide training and technical assistance to counties who lose waivers and will be implementing the time limit in 2018;
  • Optimize the use of individual "15 percent" exemptions by targeting them to the most vulnerable ABAWDs.
  • The state, county administrators, and community-based organizations should work together to:
  • Notify ABAWDs of their potential loss of benefits well in advance so that they can verify an exemption or seek work or training;
  • Partner to place non-exempt ABAWDs in work, training, or volunteer programs to meet the work requirement.
  • These proactive steps will reduce the number of CalFresh participants who lose access to essential nutrition assistance due to the time limit.

    Stay up to date on the return of the time limit on CFPA's ABAWD Time Limit page. link

    Learn more about the return of the three-month time limit from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. PDF

    Questions? Contact Jared Call at 213.482.8200 ext. 201


    1. [See Steven Carlson et al "Who Are the Low-Income Childless Adults Facing the Loss of SNAP in 2016?" Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, February 8, 2016, link ]↩