[Federal Register Volume 64, Number 242 (Friday, December 17, 1999)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 70920-70954]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 99-32527]



[[Page 70919]]

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Part V





Department of Agriculture





_______________________________________________________________________



Food and Nutrition Service



_______________________________________________________________________



7 CFR Parts 272 and 273



Food Stamp Program: Personal Responsibility Provisions of the Personal 
Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996; 
Proposed Rule

Federal Register / Vol. 64, No. 242 / Friday, December 17, 1999 / 
Proposed Rules

[[Page 70920]]



DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE

Food and Nutrition Service

7 CFR Parts 272 and 273

RIN 0584-AC39


Food Stamp Program: Personal Responsibility Provisions of the 
Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996

AGENCY: Food and Nutrition Service, USDA.

ACTION: Proposed Rule.

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SUMMARY: This rulemaking proposes to amend Food Stamp Program 
regulations to implement 13 specific sections of the Personal 
Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 that add 
new eligibility requirements, increase existing penalties for failure 
to comply with Program rules, and establish a time limit for food stamp 
participation of three months in three years for able-bodied adults 
without children who are not working. The Department's proposals would: 
prohibit an increase in food stamp benefits when a household's income 
is reduced because of either a penalty imposed under a Federal, State, 
or local means-tested public assistance program for failure to perform 
a required action or for an act of fraud; allow State agencies to 
disqualify an individual from participation in the Program if the 
individual is disqualified from another means-tested program for 
failure to perform an action required by that program; allow State 
agencies to sanction Program households if they are sanctioned under 
TANF for failure to ensure their minor children attend school, or if 
the adults do not have (or are not working toward attaining) a 
secondary school diploma or its equivalent; make individuals convicted 
of drug-related felonies ineligible for food stamps; make fleeing 
felons and probation and parole violators ineligible for food stamps; 
require States to provide households' addresses, social security 
numbers, or photographs to law enforcement officers to assist them in 
locating fugitive felons or probation or parole violators; allow States 
to require food stamp recipients to cooperate with child support 
agencies as a condition of food stamp eligibility; allow states to 
disqualify individuals who are in arrears in court-ordered child 
support payments; double the penalties for violating Program 
requirements; permanently disqualify individuals convicted of 
trafficking in food stamp benefits of $500 or more; make individuals 
ineligible for 10 years if they misrepresent their identity or 
residence in order to receive multiple Program benefits; and limit the 
Program participation of most able-bodied adults without dependents to 
three months in a three-year period during times the individual is not 
working or participating in a work program.

DATES: Comments must be received on or before February 15, 2000 to be 
assured of consideration.

ADDRESSES: Comments should be submitted to Margaret Werts Batko, 
Assistant Branch Chief, Certification Policy Branch, Program 
Development Division, Food and Nutrition Service, USDA, 3101 Park 
Center Drive, Alexandria, Virginia 22302, (703) 305-2516. Comments may 
also be faxed to the attention of Ms. Batko at (703) 305-2486. The 
Internet address is: [email protected] All written comments 
will be open for public inspection at the office of the Food and 
Nutrition Service during regular business hours (8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., 
Monday through Friday) at 3101 Park Center Drive, Alexandria, Virginia 
22302, Room 720.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Questions regarding the proposed 
rulemaking should be addressed to Margaret Werts Batko at the above 
address or by telephone at (703) 305-2516.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Executive Order 12866

    This proposed rule has been determined to be economically 
significant and was reviewed by the Office of Management and Budget in 
conformance with Executive Order 12866.

Executive Order 12372

    The Food Stamp Program (Program) is listed in the Catalog of 
Federal Domestic Assistance under No. 10.551. For the reasons set forth 
in the final rule in 7 CFR 3015, Subpart V and related Notice (48 FR 
29115), this Program is excluded from the scope of Executive Order 
12372 which requires intergovernmental consultation with State and 
local officials.

Executive Order 12778

    This rule has been reviewed under Executive Order 12778, Civil 
Justice Reform. This rule is intended to have preemptive effect with 
respect to any State or local laws, regulations or policies which 
conflict with its provisions or which would otherwise impede its full 
implementation. This rule is not intended to have retroactive effect 
unless so specified in the ``Effective Date'' paragraph of this 
preamble. Prior to any judicial challenge to the provisions of this 
rule or the application of its provisions, all applicable 
administrative procedures must be exhausted.

Regulatory Flexibility Act

    This rule has been reviewed with regard to the requirements of the 
Regulatory Flexibility Act of 1980 (5 U.S.C. 601-612). Shirley R. 
Watkins, Under Secretary, Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services, has 
certified that this rule will not have a significant economic impact or 
affect a substantial number of small entities. State and local welfare 
agencies will be the most affected to the extent that they administer 
the Program.

Paperwork Reduction Act

    The information collection burden associated with the proposed 
provisions in this rule concerning eligibility, certification, and 
continued eligibility of food stamp recipients (OMB No. 0584-0064) was 
published in the Federal Register for public comment on January 5, 
1999, Volume 64, No. 2, Page 472. The information collection burden 
associated with the request for a waiver under the food stamp time 
limit is approved under OMB No. 0584-0479. The information collection 
burden that is associated with proposed provisions in this rule which 
affect the regulations at 7 CFR 273.16, the Demand Letter for Over 
Issuance, is approved under OMB 0584-0492.
    In accordance with the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995, the Food 
and Nutrition Service is submitting for public comment the change in 
the information collection burden that would result from the adoption 
of the proposals in the rule associated with the State Plan of 
Operations.
    Comments are invited on: (a) whether the proposed collection of 
information is necessary for the proper performance of the functions of 
the agency, including whether the information will have practical 
utility; (b) the accuracy of the agency's estimate of the burden of the 
proposed collection of information including the validity of the 
methodology and the information to be collected; and (c) ways to 
minimize the burden of the collection of information on those who are 
to respond, including through the use of appropriate automated, 
electronic, mechanical, or other technological collection techniques or 
other forms of information technology.
    Send comments and requests for copies of this information 
collection to Margaret Werts Batko, Assistant Branch

[[Page 70921]]

Chief, Certification Policy Branch, Program Development Division, Food 
and Nutrition Service, USDA, 3101 Park Center Drive, Alexandria, 
Virginia, 22302, (703) 305-2516. Comments may also be faxed to the 
attention of Ms. Batko, at (703) 305-2486. The Internet address is 
[email protected]
    Comments and recommendations on the proposed information collection 
must be received by February 15, 2000.
    Title: State Plan of Operations.
    OMB Number: 0584-0083.
    Expiration Date: December 1998--Emergency reinstatement has been 
requested.
    Type of Request: Expired/Revision of currently approved collection.
    Abstract: The regulations at 7 CFR 272.2 require that State 
agencies plan and budget program operations and establish objectives 
for each year. State agencies submit these plans to the regional 
offices for review and approval. This rulemaking is proposing to amend 
Part 7 CFR 272.2(d) of the Food Stamp Program Regulations to require 
State agencies who opt to implement certain provisions of the PRWORA to 
include these options in the State Plan of Operation. The optional 
provisions that must be included in the State Plan of Operation are: 
school attendance, secondary school diploma, comparable 
disqualifications, custodial and non-custodial parents, cooperation 
with child support enforcement agencies, disqualification for child 
support arrears. The regulations at 7 CFR 272.2(f) require that State 
agencies only have to provide FNS with changes to these plans as they 
occur. Since these options are newly provided for by PRWORA, State 
agencies who choose these options must include it in their State Plan 
of Operations this year, and any subsequent year only if there are 
changes. Four States have opted to sanction households if the adult 
fails to ensure children attend school; 13 States have opted to 
implement comparable disqualifications; 7 States have opted to 
disqualify individuals who fail to cooperate with child support 
agencies; 3 States have opted to disqualify individuals if they are in 
arrears on child support; 7 States have opted to not increase benefits 
if the household does not comply with requirements of other federally 
means tested benefits. No State has opted to disqualify adults who have 
not attained a secondary school diploma.
    Number of Additional Respondents: 34.
    Estimated Number of Responses per Respondent: A one time burden of 
one response per State agency.
    Estimate of Burden: The additional public reporting burden for this 
proposed collection of information is estimated to average an 
additional .25 hours per response.
    Estimated Total Annual Burden on Respondents: An additional one 
time burden of 8.5 hours.
    Unfunded Mandate Reform Act of 1995 (UMRA) Title II of UMRA 
establishes requirements for Federal agencies to assess the effects of 
their regulatory actions on State, local, and tribal governments and 
the private sector. Under Section 202 of the UMRA, FCS generally must 
prepare a written statement, including a cost-benefit analysis, for 
proposed and final rules with ``Federal mandates'' that may result in 
expenditures to State, local, or tribal governments in the aggregate, 
or to the private sector, of $100 million or more in any one year. When 
such a statement is needed for a rule, section 205 of the UMRA 
generally requires FCS to identify and consider a reasonable number of 
regulatory alternatives and adopt the least costly, more cost-effective 
or least burdensome alternative that achieves the objectives of the 
rule.
    This notice contains no Federal mandates (under the regulatory 
provisions of Title II of the UMRA) for State, local, and tribal 
governments or the private sector of $100 or more in any one year. This 
rule is, therefore, not subject to the requirements of Sections 202 and 
205 of the UMRA.

Civil Rights Impact Analysis

    FNS has reviewed this proposed rule in accordance with the 
Department Regulation 4300-4, ``Civil Rights Impact Analysis'' to 
identify and address any major civil rights impacts the proposed rule 
might have on minorities, women, and persons with disabilities. After a 
careful review of the rule's intent and provisions, and the 
characteristics of food stamp households and individual participants, 
FNS has determined that there is no way to soften their effect on any 
of the protected classes. FNS has no discretion in implementing many of 
these changes. The changes required to be implemented by law have been 
implemented.
    All data available to FNS indicate that protected individuals have 
the same opportunity to participate in the Food Stamp Program as non-
protected individuals. FNS specifically prohibits the State and local 
government agencies that administer the program from engaging in 
actions that discriminate based on race, color, national origin, 
gender, age, disability, marital or family status. Regulations at 7 CFR 
272.6 specifically state that ``State agencies shall not discriminate 
against any applicant or participant in any aspect of program 
administration, including, but not limited to, the certification of 
households, the issuance of coupons, the conduct of fair hearings, or 
the conduct of any other program service for reasons of age, race, 
color, sex, handicap, religious creed, national origin, or political 
beliefs. Discrimination in any aspect of program administration is 
prohibited by these regulations, the Food Stamp Act, the Age 
Discrimination Act of 1975 (Pub. L. 94-135), the Rehabilitation Act of 
1973 (Pub. L. 93-112, section 504), and title VI of the Civil Rights 
Act of 1964 (42 U.S.C. 2000d). Enforcement action may be brought under 
any applicable Federal law. Title VI complaints shall be processed in 
accord with 7 CFR part 15.'' Where State agencies have options, and 
they choose to implement a certain provision, they must implement it in 
such a way that it complies with the regulations at 7 CFR 272.6

Regulatory Impact Analysis

Need for Action

    This action is needed to implement 13 sections of the Personal 
Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, Pub. L. 
104-193, and would: (1) prohibit an increase in food stamp benefits 
when a household's income is reduced because of a penalty imposed under 
a Federal, State, or local means-tested public assistance program for 
failure to perform a required action; (2) prohibit an increase in food 
stamp benefits when a household's income is reduced because of a 
penalty imposed under a Federal, State, or local means-tested public 
assistance program for an act of fraud; (3) allow states to disqualify 
an individual from Program participation if the individual is 
disqualified from another means-tested program for failure to perform 
an action required by that program; (4) allow State agencies to 
sanction households if minor children are not attending school, or if 
the adults do not have (or are not working toward attaining) a 
secondary school diploma or its equivalent; (5) make individuals 
convicted of drug-related felonies ineligible to receive food stamps; 
(6) make fleeing felons and probation and parole violators ineligible 
to receive food stamps; (7) require States to provide households' 
addresses, social security numbers, or photographs to law enforcement 
officers to assist them in locating fugitive felons or probation or 
parole violators; (8) allow States to require food stamp recipients to 
cooperate with child support agencies as a condition of food stamp 
eligibility;

[[Page 70922]]

(9) allow States to disqualify individuals who are in arrears in court-
ordered child support payments; (10) double existing penalties for 
violating Program requirements; (11) permanently disqualify individuals 
convicted of trafficking in food stamp benefits of $500 or more; (12) 
make individuals ineligible for 10 years if they misrepresent their 
identity or residence in order to receive multiple food stamp benefits; 
and (13) limit the Program participation of most able-bodied adults 
without dependents to three months in a three-year period during times 
the individual is not working or participating in a work program.

