By providing benefits to purchase food, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is vital to supporting the nutrition, health, and well-being of young adults who are exiting foster care. Even so, too many of these eligible young adults miss out on SNAP. On September 1, new temporary SNAP time limit exemptions went into effect including for young adults, 18 to 24 years of age, who have left foster care, pursuant to the 2023 Fiscal Responsibility Act (FRA).1 Ensuring that the new time limit exemption for young people with experience in foster care is implemented effectively is an important strategy to improve their access to SNAP.
About the SNAP Time Limit
Many adults without children or other dependents can only get SNAP benefits for three months in a 36-month period unless they are exempt or are able to document sufficient work hours. Some groups have been designated as exempt from the time limit. Calling the SNAP time limit “able-bodied adult without dependents (ABAWD) work requirements” is a misnomer, as a person’s willingness to work or conduct an active job search does not suffice to protect one against being cut off from SNAP. Instead, the SNAP time limit punishes people by taking food away from them if they are unable to find a job, are underemployed, are unable to document sufficient hours of work, or are exempt from the time limit in theory but not deemed exempt in practice. As of October 2023, the SNAP time limit age range was expanded to 18–52 years old. By October 1, 2024, the age range will increase to also subject those who are 53 and 54 years of age to the time limit. (Prior to the changes in the FRA, the time limit applied to people ages 18 to 49). Some adults who are subject to the time limit have underlying mental and physical health problems that are difficult to document in the ways required to qualify for the exemption by the SNAP agency. Moreover, while many of the people subject to the time limit have connections to the labor market, they either cannot find jobs or get too few hours of work in the jobs they do have to meet the time limit threshold. In September 2023, three new temporary exceptions to the SNAP time limit went into effect for people who are experiencing homelessness, veterans (regardless of the conditions of their discharge or release), and certain young people with experience in foster care.
Connecting Young People to SNAP and Implementing the Time Limit Exemption
Outreach: Spread the Word About SNAP and the SNAP Time Limit Exemption Helping spread awareness of the new exemption is a key opportunity to help young people access SNAP and put food on the table as they transition out of foster care. Key steps:
- Ensure that the state SNAP agency website has information about SNAP time limit rules and exemptions: State SNAP agencies should publish clear and accessible information about the SNAP time limit rules and exemptions to the time limit rules. This information should align with U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service (USDA-FNS) guidance and pay particular attention to the civil rights law responsibilities to serve persons with limited English proficiency and those with disabilities.
- Collaborate with governmental agencies and organizations that serve current and former youth with foster care experience: Governmental agencies include the child welfare agency, and its Independent Living Program (Chafee Services), Juvenile Probation Departments, and the Medicaid agency.Other prime outreach partners include Workforce Investment Act Programs, Chafee service providers, providers of homeless youth services and transitional housing, and youth boards. For a list of state Independent Living Program coordinators who can help get the word out, visit Child Welfare Information Gateway.
- Develop young adult-friendly notices and communication: Advocates can work with state SNAP agencies to ensure client notices are clear, worded at an appropriate reading level, culturally appropriate, and provided in the client’s language to help ensure proper communication to limited English proficient people. Partnering with youth boards and other young adults with experience in foster care to co-design these notices and communications can help ensure that they are effective.
- Use people-centered language in outreach: Refrain from utilizing terms like “foster care youth” or “former foster youth” that trivializes their experiences, can lead to negative biases,7 and limits a young person’s identity to their foster care experience. Instead opt for people-centered terms when working with youth, such as “young people with experience in foster care”, “young people who are leaving foster care”, or “young people aging out of foster care”. By partnering with a youth board or other young adults with experience in foster care, agencies can ensure language is inclusive and inviting.