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Food Stamp Mythbusters: Employment and Training Requirements

August 18, 2011

Author: Barbara Weiner

Test your knowledge – take the food stamp mythbusters quiz!

1.    Employable food stamp applicants can be sanctioned if they don’t comply with work  requirements.  

       ____ True   ____ False

The answer should be FALSE

Although 18 NYCRR sec 385.12(e) authorizes durational food stamp sanctions for food stamp applicants, federal regulations at 7 CFR 273.7(f) dictate that durational sanctions can only be imposed on food stamp recipients.   Food stamp applicants can be denied for failure to comply, but should not be hit with durational sanctions.

Under federal rules, the steps that a food stamp agency must follow before imposing a sanction are completely inconsistent with the imposition of a sanction at the application stage. This is because, before imposing a sanction, the food stamp agency must:

  1. make a determination that the failure to comply was without good cause - 7 CFR 273.7(f)(1)(i);
  2. provide an adverse action notice that sets out the particular act of noncompliance and period of disqualification, in compliance with “adverse action” notice requirements – 7 CFR 273.7(1)(f)(i) and (ii);
  3. provide information about what action the individual can take to avoid the disqualification before the sanction begins – 7 CFR 273.7(f)(ii); and
  4. impose the disqualification beginning with the first month after the 10 day adverse action notice expires – 7 CFR 273.7(f)(ii).

The requirement that an adverse action notice be served on the individual before a sanction can be imposed highlights the incompatibility of imposing sanctions on applicants as opposed to recipients inasmuch as adverse action notices are appropriate only when the action is to reduce or terminate assistance.  (See 7 CFR 273.13.) Furthermore, the fourth step set out above can only relate to recipients of food stamps, not applicants.

People facing applicant sanctions should challenge the durational sanction via the fair hearing process and be prepared to cite the federal regulations to the ALJ.

2.    Individuals can stop sanctions from happening by complying before the effective date of their sanction notice.        ____ True        ____ False

TRUE, the federal regulations at 7 CFR 273.7(f)(ii) say that states must provide information in their notice of adverse action as to what information a recipient can take to avoid the disqualification before the sanction period begins.  USDA clarified in policy guidance issued during the 1990s that compliance or agreement to comply before the effective date of the notice cancels the sanction:

Q. If a mandatory work registrant who has failed to comply, complies (or agrees to comply) during the NOAA [notice of adverse action] period, is the disqualification imposed?

A.    If the work registrant actually complies with the requirement during the NOAA period, the proposed disqualification can be canceled. Once canceled, the proposed disqualification would not count as an "occurrence."

Compliance before the effective date should stop the sanction even if the person didn’t have a good reason for non-complying in the first place.

If you are helping or representing someone at the fair hearing level, check the sanction notice to see whether it contains the mandatory language cited in 7 CFR 273.7(f)(ii).  If not, you may want to raise this issue at the fair hearing, especially if your client would have been able or willing to comply had s/he been given the option.

3.    Food stamp sanctions can be lifted if the person becomes exempt from work rules during the sanction period.   ____ True        ____ False

TRUE, per the federal regulations at 7 CFR 273.7(g) and 18 NYCRR 385.12(e)(3). 1  This provision can also be relied on during the fair hearing process, if the person becomes exempt while the fair hearing is pending.  No sanction should be imposed even if there was no good reason for the original act of non-compliance. 

4.    Food stamp recipients have 10 days to contest their employability.  ___ True ___ False

This is FALSE. 

The 10-day statute of limitations to challenge employability only applies to temporary assistance recipients, and the TA notice of employability does NOT address the person’s employability status for food stamp purposes.

In fact, food stamp applicants and recipients are not even required under federal law to receive a notice of employability.  However, employability (or lack thereof) can be raised as a defense to a food stamp sanction in accordance with 7 CFR 273.7(f)(6):

Individuals or households may appeal State agency actions such as exemption status, the type of requirement imposed, or State agency refusal to make a finding of good cause if the individual or household believes that a finding of failure to comply has resulted from improper decisions on these matters.

5.    All employable individuals must “work register” with the food stamp office.   ____ True        ____ False 

The answer is FALSE.

It’s up to the food stamp office to determine whether or not an individual is considered to be a “work registrant” or whether the person is exempt.  OTDA’s employment manual explains: 2

Q.5 What does it mean exactly when you say that an individual must “work register?”

A.5 In the past, a non-exempt applicant for food stamps was required to go to the local DOL office and fill out an application for work. This constituted “registering for work.” This process is no longer required. When the district reviews an individual’s food stamp application now, the district determines whether the person is a work registrant exempt or non-exempt from FSET work activities), and the district then codes the individual as appropriate.  This completes the work registration process.

Q.6 Can an individual fail to comply with “work registration?”

A.6 An individual cannot fail to work register. The process of determining work registrant status is a district responsibility. There is no state requirement to complete and/or sign any work registration form. Districts must provide participants with information about their rights and responsibilities with regard to participation in work activities. However, failure or refusal to sign a form delineating these rights and responsibilities does not constitute failure to comply with work registration or work activities. After an individual is determined to be a work registrant (non-exempt), he or she may be required to meet the requirements of a work registrant including participation in a work activity assignment or acceptance of a job. Failure to comply results in a durational sanction of the individual who failed to comply in accordance with 385.12(e)

6.    Districts must require all employable food stamp recipients to comply with work requirements. 

        ___ True      ____ False


Per 11 ADM-07 3, districts can choose whether or not to assign food stamp work registrants to employment and training activities, as there is no USDA mandated minimum engagement rate.  Districts can opt to treat job search and other employment-related activities as voluntary in nature, rather than mandatory; by doing so, “no negative action may be imposed” for failure to comply.

Although 11 ADM-07 will not help individual clients who are challenging sanctions through the fair hearing process, advocates may want to bring this administrative directive to the attention of their local district.  There are compelling reasons for districts to take advantage of this option from both the client and the local district perspective.  Please contact Barbara Weiner or Cathy Roberts at Empire Justice Center for more details.

If you have any questions about this article or would like more information about food stamp employment and training requirements, get in touch with Barbara Weiner at or Cathy Roberts at


1   The state regs have an additional limitation not contained in the federal rules – 18 NYCRR 385.12(e)(3) does not extend the right to re-establish eligibility during the sanction period to individuals who become exempt solely due to receipt of Unemployment Insurance Benefits (UIB) or participation in a TANF employment program.  This limitation appears to be contrary to federal law.
2   See page 68 at
3   Available at


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