What are work requirements?

Work requirements place strict time limits on certain public assistance programs if the recipients are unable to work. If the recipient does not complete a minimum number of hours (usually 20) of “work-related activities,” their benefits will be terminated or significantly reduced.

Only certain activities count as work-related activities, but typically employment and community service are on that list. Time spent on longer-term work preparedness, like education or job skills training, usually do not count towards basic requirements.

Work requirements rose to prominence during 1996 welfare reform, when the guarantee of income assistance for poor families with children was replaced with Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), a block grant that implemented harsh restrictions and time limits.  As a result, TANF (commonly known as welfare) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) are the most prominent examples of public assistance programs with work requirements. However, proposals to expand SNAP work requirements and add work requirements to Medicaid and various rental assistance programs have been getting more traction.