Benefits

    State agencies will benefit from this rule to the extent that it 
allows States to implement provisions that will encourage personal 
responsibility and promote self-sufficiency.

Costs

    The changes in food stamp requirements made by the provisions 
addressed in this rule would reduce Program costs for FY 1999-2003 by 
approximately $2.090 billion. For FY 1999-2003, the estimated yearly 
savings are (in millions) $615, $515, $395, $290, $275, respectively. 
The majority of the savings are realized from Section 824, time limited 
benefits for able-bodied adults without dependents. Smaller savings are 
realized from the following provisions: Section 819, comparable 
disqualifications; Section 822, cooperation with child support 
agencies; Section 823, disqualifications for child support arrears; and 
Section 829 and 911, no increase in benefits. The savings from the 
remaining provisions in the rule are negligible, and therefore, will 
not be discussed in this analysis.
    Section 824--Time Limits for Able-Bodied Adults without 
Dependents--This provision limits the receipt of food stamps for 
certain able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs) to 3-months in a 
36 month period unless the individual is either working or 
participating in an approved work or work training program for at least 
20 hours per week. Individuals are exempt from the time limit if they 
are under 18 or over 50, medically certified as physically or mentally 
unfit for employment, a parent or other household member with 
responsibility for a dependent child, or exempt from work registration 
under 6(d)(2) of the Act, or pregnant. Individuals can regain 
eligibility if they work 80 hours in a 30 day period, and they maintain 
eligibility as long as they are satisfying the work requirement. If 
individuals later lose their job, they can receive an additional 3 
months of food stamps while not working. The additional 3 months must 
be consecutive, and begins on the date the individual notifies the 
State that he/she is no longer working. The law allows waivers of the 
time limit for groups of individuals living in areas with an 
unemployment rate of more than 10 percent or where there are not a 
``sufficient number of jobs to provide employment for the 
individuals.''
    This provision affects participants to the extent they are able-
bodied adults without dependents and to the extent they are not 
fulfilling the work requirement, exempt or covered by a waiver. We 
estimate that 412,000 individuals will reach the time limit in FY 1999 
due to this provision. We estimate that in FY 2000-2003 the number of 
individuals reaching the time limit will be (in thousands) 331, 239, 
160, and 140 respectively. We estimate that the FY 1999-2003 cost 
savings from this provision will be (in millions) $585, $485, $360, 
$250, $225. We estimate that the five-year cost savings for FY 1999 
through FY 2003 will be $1.905 billion. These estimates do not take 
into account any changes in the treatment of ABAWDs resulting from the 
subsequent Balanced Budget Act of 1997 or Agricultural Research, 
Extension, and Education Reform Act of 1998.
    The caseload estimates were generated by identifying those 
participants in the 1996 food stamp quality control data who are 
ABAWDs, expressing the able-bodied population as a percentage of the 
total Food Stamp caseload, and separating out to the extent possible 
those participants who were exempt from the work requirements. Further 
adjustments were made to account for the estimated size of the able-
bodied population living in areas that had been granted 10 percent 
unemployment and insufficient jobs waivers (in 1999 approximately 35 
percent of the ABAWD caseload have been estimated to live in waived 
areas and are exempt from the work requirement), and the number of 
able-bodied who might retain eligibility either through work or an 
approved work or training program. About 315,000 people in 1999 have 
been estimated to be ABAWDs who live in a waived area and will not run 
into the time limit. Cost estimates were then derived by multiplying 
the appropriate caseload estimates by the average benefit for a single 
able-bodied Food Stamp recipient over the course of one year.
    Subsequent to the passage of this law, the Balanced Budget Act of 
1997 and the Agricultural Research Extension, and Education Reform Act 
of 1998 (Agricultural Research Act) modified the ABAWD provisions of 
PRWORA. The Balanced Budget Act increased funding to the Food Stamp 
Employment and Training Program to allow states to create qualifying 
work opportunities to help ABAWDs retain their Food Stamp eligibility, 
and permitted states to exempt up to 15 percent of their unwaived able-
bodied caseload from the time limits. The Agricultural Research Act 
further modified the level of funding for Employment and Training 
Programs for ABAWDs. Taken together both of these laws will likely 
mitigate the effects of the ABAWD provisions of PRWORA. The effects of 
these more recent laws will be addressed in future rulemaking.
    Section 822--Cooperation With Child Support Agencies--This 
provision allows States to require cooperation with child support 
agencies as a condition of food stamp eligibility. The provision is 
optional and can be waived for the custodial parent for good cause but 
not for the non-custodial parent. This provision affects participants 
to the extent States choose to implement this provision and to the 
extent they are a custodial or non-custodial parent with child support 
responsibilities and do not cooperate with child support agencies. We 
estimate the number of recipients affected by this provision in FY 
1999-2003 will be (in thousands) 76, 92, 105, 119, 132 respectively. We 
estimate the cost savings from this provision in FY 1999-2003 will be 
(in millions) $15, $15, $15, $20, $25, respectively. We estimate the 
total cost savings for the 5-year period of FY 1999-2003 will be $90 
million.

Custodial Parents

    We estimate that in FY 1999 approximately 4,000 custodial parents 
will be disqualified due to sanctions for noncompliance and 68,000 
custodial parents will have their benefits slightly reduced due to 
compliance and increased child support income as a result of this 
provision. We estimate the FY 1999 cost savings for the custodial 
parents to be $10 million and the five-year cost savings for FY 1999 
through FY 2003 to be $60 million.
    Because food stamp households receiving public assistance are 
already mandated to cooperate with child support agencies, the impact 
of this provision is expected to be realized among food stamp-only 
custodial-parent households. Based on the February 1995 FNS report, 
Participation in the Child Support Enforcement Program Among Non-AFDC 
Food Stamp Households,

[[Page 70923]]

food stamp-only custodial households with child support needs that are 
not cooperating with the child support agencies account for roughly 2.8 
percent of all participating food stamp households. According to the 
report, the response of these custodial parents to this provision was 
assumed to fall into three categories: (1) those that comply and 
receive higher child support payments; (2) those that do not comply and 
face sanctions, and; (3) those that opt to leave food stamps rather 
than comply.
    First, in the 1995 report, custodial parents choosing to comply 
with the provision were found to account for approximately 8.5 percent 
of food stamp benefits and were expected to experience a decline in 
food stamp benefits of 2.0 percent as a result of higher child support 
payments. Savings from this group was calculated as the proportion of 
total food stamp benefits contributed to this group (8.5 percent) times 
the expected decline of 2.0 percent (0.085 times 0.02 = .00170 or 0.17 
percent).
    Second, to estimate the cost for households which are sanctioned 
for noncompliance, the report indicated that food stamp-only custodial 
households accounted for 7.0 percent of all food stamp households, and 
that approximately 2.1 percent of such households would choose to be 
sanctioned rather than comply with the provision. The total number of 
participating households was calculated by dividing a participation 
projection (21,638,000 persons) by the average household size from 1996 
food stamp quality control data (2.5 persons). The monthly benefit 
reduction for those sanctioned and leaving food stamps rather than 
comply was estimated to be the difference between the maximum allotment 
for a family of four and the maximum allotment for a family of three 
(difference = $87). The savings for this group was calculated as the 
product of total households, the proportion which are food stamp-only 
custodial households (7.0 percent), the proportion choosing to be 
sanctioned rather than comply with the provision (2.1 percent), and the 
annual value of the sanction (e.g., in FY 1999, 8,655 households times 
7 percent times 2.1 percent times $87 times 12 months).
    Third, the 1995 report indicated that of food stamp-only custodial 
households, 3.8 percent were expected to leave the Food Stamp Program 
rather than comply with the provision. The estimate of savings from the 
group of custodial parents choosing to leave food stamps rather than 
comply was calculated as the product of the number of total food stamp 
households, the proportion which are food stamp-only custodial 
households (7.0 percent), the proportion choosing to leave food stamps 
rather than comply (3.8 percent), and the annual value of the household 
benefit reduction (e.g., in FY 1999, 8,655 households times 7 percent 
times 3.8 percent times $87 times 12 months).
    The three group impacts were summed and the estimate was adjusted 
pursuant to assumptions regarding the proportion of food stamp 
recipients in States choosing to adopt this optional provision--10 
percent in FY 1997 and growing to 20 percent by FY 2003. State option 
data were based on the May 1998 FNS report, State Food Stamp Policy 
Choices Under Welfare Reform: Findings of 1997 50-State Survey. Seven 
States reported having adopted this optional provision as of the end of 
calendar year 1997: Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Ohio 
and Wisconsin. According to 1996 food stamp quality control data, these 
seven States account for approximately 10 percent of applicable food 
stamp households.
    The estimate of the number of custodial parents disqualified for 
food stamp benefits from this provision (4,000 people) was calculated 
as the total unrounded savings ($4.5 million) attributable to the 
second and third groups of custodial parents--those continuing to not 
cooperate with child support agencies--divided by the annual value of 
their sanction ($87 times 12 months).
    The estimate of the number of custodial parents receiving reduced 
benefits as a result of complying with this provision and receiving 
increased child support income (68,000 persons) was calculated as the 
difference between the total number of custodial parents affected by 
the provision (72,000 persons) and those being disqualified for 
noncompliance (4,000 people). The total number of custodial parents 
affected was estimated as the total target population of the 
provision--2.8 percent of all households according to the 1995 report--
times the projected number of participants from the FY 1999 budget 
baseline, times the State option phase-in assumptions.

Non-Custodial Parents

    We estimate that approximately 4,000 non-custodial parents will be 
disqualified by this provision in FY 1999. We estimate the FY 1999 cost 
savings for non-custodial parents to be $5 million and the five-year 
cost savings for FY 1999 through FY 2003 to be $30 million.
    Estimates of the savings attributable to the non-custodial parents 
in this provision are based on information from a 1995 report, Non-
custodial Fathers: Can They Afford to Pay More Child Support, by Elaine 
Sorenson at the Urban Institute. Data on non-custodial parents is 
extremely limited and this was the best available information. The 
number of non-custodial parents not cooperating with child support was 
estimated to be more than 78,000 in 1990. This estimate was based on 
the reported 5.9 million fathers in 1990 who were not paying support, 
adjusted by 75 percent to account for those at low-income levels, times 
the proportion estimated to represent non-custodial fathers receiving 
food stamps who had no child support order--a proxy for non-cooperation 
(1.77 percent which is derived from the 1995 Urban Institute report) 
[5.9 million times 0.75 times 0.0177 = 78,323]. The estimate of the 
number of non-custodial parents not cooperating with their child 
support agency was inflated by 1.5 percent annually to account for 
growth in the child support system. This inflation factor is consistent 
with information from the Department of Health and Human Services on 
the child support system. The savings were estimated as the product of 
the number of non-custodial parents not cooperating and an estimated 
average food stamp benefit per person ($76.41 per month times 88,891 
persons times 12 months).
    The savings estimate for non-custodial parents was adjusted for the 
proportion of households in States choosing to adopt this optional 
provision and assumptions regarding the percent of non-cooperating non-
custodial parents States are able to identify and sanction. The State 
option assumptions were based on the May 1998 FNS report, State Food 
Stamp Policy Choices Under Welfare Reform: Findings of 1997 50-State 
Survey. Three States reported having adopted this provision at the end 
of calendar year 1997: Maine, Mississippi, and Wisconsin. According to 
1996 quality control data, these three States account for roughly 5 
percent of all applicable households. Therefore the savings estimate in 
FY 1997 assumes only these States implement this child support 
provision, thereby effecting 5 percent of all households that could be 
subject to this provision, and further assumes a gradual expansion of 
the States selecting this option so that 10 percent of all households 
are subject to this provision by FY 2003. The estimate was adjusted 
further based on the assumption that, operating at maximum 
effectiveness,

[[Page 70924]]

