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67. Waiver of ABAWD requirements: Excusing the three-month cut-off

California has received an all-state waiver of the ABAWD rule. [ACIN I-80-08.] The waiver was originally effective October 1, 2008 through the end of September, 2009. It has since been extended through September 2013. It applies unless a county opts out of the waiver, with the approval of its Board of Supervisors.

Geographic waivers of the ABAWD three-month cut-off

General authority: Welf. & Inst. Code § 18926; MPP § 63-410.33, 410.34; 7 U.S.C. § 2015(o)(4)&(6); 7 C.F.R. § 273.24(f), (g).

There are two types of ABAWD waivers: geographic waivers sought by the state from USDA; and personal waivers decided on a case-by-case basis by the county workers. USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) allows geographic waivers for areas with chronic unemployment and areas without enough jobs. [7 C.F.R. § 273.24 (f)(1).] At the request of states, FNS may waive the 3/36-month requirement and work requirements if ABAWDs live in an area where:

  • the unemployment rate is over 10%; or
  • the state can document that there are not a sufficient number of jobs to provide employment for these individuals.

[MPP § 63-410.33; 7 C.F.R. § 273.24(f)(i).] FNS now allows states to apply for 2-year waivers. [See FNS Memorandum to Regional Directors, 2-Year Approval of Waivers of the Work Requirements for ABAWDs under 7 C.F.R. § 273.24 (February 3, 2006).] The affected area must meet at least one of the following criteria indicating that the area has and likely will continue to experience chronic high unemployment:

  • an unemployment rate greater than 10% for the 2-year period immediately before the request;
  • designation as a labor surplus area (LSA) by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration (DOLETA) for a minimum of two consecutive fiscal years (inclusive of the year of the request and the fiscal year before the request); or
  • an unemployment rate greater than 20% above the national average for a 36-month period, ending no earlier than three months before the request (restrictive than the 24-month time frame used for waivers in which the state is requesting a waiver for a 1-year geographic waiver).


Automatic geographic waiver requests in California

In 2006, the California legislature passed a law requiring the California Department of Social Services (CDSS) to apply for a waiver for all California counties that meet the geographic waiver requirements. [Welf. & Inst. Code § 18926 (a).] Under this law, a county must affirmatively opt out of the waiver, in writing, by a vote of the county’s board of supervisors. [Welf. & Inst. Code § 18926 (b).] All counties currently qualify, unless they opt out.  ACIN I-27-12.

Personal, case-by-case waivers

States can waive an additional 15% of ABAWDs from these time limits and work rules, based on criteria developed by the state. (These are referred to in the rules as “15% exemptions”.) [MPP § 63-410.34; 7 C.F.R. § 273.24(g).] Individual ABAWD waivers — or “15% exemptions” — allow all California counties to protect ABAWDs who face significant barriers to unemployment. In California, each county has a percent of households that they can waive; that percent is based on the county’s ABAWD caseload. [See e.g., ACIN I-05-03.] Caseworkers in county food stamp offices use these waivers to extend benefits on a month-by-month basis for ABAWDs who do not meet the work requirements. [MPP § 63-410.34.] No financial penalty attaches to California or the counties for under- or over-utilizing the 15% exemption. [ACIN I-98-99.] Unfortunately, however, counties consistently under utilize these case-by-case waivers for individuals.

For the latest information about ABAWD waivers in California, be sure to check the Options for ABAWDs page at California Food Policy Advocates.

Examples of ABAWD waiver polices in California

Santa Cruz County policy considers seasonal unemployment, natural disasters, lay-offs due to business closure or relocation, and the presence of severe barriers to employment, such as homelessness, lack of education or transportation, and substance abuse. San Francisco County has a written policy encouraging caseworkers to use screen their ABAWD cases carefully and to proactively apply exemptions for ABAWDs facing homelessness, unemployment and food insecurity.