SNAP Benefit Policy Changes Affecting Cook County in 2020

The Trump administration recently finalized a federal rule change that changes how an area (such as a county) can qualify for a waiver of the "Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents" (ABAWDs) time limit. Under the new criteria, most counties in the state of Illinois (at least 92 out of 102 by current estimates) will lose their waivers. This change is anticipated to take effect in April 2020. This threatens the SNAP benefits of well over 100,000 Illinoisans in total.

In an effort to prepare Chicago residents from the impending changes, the Illinois Department of Human Resources has partnered with the Greater Chicago Food Depository to answer frequently asked questions and recommendations ahead of the changes. 

Who is an Able-Bodied Adult Without Dependents (ABAWD)?
A person receiving SNAP benefits who is between 18 and 49 years old, does not have a disability, and does not have dependent children living with them is considered an ABAWD.
What is current SNAP policy?
Under existing federal policy, SNAP benefits for able-bodied adults without dependents are time-limited unless they meet specified work requirements. However, USDA allows states to apply for a waiver to the work requirement for geographic areas experiencing high unemployment. Most of Illinois, including Cook County, has received the waiver since unemployment spiked during the Great Recession.
How has SNAP policy changed?
USDA rejected the 2020 waiver request for Cook County. Beginning January 1, 2020, able-bodied adults without dependents who reside in Cook County will have to fulfill a work requirement of at least 80 hours per month in order to receive SNAP benefits. Those who do not comply with the work requirement will be limited to receiving SNAP for only 3 months in a fixed 36-month period.  
How will this change impact SNAP participants? What is the Food Depository doing?
The Department of Human Services (DHS) identified about 50,000 SNAP participants in Cook County who are able-bodied adults without dependents and who are at risk of losing their SNAP benefits.
While on the surface it may seem that SNAP participants who able-bodied adults without dependents face low barriers to employment, particularly during periods of low unemployment, in fact these individuals frequently face hurdles that make it difficult to obtain a job or work the requisite number of hours.
Some of those barriers – for example, mental illness – qualify individuals for an exemption from SNAP work requirements. But other barriers – such as those facing individuals exiting the justice system – do not qualify for exemptions but nevertheless pose steep, sometimes insurmountable, hurdles to employment. Furthermore, hours are often inconsistent for low-wage work, making a time threshold difficult to meet. 
The Food Depository, in partnership with DHS and other partners, is working to prevent as many ABAWDs as possible from losing their SNAP benefits by helping them comply with work requirements or secure an exemption. Despite our efforts, we expect many ABAWDs will lose their SNAP benefits in the coming months, increasing demand for emergency food assistance. The Food Depository and its agency are committed to meeting this increase in need and helping individuals access food.