States would only be able to correctly identify and sanction 75 percent 
of applicable offenders.
    The estimate of the number of non-custodial parents disqualified 
for food stamp benefits from this provision was calculated as the total 
unrounded savings from non-custodial parents ($3.668 million) divided 
by an estimated average annual food stamp benefit ($916.92 = $76.41 
times 12 months).
    Summing together the estimates for both custodial and non-custodial 
parents, we estimate that 8,000 people will be disqualified as a result 
of complying and receiving additional income from child support in FY 
1999. 68,000 custodial parents will have benefits reduced due to higher 
amounts of child support income as a result of this provision. We 
estimate the FY 1999 cost savings to be $15 million and the five-year 
cost savings for FY 1999 through FY 2003 to be $90 million.
    Section 823--Disqualification for Child Support Arrears: This 
provision allows States to disqualify individuals for any month during 
which they are delinquent in any court-ordered child support payment. 
This provision is optional. This provision affects participants to the 
extent States choose to implement this provision and to the extent they 
have court-ordered child support responsibilities and they are 
delinquent in their payments. We estimate that approximately 3,000 
persons will be disqualified as a result of this provision in FY 1999. 
We estimate the FY 1999 cost savings to be $5 million and the five-year 
cost savings for FY 1999 through FY 2003 to be $25 million.
    The estimate of savings for this provision was based on the 1995 
report, Non-Custodial Fathers: Can They Afford to Pay More Child 
Support, by Elaine Sorenson at the Urban Institute. There were an 
estimated 825,000 custodial mothers participating in the child support 
system (in IV-D programs) with child support orders not receiving 
support in 1990. It was assumed that for every custodial mother with an 
order and without support, there was a non-custodial father in arrears. 
Estimating that almost 7 percent (the national average of 1 in 14 
Americans receiving food stamps) of them were receiving food stamp 
benefits, it was calculated that in 1990 there were more than 56,000 
non-custodial fathers receiving food stamps who were in arrears for 
court-ordered child support. This number was inflated by 1.5 percent 
per year to reflect growth in the child support system, consistent with 
information from the Department of Health and Human Services. The 
estimate of savings for this provision was based on an estimated 
average monthly benefit per person ($76.41). The total savings was 
calculated as the product of the number of non-custodial fathers in 
arrears for child support times the annual benefits they would lose due 
to disqualification (64,883 people times $76.41 per month times 12 
months).
    This product was adjusted for assumptions regarding the proportion 
of food stamp households in States choosing to implement this provision 
and the State's ability to identify and sanction the appropriate 
individuals. The State option assumptions were based on the May 1998 
FNS report, State Food Stamp Choices Under Welfare Reform: Findings of 
1997 50-State Survey, indicating that three States reported operating 
this provision at the end of 1997: Ohio, Oklahoma and Wisconsin. 
According to 1996 food stamp quality control data, these three States 
account for approximately 5 percent of all applicable households. The 
savings estimate was adjusted to reflect that 5 percent of the States 
would implement this provision in FY 1997, growing to 10 percent by FY 
2003. The estimate was adjusted further based on the assumption that, 
operating at maximum effectiveness, States would only be able to 
correctly identify and sanction 75 percent of applicable offenders. In 
FY 1999, for example, the savings was calculated by taking the product 
of the 5 percent state phase-in and the assumption of 75 percent 
cooperation and multiplying it by the total savings. The estimate of 
the number of individuals disqualified for food stamp benefits from 
this provision was calculated as the total unrounded savings 
($2,667,000) divided by an estimated average annual food stamp benefit 
($916.92).
    Section 829 and 911--No Increase for Penalties in Other Programs--
Section 829 provides that if a household's benefits are reduced under a 
Federal, State, or local means-tested public assistance program for 
failure to perform a required action, the household may not receive an 
increased food stamp allotment as a result of the decrease in income 
due to the reduced public assistance payment. This applies to both 
intentional and unintentional failures to take a required action. In 
addition to not increasing allotments, States may reduce the Food Stamp 
allotment by up to 25 percent. Section 911 prohibits an increase in 
food stamp benefits as the result of a decrease in Federal, State, or 
local means-tested assistance benefits because of fraud. Participants 
will be affected by these provisions to the extent their benefits are 
reduced for failure to perform a required action or for fraud. The 
effect of the provisions also depends on the cooperation of other 
programs in notifying the food stamp agency. We estimate approximately 
6,000 participants will be affected by these provisions in FY 1999. We 
estimate that in FY 1999-2003 the number of recipients affected by this 
provision will be (in thousands) 6,6,6,7,7 respectively. We estimate 
the cost savings for FY 1999-2003 to be (in millions) $5, $5, $10, $10, 
$10. We estimate the five-year cost savings for FY 1999 through FY 2003 
to be $25 million.
    Food stamp savings from these provisions results from two sources: 
(1) a mandatory prohibition on increasing food stamp benefits when 
individuals receive lower benefits in other means-tested programs for 
failure to comply with a required action, and (2) an optional provision 
to decrease food stamp benefits by no more than 25 percent.
    The estimate for savings from the mandatory prohibition on 
increasing benefits was based on the Department of Health and Human 
Services' Administration for Children and Families data regarding the 
average number of people sanctioned monthly from the JOBS program in 
May 1994. This serves as a proxy for the number of individuals that 
receive reduced benefits from a means-tested program for failure to 
perform a required action or for fraud, and is the best available data. 
(Data on fraud in other programs is unavailable.) There were almost 
13,000 monthly first sanctions, 1,876 monthly second sanctions and 375 
monthly third sanctions. First sanctions were assumed to result in 
instant compliance and therefore last zero months in duration. This 
assumption is based on 1994 information from the Department of Health 
and Human Service, Administration on Children and Families (ACF). ACF 
does not have any more recent information. Second sanctions were 
assumed to have an average duration of three months and third sanctions 
were assumed to have an average duration of six months. The savings 
from the mandatory prohibition on increasing food stamp benefits was 
calculated as the sum of the products of the number of individuals 
sanctioned, the average AFDC benefit lost times the FSP benefit 
reduction rate of 30 percent, and the duration of the sanction. The 
average AFDC benefit reduction was taken from the average AFDC benefit 
per person reported in the 1996 Green Book and inflated over time. 
[(1,876 monthly second sanctions times 12 months times

[[Page 70925]]

the average AFDC benefit lost which equals $143 times 30 percent FSP 
benefit reduction times 3 months) plus (375 monthly third sanctions 
times 12 months times the average AFDC benefit lost which equals $143 
times 30 percent FSP benefit reduction times 6 months)]
    The estimate for savings from the State option to decrease food 
stamp benefits by no more than 25 percent was based on an estimated 
average monthly food stamp benefit per person and the JOBS sanction 
data. The savings was calculated as the product of the number of 
individuals sanctioned, 25 percent of the average food stamp benefit 
per person and the duration of the sanction. This estimate was adjusted 
to account for the proportion of food stamp households in States 
expected to exercise this optional provision--10 percent in 1997 and 
growing to 20 percent by 2003. This was based on information provided 
in the May 1998 FNS report, State Food Stamp Policy Choices Under 
Welfare Reform: Findings of 1997 50-State Survey. Seven States reported 
having adopted this optional provision at the end of 1997: Connecticut, 
Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana and Tennessee. According 
to 1996 food stamp quality control data, these seven States account for 
approximately 10 percent of all food stamp cash assistance households.
    The savings estimates for the mandatory and optional portions of 
the provisions were summed. The estimate of the number of individuals 
receiving a reduction in food stamp benefits due to these provisions 
was calculated as the total unrounded savings divided by an estimated 
average annual food stamp benefit. [(1,876 monthly second sanctions 
times 12 months times the average AFDC benefit lost which equals $143 
times 30 percent FSP benefit reduction times 3 months) plus (375 
monthly third sanctions times 12 months times the average AFDC benefit 
lost which equals $143 times 30 percent FSP benefit reduction times 6 
months) plus the sum of (1,876 times 12 months times the average FSP 
benefit per AFDC household which equals $259.96 times .25 reduction 
times 3 months) and (375 times the average FSP benefit per AFDC 
household which equals $259.96 times .25 reduction times 6 months)]

Background

    On August 26, 1996, the Personal Responsibility and Work 
Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, Pub. L. 104-193, (PRWORA), was 
enacted. PRWORA amended the Food Stamp Act of 1977 7 U.S.C. 2011, et 
seq. (The Act), by adding new Food Stamp Program (the Program) 
eligibility requirements, increasing existing penalties for failure to 
comply with Program rules, and establishing a time limit for Program 
participation of three months in three years for able-bodied adults 
without children who are not working. Thirteen sections of the PRWORA 
are addressed in this rulemaking. State agencies were required to 
implement most of these provisions upon enactment for applicant 
households and at recertification of participant households. Some of 
these provisions were required to be implemented at dates of enactment, 
and those instances are discussed below. The requirements of each 
provision are discussed below.
    The Department is proposing to codify many of the new provisions in 
7 CFR 273.11, ``Action on Households with Special Circumstances''. The 
proposed new or increased penalties will amend 7 CFR 273.16. Because of 
the complexity of the new food stamp time limit for able-bodied adults, 
the Department is proposing to add a new regulatory section to codify 
these requirements, 7 CFR 273.24. The discussion below follows this 
organizational structure.

7 CFR 273.11--Action on Households with Special Circumstances

Ban on Increased Benefits for Failure to Take Required Action or 
Fraud--7 CFR 273.11(k)

    Current regulations at 7 CFR 273.11(k) provide that a State agency 
shall not increase food stamp benefits when benefits received under 
another means-tested Federal, State or local welfare or public 
assistance program have been decreased due to an intentional failure to 
comply with a requirement of the program that imposed the benefit 
decrease. This provision does not apply in the case of individuals or 
households subject to a food stamp work sanction imposed under 7 CFR 
273.7(g)(2). If the other program will not cooperate in providing 
information sufficient to enforce 7 CFR 273.11(k), the State agency is 
not held responsible for noncompliance as long as the State agency has 
made a good faith effort to obtain the information.
    Section 829 of PRWORA amended Section 8(d) of the Act, 7 U.S.C. 
2017(d), to provide that if the benefits of a household are reduced 
under a Federal, State, or local law relating to a means-tested public 
assistance program for the failure of a person to perform an action 
required under the law or program the household may not receive an 
increased allotment as the result of that decrease, and the State 
agency may reduce the household's food stamp allotment by not more than 
25 percent. This provision applies whether or not the act leading to 
the decrease in benefits was intentional. The prohibition on increasing 
food stamp benefits is applicable for the duration of the reduction 
imposed by the other program. If the reduction is the result of a 
failure to perform an action required under part A of title IV of the 
Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. 601, et seq. (Temporary Assistance for 
Needy Families (TANF)), the State agency may use the rules and 
procedures that apply under part A of title IV to reduce the food stamp 
allotment.
    The Department proposes to amend 7 CFR 273.11(k)(1) to provide that 
a ``means-tested public assistance program'' for purposes of the 
restriction imposed by Section 829 of PRWORA shall include any public 
or assisted housing under Title I of the United States Housing Act of 
1937, any State program funded under part A of Title IV of the Social 
Security Act, and any program for the aged, blind, or disabled under 
Titles I, X, XIV, or XVI of the Social Security Act, and State and 
local general assistance as defined in 7 CFR 271.2. Title XIX was not 
included because Medicaid benefits are not counted as income for food 
stamp purposes. The Department also proposes that ``reduced'' will mean 
decreased, suspended, or terminated.
    The Department would like to point out that the requirement of the 
assistance program does not have to be comparable to a food stamp 
program requirement.
    The Department plans to retain the current requirement at 7 CFR 
273.11(k) which provides that this restriction must be applied to all 
applicable cases. In addition, the Department proposes to retain the 
current provision that if a State agency is not successful in obtaining 
the necessary cooperation from another Federal, State or local means-
tested welfare or public assistance program to enable it to comply with 
the requirements of this provision, the State agency shall not be held 
responsible for noncompliance as long as the State agency has made a 
good faith effort to obtain the information. However, the Department 
expects the State agency to act on information that it has available, 
such as information on TANF participants. The Department proposes that 
the State agency obtain information about sanctions and changes in 
those sanctions directly from the assistance programs and not rely on 
the households to provide the information. This may be done through 
computerized listings or other means. The Department

