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WIOA Partners: USDA Publishes Final Rule Affecting Eligibility, Benefits and Employment and Training Requirements under SNAP; Addresses the Use of Funds for Provision Job Retention Services; Updates Guidance on E&T Funding Cycle
Jan 6, 2017

The Department of Agriculture has published the final rule on January 6 hat implements provisions of the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 affecting the eligibility, benefits, certification, and employment and training (E&T) requirements for applicant or participant ouseholds in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

The rule amends the SNAP regulations to:

  • exclude military combat pay from the income of SNAP households;
  • raise the minimum standard deduction and the minimum benefit for small households;
  • eliminate the cap on the deduction for dependent care expenses;
  • index resource limits to inflation; exclude retirement and education accounts from countable resources;
  • clarify reporting requirements under simplified reporting;
  • permit States to provide transitional benefits to households leaving State-funded cash assistance programs;
  • allow States to establish telephonic and gestured signature systems;
  • permit States to use E&T funds to provide job retention services; and
  • update requirements regarding the E&T funding cycle.

These provisions are intended to more accurately reflect needs, reduce barriers to participation, and improve efficiency in the administration of the program. This rule also replaces outdated language in SNAP certification regulations with the new program name and updates procedures for accessing SNAP benefits in drug and alcohol treatment centers and group living arrangements with use of electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards. This rule provides States with regulatory options for conducting telephone interviews in lieu of face-to-face interviews and for averaging student work hours.

Finally, the Department is issuing an interim final rule (with a request for additional comment) that will require that drug and alcohol treatment and group living arrangements (GLA) centers to: Submit completed change report forms to the State agency when a resident leaves the center; notify the State agency within 5 days when the center is not able to provide the resident with their EBT card at departure; and return EBT cards to residents with pro-rated benefits based up on the date of their departure.

This final rule is effective March 7, 2017. The amendments to 7 CFR 273.11(e) and 273.11(f) are being issued as an interim final rule and are effective April 6, 2017. The amendments to 7 CFR 273.2(c)(1)(v) are effective January 8, 2018.

The January 6 FEDERAL REGISTER contains full background, analysis and disposition of public comments received, and the rule.

Q & A Excerpts:

What changes did the Department propose to make to the E&T program?

The Department proposed to implement Section 4108 of the FCEA, which amended Section 6(d)(4) of the Act, to add job retention services of up to 90 days as an allowable E&T component. The Department proposed to revise the SNAP regulations at Sec. 273.7(e)(1) to incorporate this change. We received 64 comments in total on this provision.

Will the Department permit State agencies to determine when the 90 days of services start?

The Department received 61 comments requesting that the rule specify State agency discretion on the start date of job retention services. The Department agrees that individual circumstances may warrant job retention services that begin at various times, such as on the day a job offer is accepted, the day the individual reports the information to his or her E&T case manager, the first day of the job, or other time based on the availability and type of services. Therefore, the Department will permit State agencies to identify when the 90 days of job retention services start.

The Department also received one comment requesting that job retention services be available to an E&T participant for each new job the individual obtains. The Act provides for a period of not more than 90 days of job retention services after an individual who received E&T services gains employment. For example, if an individual gains employment through a new job, receives 90 days of job retention services, and then later finds a different job, he or she would generally not be eligible for a new 90-day period of job retention services. However, if the individual re-engaged in E&T services and then gains new employment, he or she would be eligible for additional job retention services. For example, there may be circumstances where an individual participates in job search, gains employment and receives 90 days of job retention services. This individual may later reengage with E&T after a job loss to search for work or obtain career or technical training to find a better job and could qualify for an additional 90 days of job retention services. The Department does not want to limit State agencies in helping clients obtain regular employment with good wages and career progression. We understand that State agencies are in a better position to determine when job retention services might be appropriate for a new hire and the Department is allowing for State agency flexibility for this issue in Sec. 273.7(e)(1)(viii).

Because job retention services are an E&T component, they need to be connected to receipt of SNAP even as we recognize that they may not begin until after a job commences and, in some cases, a household has left the SNAP program. The Department is taking this opportunity to clarify that an individual must be receiving SNAP benefits in the month of or the month prior to beginning job retention services. The Department is amending Sec. 273.7(e)(1)(viii) in this final rule to this effect.

Are job retention services available to those who previously received E&T services, whether or not it led to employment?

The Department received one comment asking whether job retention services would be available to E&T participants if the components they participated in did not lead directly to employment. The Act provides that these services intend to ensure job retention after an individual who received E&T services gains employment. The Act does not require a link between the E&T activity and employment itself. Additionally, we recognize that it may be difficult to establish a link between participation in an E&T component and gained employment when there is a gap in services or a component does not have a direct link to a job. Therefore, the Department is not requiring evidence of a link between an E&T component and job entry in order for the State agency to provide job retention services. State agencies have discretion on the amount of time that may pass between an E&T component and start of job retention services. However, this rule does require that the household must have been receiving SNAP in the month of or the month prior to beginning job retention services.

Are job retention services limited to those who leave the program due to increased earnings?

The Department received 62 comments stating that the proposed rule unnecessarily limited job retention services to individuals losing SNAP benefits as a result of increased earnings. The comments pointed out that there may be circumstances such as where someone leaving SNAP would not have increased earnings but would need job retention services, such as an individual who took a job with reduced hours at a good wage with the hope that hours would increase or a lower-paying job with the opportunity for quick promotion.

The Department agrees that there may be circumstances where job retention services are appropriate for households leaving SNAP. However, there may also be circumstances where an individual or household is leaving SNAP due to an intentional program violation or failure to comply with SNAP work requirements without good cause. Therefore, the Department is clarifying in Sec. 273.7(e)(1)(viii) that State agencies may extend job retention services to individuals who participated in another E&T component and are leaving SNAP for any reason other than a disqualification. As provided in this rule, the State agency may not disqualify an individual who refuses or fails to comply with job retention services.

The Department is taking this opportunity to clarify that an individual need not complete an E&T component in order to start receiving job retention services. For example, an individual assigned to two months of job search may find a job after two weeks and would then be eligible for job retention services.

Does the 90-day limit apply to case management? The Department received one comment asking for clarification on the limits of case management. State agencies may provide E&T case management to participants as long as a participant is engaged in an E&T program or component. Since job retention is an E&T component, individuals receiving job retention services are eligible for case management up to the 90-day limit.

Are child care and transportation allowable participant reimbursements under a job retention component?

The Department received 60 comments requesting that child care and transportation be included as allowable participant reimbursements under a job retention component. The Department omitted transportation and dependent care from the list of allowable services and reimbursable participation costs in the preamble to the proposed rule because Section (6)(d)(4)(I) of the Act specifically provides for transportation and dependent care as allowable E&T participant reimbursements. The Department is clarifying that transportation and dependent care are allowable participant reimbursements under the job retention component,including for individuals no longer receiving SNAP.