64. Overview of work requirements
- The CliffsNotes version
- Registering for work
- Food Stamp Employment and Training (FSET) programs
- Accepting a referral or offer of suitable employment
- Voluntary quit or reducing work effort
The CliffsNotes version
The Food Stamp Program at requires all recipients, unless they are exempt, to:
- participate in any non-voluntary assigned workfare program
- accept a referral or offer of suitable employment
- not voluntarily quit, without good cause, a job of 30 or more hours a week or reduce work effort to less than 30 hours a week
There are sanctions for non-compliance with work requirements, and for voluntarily quitting a job, unless the individual has good cause.
Certain adults without minor children (so-called ABAWDs) have very short, time-limited period for food stamp assistance unless working or in a work program. However, there are specific rules for regaining eligibility for food stamps, if subject to these limits.
Registering for work
Everyone who gets food stamps must register for work unless he or she is exempt. [MPP § 63-407.1; 7 C.F.R. § 273.7(a)(i).] In California, this is a seamless process that happens at application or recertification, or if a change occurs so that the recipient loses an exemption or deferral. The county registers the individual by entering them into the data system – there are no forms or other steps the applicant/recipient must take. People applying for expedited (emergency) food stamps must also register, but if the registration is questionable the county is not to delay issuing emergency food stamps to verify that fact. [MPP §63-301.541(d); 7 C.F.R. § 273.2(f)(4)(i)(B).]
People who are in General Assistance (GA or GR) work programs, public assistance or CalWORKs work programs, the Refugee Resettlement Program (RRP); or the CalWORKs Unpaid Community Service and Work Experience program are considered registered for work. [MPP §§ 63-407.23-.24.]
The County is required to explain the work registration requirements. [MPP §63-407.3.]
Food Stamp Employment and Training (FSET) programs
Work registered recipients must also comply with employment and training program requirements, if assigned by the county to do so as a mandatory participant. [MPP § 63-407.1; 7 C.F.R. § 273.7(c)(1); 7 C.F.R. § 273.7(a)(1)(ii).] The FSET Program is California’s Food Stamp Employment and Training Program. The state has left it to county discretion whether the county will have a FSET Program, and to develop criteria for participation. [MPP § 63-407.8; 7 C.F.R. § 273.7(e).] Under SB 43, which shall be implemented by October 2013 (by regulation or ACL), a county that elects to participate in CalFresh E&T program, shall screen CalFresh work registrants for deferrals. (See generally MPP Section 63-407.811, but Counties can create additional deferrals beyond those in E&T regulations, such as a deferral based on homelessness. The additional bases for deferrals must be in the County FSET plan.) If deferred, the person can still participate as a voluntary participant. Added to the regular list of exemptions (see below), SB 43 also includes deferrals based upon living in a “work surplus area.” (High unemployment…)
In California, the following programs are included in FSET:
- job search requirements [MPP § 63-407.841; 7 C.F.R. § 273.7(f)(1)(i).];
- job search training programs [MPP § 63-407.841; 7 C.F.R. § 273.7(f)(1)(ii).];
- workfare [MPP § 63-407.841; 7 C.F.R. § 273.7(f)(1)(iii).] (see below);
- work experience programs [MPP § 63-407.841; 7 C.F.R. § 273.7(f)(1)(iv).] Work experience differs slightly from workfare. It is intended to move participants “promptly” into regular public or private employment. The assignments are limited to “projects that serve a useful public purpose.” [MPP § 63-407.841(b)(2).];
- job training [MPP § 63-407.841; 7 C.F.R. § 273.7(f)(1)(iv).];
- educational programs [MPP § 63-407.841; 7 C.F.R. § 273.7(f)(1)(vi).]; or
- self-employment programs [MPP § 63-407.841; 7 C.F.R. § 273.7(f)(1)(vii).].
Participation requirements are set out at MPP §63-407.83. The county can either assign someone to a voluntary FSET program or a mandatory FSET program. Individuals who are deferred may volunteer, but are not mandatory ( and thus not subject to sanction). ACL 12-03 added new deferral criteria. Mandatory programs are required to provide a minimum of 12 hours per month, limits on job search, a minimum wage limit on unpaid work (calculated as: the amount of the household’s food stamp allotment divided by the minimum wage = the maximum number of FSET hours in unpaid work). The failure to comply with FSET without good cause will lead to the non-complying mandatory person in the household losing their food stamps. There are no repercussions for people who do not comply with a voluntary FSET program. [MPP § 63-407.86; 7 C.F.R. § 273.7(e)(3)(ii).]