[[Page 70926]]

does not propose changing the reporting requirements for households.
    The Department proposes that the restriction imposed by Section 829 
only apply if assistance benefits are reduced for failure of a member 
of a household to perform an action required under a Federal, State, or 
local law relating to a means-tested public assistance program if the 
person was receiving such assistance at the time the reduction was 
imposed. In other words, the prohibition imposed by Section 829 would 
not apply to a failure to take an action at the time of initial 
application for an assistance program. If the person was not already 
participating, benefits could not be ``reduced.'' With the following 
exceptions, this provision would apply to reductions imposed during the 
period benefits were originally authorized by the other program and to 
reductions imposed at the time of application for continued benefits if 
there is no break in participation. The Department does not consider 
reaching a time limit for time-limited benefits or having a child that 
is not eligible because of a family cap as failures to perform an 
action required by an assistance program. The person or persons simply 
no longer meet the eligibility criteria for assistance. Further, the 
Department does not intend this provision to apply to purely procedural 
requirements such as failure to submit a monthly report or failure to 
reapply for assistance.
    The Department is proposing that the household member does not have 
to be certified for food stamps at the time of the failure to perform a 
required action for this provision to apply. If a reduction in the 
assistance benefits is in force at the time of the food stamp 
application, food stamp benefits would be computed in a manner that 
would prevent a higher food stamp allotment as a result of the failure 
to take the required action.
    The Department proposes to give States flexibility in determining 
how to prevent an increase in food stamp benefits. For example, the 
State may compute the exact amount of assistance the household would 
have received each month but for the penalty. Or, the State may 
determine the amount of the decrease at the time it was first imposed 
and attribute that amount as additional assistance without regard to 
other changes in household circumstances for the duration of the 
penalty. For example, a household's original grant is reduced by $50. 
No matter what the grant is in subsequent months, the State will 
increase it by $50 to find out what the grant should have been. As an 
alternative, the State agency may increase the actual assistance 
received on an individual case basis by the same percentage as the 
original reduction. For example, if the original grant of $100 is 
reduced by 25 percent to $75, no matter what the grant is in subsequent 
months, the State agency will increase it by 25 percent to find out 
what the grant should have been. Finally, instead of computing each 
reduction on an individual case-by-case basis, the State agency may 
choose to increase the assistance grant of all households that fail to 
perform a required action by the same flat percent, not to exceed 25 
percent. For example, for all households that fail to perform a 
required action, no matter what their actual individual percentage 
decrease is, the State agency may choose to increase everyone's actual 
assistance grant by 25 percent.
    Section 8(d)(1)(A) of the Act, as amended by Section 829 of PRWORA, 
provides that the household may not receive an increase in food stamp 
benefits and Section (8)(d)(1)(B) provides that State agencies may 
reduce the food stamp allotments by not more than 25 percent. The 
Department interprets these sections to mean that the State agency must 
prevent an increase in food stamp benefits and, in addition, it may 
reduce the food stamp allotment by up to 25 percent. If the State 
agency opts, under the flexibility discussed in the preceding 
paragraph, to use a flat percentage to prevent an increase in food 
stamp benefits for all households that contain a member who failed to 
take a required action, the Department believes that that percentage 
should also not be more than 25 percent.
    If a percentage is computed for an individual case, the percentage 
must be applied to the assistance payment before any amount is recouped 
to repay a prior assistance overissuance. Likewise, if a percentage is 
used as a standard measure of reduction, it must be applied to the food 
stamp allotment before any amount is recouped to repay a prior food 
stamp overissuance.
    Section 829 of the PRWORA also amended Section 8(d)(2) of the Act 
to provide that if benefits are reduced for a failure of an individual 
to perform an action required under a program under Title IV-A of the 
Social Security Act (TANF), the State agency may use the TANF rules and 
procedures to reduce the food stamp allotments. Under the TANF program, 
households are sometimes sanctioned for 30 percent of the grant. The 
Department interprets the reference to use of TANF rules and procedures 
to apply only to procedural aspects such as budgeting procedures and 
combined notices and hearings. The Department does not interpret it as 
allowing a percentage reduction greater than 25 percent even though the 
TANF reduction may be more than 25 percent.
    A number of States have expressed concern about indefinite and 
permanent penalties. An indefinite penalty may occur, for example, when 
a person is determined to be ineligible for a particular program for 2 
months or until he or she complies with a certain requirement. In some 
cases the person may not reapply for the other assistance program or 
may not be given an opportunity to cure the violation because they may 
become ineligible for some other reason, such as having children reach 
the age of 18. Also, some assistance programs only keep records for a 
limited time and may be unable to provide the food stamp office with 
the information necessary to enable it to prohibit an increase in food 
stamp benefits. The Department believes that a stricter penalty should 
not be imposed for a failure to perform a required action in another 
program than the penalty imposed for the first time a person commits an 
intentional food stamp program violation. In most cases the penalty for 
the first food stamp violation is a 1-year disqualification. Therefore, 
if the other assistance program assigns a disqualification period of 
longer than one year or an indefinite or permanent disqualification 
period, the Department proposes that that the maximum length of the 
food stamp disqualification under Section 8(d) of the Act be no more 
than one year. Further, the Department proposes that the State agency 
be allowed to shorten the disqualification period to less than one year 
if the State becomes aware that the person would be ineligible for 
assistance for some other reason.
    If an individual fails to perform a required action in a State or 
local assistance program, and the individual moves within the State, 
the Department proposes that the disqualification goes with that 
person, but that it be terminated if the person is ineligible for the 
assistance program for some other reason or if the individual moves out 
of State. If an individual fails to perform a required action in a 
Federal program, and the individual moves, either interstate or 
intrastate, the Department is proposing that the State verify the 
status and continue the disqualification if appropriate.
    The introductory paragraph of 7 CFR 273.11(k) currently provides in 
part that the prohibition on increasing food stamp benefits does not 
apply in the case of individuals or households subject to the food 
stamp work sanction imposed pursuant to 7 CFR 273.7(g)(2).

[[Page 70927]]

Some State agencies have advised that this provision is confusing and 
difficult to administer, especially when another program's penalty is 
for a longer period of time. For example, a person could have a 2-month 
food stamp disqualification and a 6-month TANF disqualification for the 
same violation. The question is should the person be disqualified for 
food stamp purposes for 2 months and at the same time have an amount 
attributed as income as the result of the TANF reduction or should the 
person be disqualified for 2 months and then have an amount attributed 
as income for the remaining 4 months in order to prevent an increase in 
benefits as the result of the TANF decrease. The law provides for both 
a disqualification for food stamp purposes and prohibits an increase in 
food stamp benefits for the duration of the reduction in the other 
assistance program. Therefore, the Department is proposing that the 
person be disqualified for food stamp purposes and the State agency 
prohibit an increase in food stamps as the result of the reduction in 
assistance for the duration of the reduction in assistance even if 
there is some overlap. In the example presented, if the amount of the 
TANF reduction was $20, the person could be disqualified from receiving 
food stamps for June and July and $20 could be added to the household's 
TANF income for June through November. The Department believes that 
States should be able to take both actions against the household 
simultaneously since both programs are affected by the violation. This 
proposal will also simplify the program and allow the State to use TANF 
procedures. Accordingly, the Department is proposing to remove the 
sentence from the regulations that provides that 7 CFR 273.11(k) shall 
not apply in the case of individuals or households subject to a food 
stamp work sanction.
    As amended by Section 829 of PRWORA, Section 8(d) of the Act 
provides that food stamp benefits cannot be increased as a result of a 
decrease in the another assistance program ``for the duration of the 
reduction.'' The Department interprets this to mean that the 
prohibition on increasing benefits must be for the same months as the 
decrease in assistance to the extent possible, even if there is a break 
in participation. If the penalty cannot be imposed during the first 
month or months of the penalty in the other program because of notice 
of adverse action time frames, the prohibition on increasing food stamp 
benefits shall apply to the remainder of the assistance sanction 
period. If a sanction is imposed, and the other program subsequently 
lifts the sanction (for example, the person takes the required action), 
the food stamp prohibition on increasing benefits must be lifted when 
the food stamp office becomes aware of this.
    The Department would like to emphasize that during the 
disqualification the State agency must act on changes that would affect 
the household's benefits which are not related to the assistance 
violation. For example, if the household's earned income decreases and 
the TANF grant is increased because of this, the food stamp office must 
take the decrease in earned income and the increase in the assistance 
payment into account for food stamp purposes.
    In accordance with the above discussion, the Department is 
proposing to revise 7 CFR 273.11(k) in its entirety.
    The current regulations at 7 CFR 273.9(b)(5)(i) exclude from income 
moneys withheld from an assistance payment, earned income or other 
income source, or moneys received from any source which are voluntarily 
or involuntarily returned, to repay a prior overpayment received from 
that income source, provided that the overpayment was not from income 
that was excludable. The Department is proposing to revise this 
paragraph so that the total amount of welfare or public assistance, 
rather than the total amount minus the repayment amount, is counted as 
income for food stamps purposes when the overissuance was caused by the 
household. To count the net amount of assistance would result in a 
household getting more food stamps in the month of repayment. For 
example, if the amount of the authorized assistance grant was $400, but 
the household will only receive $350 because $50 is going to be 
recouped to repay a prior overpayment caused by the household, food 
stamp benefits would be based on $400. To base food stamp benefits on 
$350 would result in an increase in food stamps for that month as the 
result of a failure of a member of the household to take a required 
action.

Prohibition on Increasing Benefits as the Result of Fraud

    Section 911 of PRWORA provides that if an individual's benefits 
under a Federal, State, or local law relating to a means-tested welfare 
or a public assistance program are reduced because of an act of fraud 
by the individual under the law or program, the individual may not, for 
the duration of the reduction, receive increased food stamp benefits as 
a result of a decrease in income attributable to such reduction. We 
believes that cases of fraud will involve a failure to take a required 
action in another program, e.g. failure to provide complete and 
accurate information, and, therefore, it is not necessary to 
distinguish between fraud and other program violations.
    The provision prohibiting an increase due to fraud is similar to 
the provision prohibiting an increase due to a failure to perform a 
required action except that in the case of fraud the statute does not 
reference the use of TANF procedures nor an additional percentage 
penalty. The Department is proposing to allow the use of TANF 
procedures for TANF fraud cases including the optional additional 
percentage reduction to simplify the procedures and because cases of 
fraud usually involve the failure of a household member to take a 
required action. Accordingly, the Department proposes to incorporate 
the prohibition on increasing food stamp benefits as the result of a 
fraud into the revision to 7 CFR 273.11(k).

Comparable Disqualifications--7 CFR 273.11(l)

    Section 819(a) of the PRWORA amended Section 6 of the Act, 7 U.S.C. 
2015, to establish requirements for State agencies that want to impose 
the same disqualifications under the Food Stamp Program that are 
imposed under other public assistance programs. The Department's 
proposals for implementing this provision are discussed below.
    Section 6 (i) of the Act now provides that if a disqualification is 
imposed on a member of a food stamp household for a failure of the 
member to perform an action required under a Federal, State, or local 
law relating to a means-tested public assistance program, the State 
agency may impose the same disqualification on the member of the 
household under the Food Stamp Program. Under section 6(i), the 
requirement of the other program does not have to be comparable to a 
Food Stamp Program requirement. The Department interprets this 
provision to mean that the assistance program has to be authorized by 
Federal, State or local law, but that the specific requirement does not 
have to be specified in the law. For purposes of this provision, the 
Department proposes that a ``means-tested public assistance program'' 
shall mean any public or assisted housing under Title I of the United 
States Housing Act of 1937; any State temporary assistance for needy 
families funded under part A of Title IV of the Social Security Act; 
and any program for the aged, blind, or disabled under

[[Page 70928]]

