State agencies and the Agriculture Department face a perfect storm of legislative and regulatory demands as they turn the new food stamp work requirements in the debt ceiling law into reality.
Matt Lyons, senior director of policy and practice for the American Public Human Services Association, said his members will be scrambling to be ready within the 90-day window the law sets for implementing expanded work requirements for able-bodied adults without dependents — ABAWDs — and time limits on food aid.
His members, who manage the food stamp program and other social services, also have to identify the veterans, homeless and those aging out of foster care at age 18, the three categories for exemptions allowed by the new law. And with the ending of the public health emergency last month, they will again start enforcing requirements for ABAWDs that were suspended because of the pandemic.
“The short turnaround to implement the SNAP provisions in the debt ceiling package will be an incredible challenge. States are in the throes of training eligibility workers that often have never administered ABAWD work requirements under existing rules — a monumental challenge in and of itself,” Lyons said Monday. “Now trainings, IT systems, applications, notices, screening tools and processes will all need to be modified.”
State agencies have to phase in an increase in the number of ABAWDs whose food aid benefits will be limited to three months out of every 36 months unless they can document they work 80 hours a month or that they are getting work training. The requirement previously applied to 18- through 49-year-olds, but the debt ceiling law raises it for those through the age of 51 by Sept. 30.
The age goes up in fiscal 2024 for those through age 53 and in fiscal 2025 for those through the age of 55. The changes will expire in fiscal 2030.
State agencies also will be juggling another issue under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as the food stamp program. Thousands of people were exempt from the time limits and work requirements while the nation was under a public health emergency order. Some became eligible for SNAP during the pandemic and will be subject to unfamiliar limits for the first time.
The public health emergency declaration ended in May and the clock for those recipients starts ticking again for work requirements and SNAP benefits on July 1.
Data sharing and definitions
Some key lawmakers are concerned about the time crunch and challenges they see ahead.
Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.; Banking Chairman Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio; Finance Chair Ron Wyden, D-Ore.; and Veterans Affairs Chairman Jon Tester, D-Mont., sent a joint letter Monday to the departments their committees oversee calling for coordination and flexibility in implementing the law as quickly as possible.
“To the extent you have the relevant authorities, we ask that your agencies share data needed for state SNAP agencies to correctly identify and certify newly exempt individuals as quickly as possible,” the four senators wrote.
“Guidance issued to states from your agencies should ensure related policies are implemented consistently across all states to equitably reach the highest number of eligible participants, reduce administrative and paperwork burdens on both state agencies and SNAP participants, and to ensure participants are adequately screened for exemptions prior to losing access to benefits,” they said.
The Agriculture Department already has begun to lay out a framework for the SNAP transition.
Stacy Dean, deputy undersecretary for food, nutrition and consumer services, told stakeholders on Friday that the Agriculture, Veterans Affairs, Health and Human Services, and Housing and Urban Development departments are working together on definitions for those who qualify for exemptions from the time limits.
Dean said it is critical that the definitions are “exactly right and are comprehensive in our appreciation of who those three categories of people are.” State agencies operate SNAP under federal rules and will need direction, Dean said.
“The exemptions have to be secured and offered by states. We want to make sure that while states are applying the policies that individuals eligible for exemptions claim it and that their communities help spread the word and secure it,” Dean said.
Lyons said his members need everything to click into place smoothly and quickly. “States must wait for guidance from USDA to begin implementing changes and will need to update communications to customers well in advance of them coming in for their recertification under the revised rules,” he said, referring to the process able-bodied adults without dependents must undergo if they are to remain eligible for SNAP.