The county is required to provide reimbursement (or advance pay) for the actual costs of transportation and other FSET participation expenses (other than dependent care costs) that are “reasonable and necessary” and directly related to participation in the FSET program. [MPP § 63-407.831; 7 C.F.R. § 273.7(d)(1)(iv)(3).] The counties must have a written policy about these support services. [MPP § 63-407.831(a)(2).] Reimbursement can include mileage and parking. FNS recently clarified the support services requirements. AN 11-20. Counties must pay or reimburse participants for the actual cost of transportation and other actual costs that are reasonable and necessary for participation. While they can cap the level of payment or reimbursement, any cap should be based on reasonable participation expenses and cannot be set at zero or capped at an amount that does not cover basic transportation and/or other necessary expenses. In reimbursing dependent care, Counties can use the lower of the actual cost of dependent care or the Statewide limit established in accordance with the Child Care and Development Block Grant. State agencies cannot use their 100 percent Federal E&T grant for participant reimbursements. Id.
FSET workers are covered by workers’ compensation for Workfare, On-the-Job Training, and Work Experience assignment, through state coverage. ACL 11-17.
State agencies must reimburse applicants and volunteers for E&T participation expenses. Participants with expenses that exceed the State cap must be exempted from mandatory E&T participation. 7 CFR §273.7(d)(4)(v).
Workfare is when a recipient has to work without pay in order to get food stamps or some other public assistance. Counties can offer workfare as a component of its FSET program. The USDA must approve in advance of any workfare program, however. [MPP § 63-407.91; 7 C.F.R. § 273.7(m)(2)(iii).]
People assigned to workfare can be referred to work for a public or private, non-profit agency. [MPP § 63-407.91; 7 C.F.R. § 273.7 (m)(2)(iv) and (3)(ii).] The county can run the workfare program itself or it can have some other public or private non-profit agency do so. [MPP § 63-407.91; 7 C.F.R. § 273.7(m)(3)(ii).] The program is intended to provide participants with “an opportunity to develop basic work habits or to practice existing skills” [MPP §63-407.841(b).], and to improve employability and enable individuals to move into regular employment. [7 C.F.R. § 273.7(m).]
The number of workfare hours that can be assigned is limited by minimum wage. This is determined by dividing the household’s monthly food stamp allotment by the state or local minimum wage, of if exempt from those laws, from federal minimum wage. (The highest applicable wage is used.) MPP §§ 63-407.24, 63-407.855; 7 C.F.R. § 273.7(m)(5)(B)(ii).] For example, if the household gets $400 per month in food stamps, at a current state minimum wage of $8 per hour, the workfare hours for the household would be limited to 50 hours ($400 / 8 = 50). There are special provisions for determining how to credit work, or offset an “overissuance” when the person has performed workfare and an overissuance of benefits occurs. [MPP § 63-407.89; 7 C.F.R. § 273.7(m)(6)(v).]
Accepting a referral or offer of suitable employment
All non-exempt recipients must follow through on any county referrals to potential suitable employment. They also must accept any offer of suitable employment. [MPP § 63-407.43; 7 C.F.R. § 273.7(a)(1)(vi).] Suitability of referrals and employment is governed by MPP § 63-407.7; 7 C.F.R. § 273.7(h).
Voluntary quit or reducing work effort
Food Stamp recipients, unless exempt from work registration, may not voluntarily quit a job or reduce earning, without good cause, if the job is 30 or more hours a week, or the pay is equal to 30 hours at minimum wage. [MPP § 63-408.1; 7 C.F.R. § 273.7(a)(1)(vii).] California imposes incremental penalties of one, three and six months, for first, second and subsequent voluntary quits. [MPP § 63-408.1; 7 C.F.R. § 273.7(j)(1).]
If the “voluntary quit without good cause” occurred within 60 days of the application for food stamps, the county will deny the application for one, three, or six months. [MPP § 63-408.11; 7 C.F.R. § 273.7(j)(3).] The “quit” penalty is not imposed if the person quit, gets a new job, and then subsequently loses the job through no fault of the recipient. [MPP §63-408.112.] Ceasing self-employment is not considered a voluntary quit. [MPP § 63-408.111.]
Good cause is set out at MPP §63-408.4. It includes:
- circumstances beyond the registrant’s control, such as illness, illness of another household member requiring the presence of the registrant, a household emergency, the unavailability of transportation, or problems caused by inability of the registrant to speak or write English;
- resigning from an unsuitable job (including one which illegally discriminates, imposes unreasonable work demands or schedules);
- acceptance by the individual of employment, or enrollment of at least half-time in any recognized school, training program or institution of higher education that requires the individual to leave employment;
- acceptance by any other household member of employment or enrollment at least halftime in any recognized school, training program or institution of higher education in another county or state which requires the household to move and thereby requires the work registrant to leave employment;
- resignations by persons under the age of 60 which are recognized by the employer as retirement;
- acceptance of a bona fide offer of employment of 30 hours or more a week or at the equivalent wages, when, because of circumstances beyond the control of the individual, the job either does not materialize or results in fewer hours of employment;
- lack of adequate child care arrangements for a registrant’s children between 6 and 12 years old. (If the child is older than 13 but is unable to be left alone because of an impairment or is under court supervision, the exemption would also apply since that is the standard for dependent care in food stamps.)