Titles I, X, XIV, or XVI of the Social Security Act; Medicaid under 
Title XX of the Social Security Act; and State and local general 
assistance as defined in 7 CFR 271.2.
    Since the law makes the comparable disqualification provision a 
State option, the Department proposes to allow State agencies the 
discretion to apply this provision to some, but not all, means-tested 
public assistance programs. For example, the State agency may opt to 
apply TANF disqualifications but not general assistance 
disqualifications. Further, the Department proposes to allow State 
agencies to choose which disqualifications within a specific program it 
wants to impose for food stamp purposes. For example, the State agency 
may choose to disqualify a person for food stamps who has failed to 
submit to a drug test for TANF purposes but it does not have to 
disqualify a member of the household for all TANF failures. State 
agencies will be required to develop their own tracking system(s) for 
purposes of this provision. The Department does not plan to change the 
reporting requirements for households.
    For purposes of this provision, the Department proposes that this 
provision only apply if the person was receiving assistance at the time 
the disqualification was imposed by the other program. In other words, 
this provision would not apply to a failure to take an action at the 
time of initial application for an assistance program. If the person 
was not already participating, the person could not be 
``disqualified.'' With the following exceptions, this provision would 
apply to disqualifications imposed during the period benefits were 
originally authorized by the other program and to disqualifications 
imposed at the time of application for continued benefits if there is 
no break in participation. The Department does not consider reaching a 
time limit for time-limited benefits or having a child that is not 
eligible because of a family cap as failures to perform an action 
required by an assistance program. The person or persons simply no 
longer meet the eligibility criteria for assistance. Further, the 
Department does not intend this provision to apply to purely procedural 
requirements such as a failure to submit a monthly report or failure to 
reapply for assistance.
    One State agency has interpreted Section 835 of PRWORA as allowing 
a comparable disqualification for food stamps when the person is 
disqualified at the time of initial application for the assistance 
program. Section 835 amended Section 11(i)(2) of the Act, 7 U.S.C. 2020 
(k)(2), to provide that ``except in the case of disqualification as a 
penalty for failure to comply with a public assistance program rule or 
regulation,'' no household shall have its food stamp application denied 
nor its food stamp benefits terminated solely on the basis that its 
application to participate has been denied or its benefits have been 
terminated under any program for which the household filed a joint 
application without a separate determination by the State agency that 
the household fails to satisfy the food stamp eligibility requirements. 
The Department interprets this change as only applying to joint 
applications for recertification. The Department's position is that a 
person must first be participating in the assistance program before he 
or she can be ``disqualified.'' Some examples of disqualifications that 
could affect food stamp eligibility are disqualifications imposed on 
Title IV-A participants for failing to have a child immunized or 
failing to cooperate.
    The Department is proposing that current assistance 
disqualifications be applied to food stamp applicants as well as 
recipients who are already receiving food stamp benefits. For example, 
if a disqualification was imposed by another assistance program while 
the person was participating in that program and it is still in effect 
when the person initially applies for food stamps, the disqualification 
may be imposed at the time of the initial food stamp application.
    Section 6(i)(2) or the Act, 7 U.S.C. 2015(i)(2), as amended by 
Section 819 of PRWORA, provides that if a disqualification is imposed 
on a ``member'' of a household for failure to perform a required 
action, the State agency may impose the same disqualification on the 
``member'' of the household under the Food Stamp Program. In some 
assistance programs, if an individual fails to take a required action 
the whole assistance unit may be disqualified. Some State agencies are 
interpreting Section 6(i)(2), which allows use of TANF rules and 
procedures for TANF cases to allow the whole assistance unit to be 
disqualified for food stamp purposes when the whole assistance unit is 
disqualified for TANF purposes. The Department interprets the reference 
to TANF rules and procedures as authorizing the same notice and hearing 
requirements and disqualifying the person for the same months that the 
person is disqualified under the TANF program in a retrospective 
eligibility system. For example, if TANF counts all of the person's 
income while disqualified, then all of the person's income could be 
counted for food stamp purposes. The Department expects these 
procedures to vary from State to State. The Department does not believe 
that the intent was to disqualify the whole household even in TANF 
situations. Therefore, the Department is proposing that for food stamp 
purposes only the individual can be disqualified, rather than the whole 
household.
    A number of States have expressed concern about indefinite and 
permanent disqualification periods. In some cases the person may become 
ineligible for some other reason, may not reapply for the other 
assistance program, or may move from the State where the penalty was 
imposed to another State that does not have the same requirement so the 
person is unable to comply and have the disqualification lifted. Also, 
some assistance programs only keep records for a certain time period 
and they may be unable to provide the food stamp office with the 
information necessary to disqualify the person. The Department believes 
that a stricter penalty should not be imposed for a failure to perform 
a required action in another program than the penalty imposed for the 
first time a person commits an intentional food stamp program 
violation. In most cases the penalty for the first food stamp violation 
is a 1-year disqualification. Therefore, if the other assistance 
program assigns a disqualification period of longer than one year or an 
indefinite or permanent disqualification period, the Department 
proposes that that the maximum length of the food stamp 
disqualification in these circumstances be no more than one year. 
Further, the Department proposes that the State agency be allowed to 
shorten the food stamp disqualification period if the person becomes 
ineligible to participate in the other program for some other reason 
during that one-year time period.
    Although Section 6(i)(2) of the Act does not specify if the food 
stamp disqualification period has to be concurrent with the 
disqualification period imposed by the other assistance program, the 
Department proposes that the food stamp disqualification period be 
limited to the same period of time to the extent possible. It may not 
be possible to impose the full disqualification period because of the 
requirements for a food stamp advance notice of adverse action in 
accordance with 7 CFR 273.13. If the State agency does not have time to 
apply the full disqualification concurrently because of notice of 
adverse action requirements, the Department is proposing that the

[[Page 70929]]

State agency only apply the portion that may be imposed concurrently.
    When a household member is disqualified from food stamp eligibility 
under Section 6(a)(2), the Department is proposing all of the member's 
resources be counted as they will continue to be available to the 
household. However, since this is an optional provision, we are 
proposing that State agencies be allowed the option of counting all or 
a prorated share of the income and deductible expenses of the 
disqualified individual. State agencies would not have the option of 
excluding the person's resources or all of their income because this 
could be to the household's advantage and could conflict with the 
previously discussed prohibition on increasing food stamp benefits as a 
result of a decrease in assistance benefits due to failure to take a 
required action.
    Section 6(i)(3) of the Act, as amended by Section 819 of PRWORA, 
provides that if a member of a household has been disqualified under 
the comparable treatment for disqualification provision, the member of 
the household so disqualified may, after the disqualification period 
has expired, apply for food stamp benefits and shall be treated as a 
new applicant, except that a prior disqualification under Section 6(d) 
of the Act regarding work requirement disqualifications shall be 
considered in determining eligibility. This places the burden of 
initiating an action once the disqualification period is over on the 
household. The Department interprets the language regarding prior work 
disqualifications to mean that if a person had a food stamp work 
violation in a prior year and has a current food stamp work violation 
for which an overlapping comparable disqualification is being served, 
the next food stamp work violation, if any, will be considered the 
third violation. If there are two or more pending disqualifications, 
the Department proposes that the State agency impose them concurrently 
but keep track of the number of food stamp work violations for purposes 
of determining if a subsequent food stamp violation is the second or 
third violation. For example, if an individual is disqualified in June 
for a food stamp work violation and in June and July for a TANF 
violation, after being disqualified for June and July the person will 
not have to serve an additional disqualification period and the food 
stamp work disqualification will have been considered served. If the 
whole household is disqualified for June for a food stamp violation and 
one member is disqualified for June and July for a comparable 
disqualification, the household would be disqualified for June and the 
individual would be disqualified for July.
    The Department is proposing to add a new provision to 7 CFR 
273.1(b)(2)(x) to encompass those individuals disqualified from the 
Food Stamp Program based on a disqualification in another assistance 
program and to add a new section 7 CFR 273.11(l) to explain the 
requirements as discussed above.
    Section 819 of PRWORA provides that State agencies electing to 
impose comparable disqualifications, must specify in their State Plan 
of Operations the guidelines the State agency will be using in carrying 
out this provision. The State Plan discussion should include the 
programs and disqualifications the State has selected, how information 
will be obtained, time restrictions set for indefinite and permanent 
disqualification, TANF procedures that will be used, and how the income 
of the person will be counted. Accordingly, the Department is proposing 
to add a new section 7 CFR 272.2(d)(1)(xiii) to require that the 
comparable disqualification procedures be included in the State Plan of 
Operation for those States electing to implement such Food Stamp 
Program disqualifications.

School Attendance--7 CFR 273.11(m) and (n)

    Section 103 of PRWORA amended Part A of Title IV of the Social 
Security Act, 42 U.S.C. 601, et seq., to provide for block grants to 
States for TANF. The title of section 404 is ``Use of Grants.'' Section 
404(i) provides that a State to which a grant is made under section 403 
shall not be prohibited from sanctioning a family that includes an 
adult who has received assistance under the Food Stamp Program, if such 
adult fails to ensure that the minor dependent children of such adult 
attend school as required by the law of the State in which the minor 
children reside. Section 404(j) provides that a State to which a grant 
is made under section 403 shall not be prohibited from sanctioning a 
family that includes an adult who is older than age 20 and younger than 
age 51 and who has received assistance under the Food Stamp Program, if 
such adult does not have, or is not working toward attaining, a 
secondary school diploma or its recognized equivalent unless such adult 
has been determined in the judgment of medical, psychiatric, or other 
appropriate professionals to lack the requisite capacity to 
successfully complete a course of study that would lead to a secondary 
school diploma or its recognized equivalent.
    We have had several questions as to whether or not these provisions 
provide for separate food stamp sanctions in addition to TANF 
sanctions. The Department has interpreted these provisions to pertain 
to TANF sanctions only. States may not apply a separate food stamp 
sanction to households based on Sections 404(i) and (j). The Department 
has come to this conclusion based on the fact that these provisions are 
in Title IV of the Social Security Act and are limited to States that 
receive a TANF block grant. By inserting Sections 404(i) and 404(j) 
into the TANF statute, Congress implied that only TANF benefits would 
be affected. In addition, the paragraph only references adults 
receiving food stamps; it does not reference food stamp sanctions. 
Finally, Congress made no cross-references to this provision in the 
Food Stamp Act.
    If a food stamp household's TANF benefits are reduced under these 
provisions, however, States must apply Section 8(d) of the Act, as 
amended by 829 of PRWORA. Section 8(d) of the Act prevents an increase 
in food stamp benefits if a member of a household fails to comply with 
another Federal, State, or local means-tested benefit program. In 
addition, States may apply Section 6 of the Act, as amended by section 
819 of PRWORA. Section 6 of the Act provides that if a disqualification 
is imposed on a member of a food stamp household for a failure of the 
member to perform an action required under a Federal, State, or local 
law relating to a means-tested public assistance program the State 
agency may impose the same disqualification on the member of the 
household under the Food Stamp Program.
    Because we have had questions concerning these provisions, we are 
including a reference to them in 7 CFR 273.11, Action on Households 
with Special Circumstances. We clarify that these are TANF only 
sanctions. However, we also clarify that, in cases where TANF benefits 
are reduced or a member is disqualified under these provisions, States 
must prevent an increase in food stamp benefits and, in addition, they 
may reduce food stamp benefits by up to 25 percent and impose a 
comparable disqualification on the member for food stamp purposes.

Overlapping Penalties

    In addition to prohibiting an increase in food stamp benefits as 
the result of fraud or failure to take a required action in an 
assistance program, the State agency may opt to impose a comparable 
disqualification period. The Department is proposing to include this 
provision in the new paragraph 7 CFR 273.11(l). In some cases a failure 
to take a required action may also involve a failure to

[[Page 70930]]

ensure that a minor child attend school or failure to work toward 
attaining a secondary school diploma. In such latter cases, the 
Department is proposing that the State agency choose under which 
provision to handle the cases. These options are included in the 
proposed new paragraphs 7 CFR 273.11(m) and (n).

