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Food Stamps: ABAWD time limit and work requirements

Read this if you receive food stamps (Basic Food benefits) and you are an Able-Bodied Adult Without Dependents (ABAWD). #7305EN

Please Note:

  • Read this only if you live in Washington State.
  • COVID-19 Update: No ABAWDs in any county will be penalized for not meeting work requirements at this time. All ABAWDs will keep getting food stamps even if they are not meeting any work requirements. Read below for requirements for ABAWDs after the COVID-19 preventative measures end (the measures are scheduled to end in February 2023).

The Basics

Yes, if all of these are true:

  1. You get food stamps (food assistance or Basic Food benefits)
  2. You are an Able-Bodied Adult without Dependents (ABAWD)
  3. You live in King County, and not on the Muckleshoot Reservation.

The time limit and work requirement rules we discuss here only applied to King County before the COVID measures were put into place.

This could change in March 2023. We will update this as soon as new information comes out. Check Washington LawHelp for updates.

It is someone who gets food assistance and is all of these (WAC 388-444-0030-0035):

  • You are age 18-49.
  • You are not getting food benefits for any children under age 18.
  • You are not pregnant.
  • You can work and are not exempt for any reason. (See "I am an ABAWD. I live in King County. Am I exempt from the work requirements?" below.)

Usually, you will only get three full months (and any partial months) of food stamps in a 36-month period if you do not meet work requirements.

A new 36-month clock started on January 1, 2021. You will get 3 full months of food stamps as of that date, even if you do not meet the work requirements or are not excused (not exempt) from meeting those requirements.

If you were not exempt or meeting the work requirements, or you lost food stamps because of this before January 1, 2021, and have not reapplied since then, you should reapply as soon as you can.  

If you are exempt or meeting work requirements, you will keep getting food stamps as you have been.

  • See "I am an ABAWD. I live in King County. Am I exempt from the work requirements?" below.

If you do not qualify for an exemption or meet work requirements, and you get, or have gotten, your three full months of food stamps after January 1, 2021, you might not get food stamps again until 2024 (WAC 388-444-0030).

Yes, if all of these are true (WAC 388-444-0030(1), (3)):

  1. You live in King County. You do not live on the Muckleshoot Reservation.

The time limit and work requirement rules could change and apply in more counties in 2023. Check Washington LawHelp for updates.

  1. You are age 18 to 49.
  2. You have no dependents.
  3. You are physically and mentally able to work.
  4. You do not qualify for an exemption under WAC 388-444-0035. (See "I am an ABAWD. I live in King County. Am I exempt from the work requirements?" below.)

Entire cities and counties can be exempt from the work requirements based on their unemployment rates and/or available jobs.

However, if the number of unemployed people is low enough, people in that city or county must meet the work requirements.  

King County does not qualify for this exemption. King County residents must meet the work requirements (WAC 388-444-0030(3); 7 CFR 273.24).

  • The time limit and work requirement rules might apply in more counties in March 2023, after the COVID preventative measures end. Check Washington LawHelp for updates.

Maybe. You do not have to meet the work requirements if at least one of these is true (WAC 388-444-0035; 7 CFR 273.24(c)):

  • You live on the Muckleshoot Reservation.
  • You are not physically or mentally able to work.
  • You are not getting food benefits for a child under age 18.
  • You care for someone with a disability or an incapacitated adult.  
  • You take part in a drug or alcohol rehab program.
  • You get a disability-based benefit (SSI, SSDI, ABD, Workers' Comp, and so on).
  • You are pregnant.
  • You get unemployment benefits.
  • You have applied for unemployment benefits.
  •  You are a student enrolled at least halftime in a recognized school.
  •  You cannot work, or find work, because you are homeless.
  •  You already meet the work requirements of an employment and training program for TANF.

Call DSHS immediately at 1-877-501-2233. Ask them to screen you for an exemption from the ABAWD work requirements.

If you think you should be exempt because you are unable to work, ask your doctor right away for a written statement saying that.

If you are homeless, call DSHS right away, or have someone do it for you. Tell DSHS you are homeless and why you cannot work because of this.

You must do one of these (WAC 388-444-0030(4), -0040):

  • Work at least 20 hours a week, averaged monthly. This includes work for pay, work for goods or services (in-kind work), and some other types of unpaid work. It can be a combination of these.
  • Volunteer with a Workfare organization. DSHS calculates the number of required monthly hours by dividing your food benefits amount by the local minimum wage. Call DSHS to get the exact number of hours you must do.
  • Take part in Basic Food Employment and Training (BFET).
  • Take part in a state-approved employment or training program. These include but are not limited to:
  • LEP Pathway
  • Refugee with Special Employment Needs (RSEN) project
  • Programs included in the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA)
  • AmeriCorps VISTA
  • Division of Vocational Rehabilitation

Visit DSHS to learn more.

It can be a nonprofit, public, or government agency, such as a community organization or school (WAC 388-444-0040). Call DSHS at 1-877-501-2233 to have them refer you to a Workfare organization.

Visit DSHS to learn more.

Ask DSHS. Call 1-877-501-2233 or visit your local CSO office. Find it on DSHS.

Turn in the Basic Food Workfare Activity Report to DSHS. Get the report from DSHS.

Call DSHS at 1-877-501-2233. These programs have room for anyone who is eligible. You can also visit your local CSO office. Find it on DSHS or read more on their website.

Potential Issues

You can claim "good cause" for not meeting the work or volunteer hours if you were sick, transportation broke down, or bad weather shut down the workplace. Other reasons might also be good cause (WAC 388-444-0050).

If you missed work hours for reasons beyond your control, DSHS should accept this as "good cause" and not stop your food stamps.

If you have not met your work requirements for a good reason, call DSHS immediately at 1-877-501-2233.

They will end if you do not meet work requirements for three full months. These months do not have to be in a row (WAC 388-444-0030(4)).

Example 1: You are not exempt. You have been meeting the work requirements. You do not meet the work requirements in all of January, February, and March 2022. Your food stamps will end March 31, 2022.

Example 2: You are not exempt. You have been meeting the work requirements. You do not meet the work requirements in all of January, March, and June. You meet the work requirements for all other months between March and June. Your food stamps will end June 30, 2022.

Yes.

One of these must be true: You

  • Become exempt.
  • Start doing work requirements.
  • Move out of King County.

If you meet one of the first two, you can get a second period of three months of food stamps. If you move out of King County, the ABAWD time limit and work requirements no longer apply to you. You can get food stamps back for as long as you are eligible. You should reapply as soon as possible when any of the above is true.

  • The time limit and work requirement rules could apply in more counties in March 2023.

If you get your food stamps back for a second set of three months, and you stop meeting work requirements or lose your exemption from them, you will lose your food stamps again after the second three full months. You must then wait until January 1, 2024 and reapply (WAC 388-444-0045).

Yes. Anyone can get benefits for another three full months without meeting the work requirements starting January 1, 2021. It does not matter when you started getting food stamps before this date.

You should reapply as soon as possible if the above applies to you and you did not get food assistance in 2021.

You can ask for an administrative hearing to challenge any DSHS decision you disagree with. This includes if DSHS turns down (denies) or ends (terminates) food stamps for alleged failure to meet an exemption or a work or volunteer requirement. Contact a local Legal Services Office immediately if DSHS incorrectly terminates or denies your food stamps.

If you ask for a hearing, you get benefits until there is a hearing decision, even if it means you get them for more than 3 months. If the hearing decision goes against you, you might have to pay back some of the food stamps you got while the hearing was pending.

Visit DSHS to learn more.

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Last Review and Update: Apr 22, 2022
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