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Able-Bodied Adult Without Dependents (ABAWD) Work Requirement

Child EatingThe Able-Bodied Adult Without Dependents (ABAWD) work requirement was implemented in 1996 as part of federal welfare reform. Federal ABAWD requirements are defined in Section 6(o) of the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008 and in part 7 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), section 273.24. State regulations governing the ABAWD work requirement are contained in the CDSS Manual of Policies and Procedures (MPP), Division 63, Section 63-410.

Work Requirement

Non-assistance CalFresh recipient over age 17 and under age 50 must satisfy the ABAWD work requirement as a condition of eligibility unless they meet specified exemption criteria or live in an area where the ABAWD work requirement is waived. ABAWDs cannot receive CalFresh for more than three months in a 36-month period unless they meet this requirement or are excused from it. The ABAWD work requirement is met by performing one of the following:

Working at least 20 hours per week in paid or volunteer employment;
Participating at least 20 hours per week in an allowable work activity such as vocational training or basic education programs; or
Participating in workfare (i.e., community service). The number of hours of participation in workfare is determined by dividing the CalFresh allotment by the higher of the state or federal minimum wage.

Losing and Regaining Eligibility

Persons who lose eligibility due to failure to meet the ABAWD work requirement may subsequently regain eligibility if, during a 30-day period, they work, or participate in an allowable work activity for 80 hours, or participate in workfare for the required number of hours. Those who regain eligibility and stop meeting the ABAWD work requirement for reasons such as layoff may receive CalFresh for one grace period of three consecutive months during a 36-month period.

ABAWD Exemptions

CalFresh recipients are exempt from the ABAWD work requirement for reasons that include pregnancy, residing in a CalFresh household with a dependent child under 18, physical or mental unfitness, regular participation in a drug or alcohol treatment program, half-time school attendance, and receipt of California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids (CalWORKs) benefits or unemployment compensation.


A county can be approved to waive the ABAWD work requirement if it meets federally established criteria regarding high unemployment rates or a lack of sufficient jobs. ABAWDs that live in a waiver county are not required to satisfy the work requirement. California has been granted a statewide waiver for Federal Fiscal Year (FFY) 2013. ABAWDs living in a county where the work rule is waived must continue to satisfy all other CalFresh eligibility requirements in order to remain eligible for benefits.

The Fifteen Percent Exemption

When a county does not qualify for an ABAWD waiver, some individuals who would otherwise be ineligible due to failure to satisfy the ABAWD work requirement may be excused from meeting the work rule using what is called the 15 percent exemption. The federal government determines the annual number of exemptions that are allocated to each state under the 15 percent criteria. The California Department of Social Services, in turn, distributes the exemptions among counties that do not qualify for an ABAWD waiver. The exemptions are distributed based on the size of each county’s non-assistance CalFresh caseload.

Each county develops the criteria which individuals must meet to qualify for the 15 percent exemption. These include such things as remoteness, lack of transportation, illiteracy, language barriers, and medical limitations. When the statewide waiver is in place, there is no need for counties to use the 15 percent exemption as all ABAWDs are excused from the work requirement.