Denial of Benefits for Drug-Related Felony Convictions--7 CFR 273.11(o)

    Section 115(a) of PRWORA, 42 U.S.C. 862a, provides that an 
individual convicted of a felony under either Federal State law which 
has as an element the possession, use, or distribution of a controlled 
substance (as defined in Section 102(6) of the Controlled Substances 
Act; 21 U.S.C. 802(c)) shall not be eligible for benefits under the 
Food Stamp Program. Section 115(b)(2) further provides that, although 
such an individual shall not be considered a member of a household for 
the purpose of determining benefits, the individual's income and 
resources shall be considered available to the household.
    Section 115(d) of PRWORA gives States the option, through specific 
legislation enacted (by the State legislature) after the date of 
enactment of PRWORA, to exempt any or all individuals residing in the 
State from the application of subsection (a), i.e. ineligibility based 
on conviction for a drug-related felony. A State, through legislation, 
may also limit the period of ineligibility of individuals convicted of 
drug-related felonies.
    Section 115(c) of PRWORA mandates that State's electing to enforce 
Section 115(a) must indicate in writing during the certification 
process whether the applicant, or a member of the applicant's 
household, has been convicted of drug-related felonies.
    Pursuant to Section 116 of PRWORA, Section 115 became generally 
effective July 1, 1997, unless the State opts out of its provisions as 
described above. However, Section 116 further provides that in States 
that submit plans under TANF, Section 115 is effective when the plan is 
submitted to the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). 
Section 115 specifically provides that in no event can an individual be 
disqualified under this provision for a conviction for a crime 
occurring before August 22, 1996, the date of PRWORA's enactment.
    To implement the provisions of Section 115 of the PRWORA, the 
Department is proposing to amend 7 CFR 273.11 by adding a new paragraph 
(o), which would specifically provide that an individual convicted 
(under Federal or State law) of a felony which has as an element the 
possession, use, or distribution of a controlled substance (as defined 
in Section 102(6) of the Controlled Substances Act) shall not be 
considered a household member for Food Stamp Program purposes. The new 
paragraph will further provide that the exclusion would not apply if 
the State had elected to opt out of enforcing Section 115 through 
legislation, or would be in effect for a limited time if the State had 
elected to limit the length of the period of disqualification. 
Consistent with the statutory language, the Department is also 
proposing to amend 7 CFR 273.11(c)(1) to provide that the income and 
resources of individuals ineligible to participate in the program as 
the result of convictions for drug-related felonies shall be considered 
available to the household for purposes of determining eligibility and 
benefit levels. The Department is also proposing a technical amendment 
to 7 CFR 273.1(b), which will specify that individuals convicted of 
drug-related felonies shall not be considered household members.
    We have no discretion to mitigate this provision. However, those 
States that would like to pursue option of opting out or limiting the 
disqualification period can contact States that have already done so 
for information. The following 19 States have either opted out or 
limited the disqualification time period: Louisiana, Oklahoma, 
Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, New 
York, Vermont, New Jersey, North Carolina, Colorado, Iowa, Utah, 
Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.

Disqualification of Fleeing Felons

    Section 821 of PRWORA amended Section 6 of the Act, 7 U.S.C. 2015, 
by adding a new paragraph (k) which disqualifies individuals who are 
fleeing to avoid prosecution or custody for a crime, or an attempt to 
commit a crime, that would be classified as a felony (or in the State 
of a New Jersey, a high misdemeanor) from participating in the Food 
Stamp Program. Section 6(k) of the Act as amended by Section 821 of 
PRWORA, also disqualifies individuals who are violating a condition of 
probation or parole under a Federal or State law.
    To implement these disqualification provisions, the Department is 
proposing to amend 7 CFR 273.1(b)(2), which defines the criteria for 
inclusion in eligible food stamp households, by adding a new paragraph 
(xi) specifically providing that individuals who are fleeing to avoid 
prosecution or custody for a crime, or an attempt to commit a crime, 
that would be classified as a felony (or in the State of a New Jersey, 
a high misdemeanor), or who are violating a condition of probation or 
parole under a Federal or State law, are not to be considered members 
of households otherwise eligible to participate in the Program. The 
Department is also proposing to add a similar provision through a new 
paragraph (p) at 7 CFR 273.11.
    The Department is proposing to mandate that State agencies verify 
the status of applicants to determine if they are subject to the 
provisions of 6(k) of the Act. In doing so the Department is also 
proposing to provide State agencies with broad discretion regarding the 
method of verifying an applicant's status since there are significant 
differences between the administrative structures of State agencies 
which may affect the nature of relationships between welfare agencies 
and the State or local law enforcement agencies which would provide 
verification of the applicants' status. One possible method of 
verification would be to establish a system under which State or local 
law enforcement agencies would periodically provide lists of 
individuals subject to disqualification under this section for matching 
by welfare agencies to determine if any applicants are subject to 
disqualification. The lists would most likely be in the form of 
computer tapes. Depending on the State agency's administrative 
structure, the matching could be conducted at either the State or local 
level. Another alternative would be to include a notice in the 
application indicating that the agency may match data with law 
enforcement agencies for the purposes of verification. The Department 
wishes to emphasize that this is one possible method of verification 
and that it is not our intent to exclude other systems or methods which 
may be established by State agencies. The Department is suggesting 
that, prior to providing comments in response to this proposed 
rulemaking, State agencies consult with State and local law enforcement 
agencies to determine the most effective method of verifying the status 
of applicants to determine whether they are subject to the provisions 
of Section 6(k) of the Act. To implement this provision the Department 
is proposing to add a new paragraph 273.2(f)(1)(ix).
    Although it is the clear intent of both the statute and this 
proposed rule that Food Stamp Program participants who are subject to 
disqualification under Section 6(k) of the Act be terminated from the 
program as quickly as possible, State agencies may continue to allow 
such individuals to participate if so

[[Page 70931]]

requested by local, State or Federal law enforcement authorities and if 
such continued participation would expedite or assist in the 
apprehension of individuals fleeing to avoid prosecution or custody.

Cooperation With Law Enforcement Authorities

    Section 837 of PRWORA amended Section 11(e)(8) of the Act, 7 U.S.C. 
2020(e)(8), to require a State agency to furnish, upon request, the 
address, social security number, and, if available, photograph to any 
Federal, State, or local law enforcement officer of any household 
member. The officer must furnish the State agency with the name of the 
member and notify the State agency that the member is fleeing to avoid 
prosecution or custody for a crime, or an attempt to commit a crime, 
that would be classified as a felony (or in the State of a New Jersey, 
a high misdemeanor). This provision also applies if the member is 
violating a condition of probation or parole imposed under a Federal or 
State law, or has information necessary for the officer to conduct an 
official duty related to the above-described individuals. The statute 
further specifies that the request must be made in the proper exercise 
of an official duty.
    The Department is proposing to add a new paragraph (vii) to 7 CFR 
272.1(c)(1) to specifically require State agencies to disclose to 
Federal, State or local law enforcement officers the address, social 
security number, and, if available, photograph of any household member 
if the officer furnishes the State agency with the name of the member 
and notifies the State agency that the member is fleeing to avoid 
prosecution or custody for a crime, or an attempt to commit a crime, 
that would be classified as a felony (or in the State of a New Jersey, 
a high misdemeanor), or is violating a condition of probation or parole 
imposed under a Federal or State law. The new paragraph also requires 
disclosure if the information regarding the household member is 
necessary for the officer to conduct an official duty related to the 
above-described individuals. The Department would like to clarify that 
the policy of 7 CFR 272.1(C), and will continue to be, that if an 
eligibility worker (EW) believes that a Food Stamp Program applicant or 
member of a participating household may be fleeing to avoid prosecution 
or custody for a felony the EW shall notify the appropriate law 
enforcement agency.
    The Department would like to clarify that this provision in no way 
requires State agencies to collect photo IDs as a condition of 
eligibility. Though the regulations at 7 CFR 273.2(f) require State 
agencies to verify identity, they are very clear that any document 
which reasonably establishes the applicant's identity must be accepted. 
The State agency may not impose a requirement for a specific type of 
document such as a photo ID.
    The Department would like to clarify that section 837 of PRWORA 
does not supersede the confidentiality provisions of section 11(e)(8) 
of the Act. State agencies may, however, verify the status of 
applicants or household members to determine if they are subject to 
disqualification under Section 6(k) of the Act.

Cooperation With Child Support Agencies--7 CFR 273.11(q) and (r)

    Section 822 of PRWORA amended Section 6 of the Act, 7 U.S.C. 2015, 
by adding a new paragraph (l). This section gives a State agency the 
option to require cooperation with a Child Support Enforcement Program 
established under title IV, part D of the Social Security Act, 42 
U.S.C. 651, et seq., as a condition of eligibility. Separate provisions 
address custodial and noncustodial parents. For custodial parents, the 
requirement can be waived for good cause, but there is no good cause 
exception for noncustodial (including putative) parents. The provisions 
for custodial and noncustodial parents are discussed separately below.

Custodial Parent--7 CFR 273.11(q)

    Section 6(e) of the Act, as amended by Section 822 of PRWORA, 
allows State agencies to disqualify a natural or adoptive parent or 
other individual (collectively referred to as ``the individual'') who 
is living with and exercising parental control over a child under the 
age of 18 if the custodial parent does not cooperate with the State 
agency in establishing paternity and collecting child support without 
good cause. The provision requires the Department, in consultation with 
the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), to develop 
standards for what will constitute ``good cause'' for failure of a 
custodial parent to cooperate. There are two separate issues to 
address: what constitutes cooperation, and what constitutes good cause. 
The Department has discussed the issues of good cause and cooperation 
with the DHHS staff responsible for TANF and the staff responsible for 
Child Support Enforcement. In defining cooperation of the custodial 
parent, the Department has based its proposal on wording already used 
by DHHS. Therefore, under proposed food stamp regulations the 
individual will be required to cooperate with the State agency in 
identifying and locating the absent parent of the child(ren); 
establishing the paternity of a child born out of wedlock; obtaining 
support payments for the child or the individual and the child; and 
obtaining any other payments or property due the child or the 
individual and the child. We also list actions that are relevant to or 
necessary for, achieving cooperation: appearing at an office of the 
State or local agency or the child support agency to provide verbal or 
written information; appearing as a witness at judicial or other 
hearings or proceedings; supplying information in establishing 
paternity; and paying to the child support agency any support payments 
received from the absent father.
    The Department is also proposing to adopt DHHS' provisions 
concerning good cause exceptions. We list the circumstances under which 
cooperation may be against the best interests of the child and would, 
therefore, not be required. Establishing paternity, securing support, 
or identifying and providing information could result in physical or 
emotional harm to the child or the parent or caretaker relative which 
could be determined good cause for not cooperating.
    The concepts of cooperation with child support enforcement 
agencies, and good cause for failure to cooperate, are new to the Food 
Stamp Program, but DHHS has used them for some time and States are 
familiar with them. The Department believes that relying on DHHS' 
expertise in these areas is initially the most practical and 
administratively efficient alternative. The Department is proposing to 
add a new paragraph 7 CFR 273.11(q) to codify this provision.
    The Department is proposing that the State agency make both the 
cooperation and good cause determinations. If the State agency 
determines that the custodial parent has not cooperated without good 
cause, then that individual (and not the entire household) would be 
ineligible to participate in the Food Stamp Program. The statutory 
language did not authorize the disqualification of the entire 
household, and so the Department is proposing that the disqualification 
be limited to the offending custodial parent. The Department is 
proposing that the disqualification period is over as soon as it is 
determined that the individual is cooperating with the child support 
agency. The State agency must have procedures in place to re-qualify an 
individual once cooperation has been

[[Page 70932]]

established. We realize that many States already have such procedures 
in place. Therefore, at this time, we would like to solicit comments on 
those systems already in use.
    The law did not specify how the income and resources of the 
disqualified person should be treated for the remaining household 
members. Since this is an optional provision, the Department is 
proposing that the State agency count all of the individual's 
resources, but to give State agencies the option to count all or a pro 
rata share of his income. The Department is proposing to amend 7 CFR 
273.11(c) and 273.1(b)(2)(xii) to reflect this policy.
    Section 6(l) of the Act prohibits the payment of a fee or other 
cost for services provided under a Part D, Title IV, Child Support 
Enforcement Program, and so the Department is proposing to prohibit the 
charging of such fees or costs.
    The Department is proposing that if a State agency wants to use the 
option of disqualifying an individual who refuses to cooperate without 
good cause, the option must be included in its State Plan of Operation. 
Accordingly, the Department is proposing to add a new section 7 CFR 
272.2(d)(1)(xiv) to reflect the above-discussed requirements.

Noncustodial Parent--7 CFR 273.11(r)

    Section 822 of PRWORA also amended Section 6 of the Act by adding 
subsection (m) to give State agencies the option to disqualify the 
noncustodial parent who refuses to cooperate in establishing the 
paternity of a child and provide support for the child. This provision 
requires the Department, in consultation with DHHS, to develop 
standards for what will constitute cooperation on the part of the 
noncustodial parent. As mentioned previously, the Department has met 
with DHHS staff in developing this proposed rule, and we are proposing 
to adopt DHHS' definition of cooperation as the most practical 
approach, given DHHS' experience with the issue.
    The Department is proposing that refusal to cooperate occurs if the 
noncustodial parent refuses to appear for an interview; refuses to 
furnish requested documentation; refuses DNA testing; or fails to make 
payments to the Child Support Enforcement agency. As with the custodial 
parent, if the State agency determines after contacting the Child 
Support Enforcement agency that the noncustodial parent has refused to 
cooperate, then that individual (and not the entire household) would be 
ineligible to participate in the Food Stamp Program. The statutory 
language did not authorize the disqualification of the entire 
household, and so the Department is proposing that the disqualification 
be limited to the individual. Consistent with the Department's proposed 
treatment for disqualified custodial parents, it would be the option of 
the State Agency to determine whether part or all of the income and the 
resources of the individual refusing to cooperate would be considered 
available to the rest of the noncustodial parent's household under this 
proposal. In addition, the Department is proposing that the 
disqualification period is over as soon as it is determined that the 
individual is cooperating with the child support agency. The State 
agency must have procedures in place to re-qualify an individual once 
cooperation has been established. We realize that many States already 
have such procedures in place. Therefore, at this time, we would like 
to solicit comments on those systems already in use.
    Section 6(m) of the Act does not permit a fee or other cost to be 
charged the household for services of the Child Support Enforcement 
agency, and the Department's proposal includes this prohibition. To 
implement this provision, the Department is proposing to add a new 
paragraph 7 CFR 273.11(r).
    Section 6 of the Act, as amended by Section 22 of PRWORA also 
requires the State agency to provide safeguards to restrict the use of 
information collected by the State agency to purposes for which the 
information is collected. The Department believes that this is an area 
in which the State agency should have flexibility to establish the 
specific safeguards. The Department is therefore proposing only to 
require that safeguards be in place.
    The Department is proposing that if a State agency wants to use the 
option of disqualifying the noncustodial parent who refuses to 
cooperate, this option must be included in its State Plan of Operation. 
The Department is also proposing to add a new section 7 CFR 
272.2(d)(1)(xiv) to require that the States that elect to implement 
this provision include these safeguards in their Plan of Operation.

Disqualification for Child Support Arrears--7 CFR 273.11(s)

    Section 823 of the PRWORA amended section 6 of the Act by adding 
subsection (n) to give State agencies the option to disqualify a member 
of any household during any month that the individual is delinquent in 
any payment due under a court order for the support of the individual's 
child. The provision also specifies that if a court is allowing the 
individual to delay payment or the individual is complying with a 
payment plan approved by a court or the Child Support Enforcement 
agency, the individual will not be disqualified.
    As with the disqualification for failure to cooperate with child 
support enforcement officials, the Department is proposing that the 
disqualification for child support arrears apply to the offending 
individual and not to the entire household. The statutory language does 
not authorize the disqualification of the entire household. However, 
similar to the handling of the child support cooperation provision 
concerning the custodial and noncustodial parents, the Department is 
proposing that it will be the option of the State agency to determine 
whether part or all of the income and resources of a disqualified 
individual be considered available to the rest of that person's 
household. The Department is proposing to add a new section 7 CFR 
273.11(s) to implement the disqualification, and is proposing to amend 
7 CFR 273.11(c)(2) and (3), and 273.1(b) to incorporate its proposed 
treatment of the disqualified individual's income and resources.
    Section 6(n) of the Act specifies that the individual will be 
disqualified during any month that the individual is delinquent in any 
payment due. Because an individual could always pay his or her child 
support toward the end of the month, it will be impossible to know when 
an individual is delinquent in time to disqualify him or her for that 
month. Therefore, under the Department's proposal the State agency must 
establish a claim against the household, in accordance with the 
regulations at 7 CFR 273.18, for any month for which it later discovers 
that the individual was delinquent and should have been disqualified.
    The Department is proposing that if a State agency wants to use the 
option of disqualification for child support arrears, this option must 
be included in its Plan of Operation. Accordingly, the Department is 
proposing to include this section in the new 7 CFR 272.2(d)(1)(xiv) to 
reflect the addition.

7 CFR 273.16--Disqualification for Intentional Program Violation

    The current regulations at 7 CFR 273.16 outline the procedures 
involved with Intentional Program Violations (IPVs) and IPV-related 
disqualifications. This proposed rule extensively revises this section 
of the regulations. The increased and additional disqualification 
penalties brought about by sections 813, 814 and 820 of PRWORA that 
need to be reflected in 7 CFR 273.16 are included in this rule. In

[[Page 70933]]

addition, this proposed rule contains a change necessitated by a court 
action on the imposition of disqualification periods. Clarification is 
also being proposed for a number of issues, including the definition of 
an IPV. Lastly, as part of an effort to streamline the regulatory 
requirements and to increase State agency flexibility in the area, the 
Department is proposing to remove prescriptive language and some 
requirements in many discretionary areas concerning IPVs and the IPV 
disqualification process.

General Administrative Responsibility--7 CFR 273.16(a)

    The current regulations at 7 CFR 273.16(a) specify a State agency's 
responsibility for investigating and disqualifying individuals who 
commit IPVs. As part of the regulatory reorganization and streamlining 
effort, the Department is proposing in this rule to eliminate much of 
the prescriptive language under this section. Under this proposal at 
Sec. 273.16(a), each State agency would be responsible for: (1) 
effectively and efficiently investigating suspected IPVs; (2) 
establishing a system for determining whether an individual has 
committed an IPV; and (3) when appropriate, disqualifying the 
individual from participation in the Program.

Definition of an IPV--7 CFR 273.16(c)

    The current regulations at 7 CFR 273.16(c) provide a definition for 
an IPV. The Department is proposing to make three changes to this 
paragraph. The first change would eliminate the reference that this 
definition applies only to an administrative disqualification hearing 
(ADH). The Department believes that this definition should also apply 
to the other bases for IPV determination, which are a signed ADH 
waiver, a court finding, and a signed disqualification consent 
agreement. The second change would update the definition by eliminating 
the reference to ATPs (authorization to participate documents). In its 
place, the Department is proposing to use the term ``authorization 
card'' (which is defined in section 3(b) of the Act (7 U.S.C. 
2012(b)(3))) and ``reusable documents used as part of an automated 
benefit delivery system'' (access device). This definition was updated 
to specifically provide for the acquisition and use of electronic 
benefit transfer (EBT) cards. For the third change, the proposed rule 
would specifically include trafficking in this definition. This is 
being provided for clarification purposes only and does not constitute 
a change in policy. The Department has historically viewed (and 
continues to view) any type of trafficking as an IPV offense. Finally, 
as part of the regulatory reorganization, this paragraph would be 
incorporated into Sec. 273.16(b) in the proposed rule.

PRWORA Section 813--Doubled Penalties for Violating FSP Rules

    As reflected in the current regulations at 7 CFR 273.16(b), a 
graduated system for IPV disqualification penalties exists. Under this 
system, an individual found to have committed an IPV not related to the 
trading of coupons for firearms, ammunition, explosives or controlled 
substances would receive a disqualification for: (a) 6 months for the 
first offense; (b) 12 months for the second offense; and (c) a 
permanent disqualification for the third offense. In addition, an 
individual convicted of a controlled substance-related IPV would 
receive a 12 month disqualification for the first offense and a 
permanent disqualification for the second offense.
    Section 813 of PRWORA amended section 6(b)(1) of the Act (7 U.S.C. 
Sec. 2105(b)(1)) to increase the penalties twofold for the non-
permanent offenses. Specifically, unless the offense falls under a 
specific category requiring a more stringent penalty, Section 6(b)(1) 
now requires that an individual be disqualified for one year for a 
first finding, and for two years for a second finding of IPV. The 
penalty for a third finding of IPV, permanent disqualification, would 
remain the same. For convictions involving the trading of controlled 
substances for coupons, Section 813 of PRWORA requires that an 
individual be disqualified for two years for the first offense. 
Accordingly, the Department is proposing to reflect these legislative 
changes in Sec. 273.16(c) of this rule.

PRWORA Section 814--Disqualification of Individuals Convicted of 
Trafficking $500 or More

    Section 814 of PRWORA amended Section 6(b)(1)(iii)of the Act to 
introduce more stringent disqualification penalties for those 
individuals who traffic food coupons. Specifically, under the new 
legislation, individuals would be permanently disqualified from FSP 
participation if they are convicted of a trafficking offense of $500 or 
more. Individuals trafficking under $500 would continue to be subject 
to the same penalties as other IPVs. Accordingly, the Department is 
proposing to reflect this legislative change in Sec. 273.16(c) of this 
rule.
    The statutory language provides for this penalty to take effect 
where there is an actual conviction. Hence, the increased trafficking 
penalty would be applied when there is such a finding by a court of 
appropriate jurisdiction. In addition, the Department considered 
whether this increased trafficking penalty applies to violations 
settled by deferred adjudication. While the Department recognizes that 
the statutory language speaks of a conviction, and not of a finding or 
a settlement, the Department believes that this increased penalty for 
trafficking may be applied in cases of deferred adjudication. 
Trafficking for an amount greater than $500 is undeniably a serious 
offense. As such, if the case warrants the formal involvement or 
inclusion of a Federal, state or local court process, then the State 
agency should apply the increased penalty. Therefore, it is the 
Department's intent in this proposed rule to allow the inclusion of 
this increased penalty in signed deferred adjudications in exactly the 
same manner that the existing penalties are currently included in such 
agreements. Accordingly, this proposal is reflected in Sec. 273.16(c) 
in this rule.
    As opposed to deferred adjudication, since there is no formal 
involvement or inclusion of a Federal, state or local court process in 
the ADH system, the Department is proposing that the increased penalty 
not apply to IPVs determined as a result of an ADH or a signed waiver 
to the right to an ADH.
    When PRWORA was originally published, some State agencies inquired 
as to whether Section 6(b)(1)(iii)'s $500 benchmark refers to a single 
trafficking transaction or to the cumulative amount trafficked. The 
Department maintains a long-standing policy that a series of related 
infractions may embody a single IPV. Therefore, if the cumulative 
amount of the related infractions making up the IPV is greater than 
$500, then the individual would be subject to the increased trafficking 
penalty.

PRWORA Section 820--Ten Year Disqualification for Duplicate 
Participation

    Under certain circumstances, PRWORA lengthened the penalty 
associated with fraudulent receipt of multiple benefits. This provision 
is in section 820 of PRWORA, which amended section 6 of the Act (7 
U.S.C. Sec. 2015) by adding a new paragraph ``(j)''. Paragraph (j) 
provides that ``[a]n individual shall be ineligible to participate in 
the food stamp program as a member of any household for a 10-year 
period if the individual is found by a State agency to have made, or is 
convicted in a Federal or State court of having made, a fraudulent 
statement or representation with respect to the identity or place of 
residence of the

[[Page 70934]]

individual in order to receive multiple benefits simultaneously under 
the food stamp program.''
    The increase in the penalty for fraudulent representation of 
identity or residence to obtain multiple duplicate benefits reflected 
in the quoted statutory language is clearly intended to be an 
additional deterrence against this kind of fraud. However, the 10-year 
period of disqualification associated with this provision does not 
apply to all cases of duplicate participation (that is, where an 
individual receives food stamps as a member of more than one 
household). There are three criteria to consider in determining whether 
this disqualification provision applies. First, the individual must 
have been found by a State agency or court of committing a certain 
unlawful act. Second, the unlawful act is ``having made, a fraudulent 
statement or representation with respect to the identity or place of 
residence of the individual.'' Finally, the purpose of committing this 
misrepresentation must have been to receive multiple benefits under the 
FSP. Section 820 does not apply unless all three of these criteria are 
present.
    The Department considered whether it is necessary for the 
individual to be successful in obtaining multiple benefits in order for 
this provision to apply. The title of section 820 of PRWORA is 
``Disqualification for Receipt of Multiple Food Stamp Benefits'', 
however, the language of the text is directed at the penalty for the 
intentional act of misrepresenting information in order to receive 
multiple benefits. The Department has found nothing in the text or 
legislative history to suggest that Congress intended the penalty to be 
more or less severe depending upon whether the individual was 
successful in obtaining the multiple benefits. Currently, when a 
household is identified as having one or more members who are already 
receiving benefits as a member of another household or in another 
locality, State agencies are required to investigate the cause of the 
duplicate participation and when appropriate, pursue the matter through 
the claims collection and/or IPV referral process (7 CFR 272.4(f)(3)).
    A State agency is required to take the IPV referral route when it 
believes it can prove an individual's intent to abuse the FSP by 
providing false or misleading information to receive benefits for which 
the individual is not entitled. Some State agencies pursue an IPV 
regardless of whether the individual was successful in being certified 
to receive the additional benefits. The Department believes that this 
approach is consistent with an aggressive anti-fraud program and 
strongly encourages those State agencies which pursue attempted (as 
well as successful) fraud to continue to operate under their current 
policy. The Department therefore proposes to make clear that the 
coverage of Section 6(j) provision also applies to individuals who 
attempt to receive multiple benefits by misrepresenting their identity 
or residence.

Appropriate Penalty Determination

    Prior to the enactment of PRWORA and the implementation of its 
predecessor (the Mickey Leland Childhood Hunger Relief Act (Pub. L. 
103-66) (Leland Act)), only one set of disqualification penalties 
existed for IPVs. This set of disqualification penalties, as discussed 
earlier in this preamble, applied to all IPVs and began with a 
relatively short disqualification period for the first finding of IPV 
and culminated with a permanent disqualification for the third IPV 
finding. The Leland Act and PRWORA changed this by introducing varying 
disqualification penalties for certain types of IPV-related offenses.
    Pursuant to this rule making, disqualification periods based on the 
particular offense and finding would be:

                                     IPV-Related Disqualification Penalties
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
         Disqualification type               First finding            Second finding           Third finding
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
``Any'' IPV...........................  12 months..............  24 months..............  Permanent
Controlled substances related.........  24 months..............  Permanent..............  See below \1\
Firearms, ammunition, and explosives    Permanent..............  See below \1\..........  See below \1\
 related.
Duplicate participation related.......  10 years...............  10 years \2\...........  Permanent (same as
                                                                                           ``any'' IPV) \2\
Trafficking $500 or greater related...  Permanent..............  See below \1\..........  See below \1\
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
\1\ Since the prior offense (i.e., first or second) results in a permanent disqualification, the same penalty
  (permanent disqualification) would be applied if, for some inexplicable reason, the individual was not already
  permanently disqualified when the subsequent finding occurred.
\2\ PRWORA does not specify a graduated increase in penalty length for subsequent findings. The appropriate
  disqualification period lengths for these subsequent occurrences are discussed in detail below.

    The Department believes that clarification is needed to determine 
which penalty takes precedence when an IPV also is included in one of 
the four special disqualification categories listed above. For example, 
an individual who has already committed two IPVs may be found to have 
committed a third IPV and the third offense is for duplicate 
participation. In this situation, the State agency would need to 
determine whether the appropriate disqualification would be for 10 
years (for duplicate participation) or permanently (as is the penalty 
for all third IPVs). The Department believes that it is appropriate to 
permanently disqualify the individual. The progressive penalty 
structure and policies are key components of program integrity. 
Progressive penalties deter repeat offenders by providing a framework 
for clear and consistent consequences for their actions. Although 
certain offenses are dealt with more severely than others, the FSA 
provides for a maximum of three offenses. The penalty for a third 
offense, permanent disqualification, is the ultimate redress for repeat 
violators. The Department believes that it would be contrary to the Act 
to apply a shorter penalty or to allow a repeat offender a fourth 
opportunity to intentionally violate the Program simply because of the 
nature of the offense. Further, the 10-year penalty for duplicate 
participation and the 2-year penalty for the first finding involving 
controlled substances are intended to deter these more serious types of 
offenses. Thus, the Department intends that the 10-year and 2-year 
penalties be imposed whenever they apply, except when an earlier 
disqualification penalty was either as serious, more serious or the 
current violation is the individual's third. A permanent or higher 
disqualification would always take precedence over a lesser penalty. 
These decisions are reflected in Sec. 273.16(c) in this proposed rule.

[[Page 70935]]

Applicability of PRWORA Disqualification Penalties

    As previously discussed, sections 813, 814 and 820 of PRWORA 
amended Section 6 of the Act to either introduce a new or increase an 
existing disqualification penalty for committing an IPV. Questions have 
arisen as to whether these new penalties should be applied to all ADHs, 
court hearings, etc., held subsequent to enactment of the law 
(regardless of when the actual offense occurred) or only to those cases 
in which the actual offense occurred subsequent to State agency 
implementation of the new legislation.
    PRWORA set the date of enactment, August 22, 1996, as the effective 
date for these provisions of the law. As a result, State agencies 
needed to use their own discretion as to whether the new or increased 
penalties should apply to offenses that occurred prior to State agency 
implementation of the new legislation. It is therefore impractical for 
the Department to introduce standards on an issue for which action has 
already been taken.

Imposition of Disqualification Penalties--7 CFR 273.16(a), (e), (f), 
(g) and (h)

    The current regulations concerning the imposition of 
disqualification periods specify that, if the individual is not 
certified to participate in the FSP at the time the disqualification 
period is to begin, the period shall take effect immediately after the 
individual applies for and is determined eligible for benefits. A court 
finding (Garcia v. Concannon and Espy, 67 F. 3d 256 (1995)) in the 
Ninth Circuit has found that this interpretation is not consistent with 
Section 6(b)(1) of the Act (7 U.S.C. 2015(b)(1)). The Court found that 
an individual should be disqualified from the FSP immediately even 
though he/she may not be eligible to participate. The Department does 
not concur with this finding. However, to ensure nationwide consistency 
in this policy, the Department is proposing in this rule to require 
State agencies to impose a disqualification period for all IPV-related 
disqualifications as soon as administratively possible, regardless of 
eligibility. Under this proposal, a State agency would be required to 
begin the disqualification no later than the second month which follows 
the date the individual receives written notice of the 
disqualification.

Notification to Applicant Households--7 CFR 273.16(d)

    The current regulations at 7 CFR 273.16(d) specify that the 
household shall be notified in writing of the disqualification 
penalties when it applies for benefits. The Department is proposing, in 
Sec. 273.16(c)(10) of this rule, to retain this requirement. However, 
much of the prescriptive language would be removed.

Bases for Disqualification--7 CFR 273.16(e) through (h)

    Current regulations at 7 CFR 273.16 allow any one of the following 
four means as a basis for disqualification: (1) An ADH finding; (2) a 
signed waiver to the right of an ADH; (3) a finding by a court; and (4) 
a signed disqualification consent agreement for cases of deferred 
adjudication. The Department is proposing to retain these four bases 
with some streamlining revisions which are discussed elsewhere in this 
preamble. In addition, as part of the regulatory reorganization, these 
bases, currently found in 7 CFR 273.16(e), (f), (g) and (h), would be 
consolidated into one paragraph at Sec. 273.16(d).

Administrative Disqualification Hearings--7 CFR 273.16(e)

    The current regulations at 7 CFR 273.16(e)(1) discuss consolidating 
an ADH with a fair hearing. The consolidation of the two hearings would 
remain an option in Sec. 273.16(d)(1) in the proposed rule. In 
addition, the Department, in an effort to increase State agency 
flexibility, is proposing to remove prescriptive language from the 
current paragraph.
    The current regulations at 7 CFR 273.16(e)(2) discuss specific 
procedures for conducting the ADH. The Department is proposing in this 
rule to allow those State agencies which conduct ADHs to establish 
their own procedures. However, a time frame for reaching and notifying 
an individual of a hearing decision would still be maintained. The 
current time frame is within 90 days after the individual is notified 
that the hearing has been scheduled. Under this proposal, the time 
frame would be within 180 days after the discovery of the suspected 
violation or within 60 days of the date of the hearing, whichever is 
sooner.
    The current regulations at 7 CFR 273.16(e)(3) discuss the advance 
notice of the ADH. The Department is proposing to remove redundant and 
overly prescriptive language. The remaining language would be found in 
Sec. 273.16(d)(1) in this proposed rule.
    The current regulations at 7 CFR 273.16(e)(4), which discuss the 
scheduling of the hearing and what constitutes timely good cause for 
not attending the hearing, would be removed under the proposed rule. 
This would provide a State agency with more flexibility and the ability 
to determine its own good cause criteria, if any. In addition, all but 
the first sentence of paragraph 7 CFR 273.16(e)(5) would be eliminated. 
The paragraph containing the remaining language stating that a pending 
ADH or a pending ADH decision would not affect an individual or 
household's right to participate in the FSP would be contained in 
Sec. 273.16(d) of the proposed rule.
    The current regulations at 7 CFR 273.16(e)(6) state that the 
determination of an IPV shall be based on clear and convincing 
evidence. The Department is not proposing to make any change to this 
evidentiary standard. However, this paragraph would be moved to 
Sec. 273.16(b) in the proposed rule.
    The Department is proposing in this rule to eliminate 7 CFR 
273.16(e)(7). This paragraph requires the hearing authority decision to 
specify the reasons, identify the supporting evidence, identify the 
pertinent regulation, and respond to reasoned arguments. The Department 
believes that these requirements need not be specified as they are 
required by due process.
    The current regulations at 7 CFR 273.16(e)(8) discuss the 
imposition of disqualification penalties and specify the individual's 
limited appeal rights of an ADH decision. The imposition of the 
disqualification periods is addressed in depth elsewhere in this 
preamble. The Department is proposing in this rule to reorganize the 
paragraph containing the individual's appeal rights of an ADH decision 
(7 CFR 273.16(e)(8)(ii)) into Sec. 273.16(d)(1).
    The current regulations at 7 CFR 273.16(e)(9) discuss notification 
of the ADH decision and related matters. The Department is proposing 
only to include language from this paragraph stating that the household 
is to receive written notification of the ADH decision and the 
impending disqualification.
    The current regulations at 7 CFR 273.16(e)(10) discuss local level 
ADHs. This proposal at Sec. 273.16(d)(1) would still allow local-level 
hearings. The Department is proposing to delete prescriptive language 
from this section. In addition, the Department would like to clarify 
that either the affected individual or local agency may appeal a local-
level decision to a State-level hearing. This is reflected in 
Sec. 273.16(d)(1)(vii) of this proposed rule.

Waived ADH--7 CFR 273.16(f)

    The current introductory text at 7 CFR 273.16(f) provides the State 
agencies with the option of establishing procedures for allowing an 
accused

[[Page 70936]]

individual to waive his/her right to an ADH. The Department is not 
proposing any significant policy revisions in this area. However, under 
this proposal, the introductory text would be designated as its own 
paragraph at Sec. 273.16(d)(2).
    Current regulations at 7 CFR 273.16(f)(1) discuss procedures for 
advance notification. The proposed rule, in Sec. 273.16(d)(2), would 
require that each State agency develop its own waiver form and provide 
the individual written notification. In addition, the waiver/written 
notification must clearly inform the affected individual that, once the 
form is signed, he/she would be disqualified from the Program.
    The current regulations at 7 CFR 273.16(f)(2) discuss the 
imposition of disqualification penalties and the individual's limited 
appeal rights after he/she signs the waiver. The imposition of the 
disqualification periods is addressed in depth elsewhere in this 
preamble. The Department is proposing in this rule to reorganize the 
paragraph containing the individual's limited appeal rights of an ADH 
decision (7 CFR 273.16(f)(2)(ii) into Sec. 273.16(d)(2)).
    The current regulations at 7 CFR 273.16(f)(3) discuss notification 
of disqualification and related matters. The Department is proposing 
only to include a statement that the individual is to receive written 
notification of the impending disqualification. This revision would be 
incorporated into Sec. 273.16(c)(11) in this proposed rule.
    The current regulations at 7 CFR 273.16(f)(4) discuss waivers of a 
local level hearing. As part of the streamlining effort, the Department 
is proposing to remove this paragraph to increase State agency 
flexibility. However, a State agency would still be able to have a 
local-level waiver process under the proposed rule.

Court Referrals--7 CFR 273.16(g)

    The current regulations at 7 CFR 273.16(g) discuss referring 
suspected IPV cases for prosecution by a court of appropriate 
jurisdiction. The Department, as part of its effort to increase State 
agency flexibility, is proposing to remove prescriptive language from 
this paragraph. The proposed rule, in Sec. 273.16(d)(3), would provide 
for court referrals as a mechanism for determining an IPV. The only 
requirement, in addition to a State agency establishing its own 
procedures, would be the actions the State agency must take when the 
court fails to impose a disqualification period. This requirement, 
proposed in Sec. 273.16(c)(7), would be the same as current FNS policy.

Deferred Adjudication--7 CFR 273.16(h)

    The introductory text at 7 CFR 273.16(h) in the current regulations 
provides a State agency with the option to establish procedures for 
allowing an accused individual to sign a disqualification consent 
agreement for cases of deferred adjudication. The Department is not 
proposing any significant policy revisions in this area. However, the 
introductory text, as part of the regulatory reorganization effort, 
would be condensed and designated as its own paragraph under 
Sec. 273.16(d)(4) in this rule.
    The current regulations at 7 CFR 273.16(h)(1) discuss a number of 
requirements pertaining to deferred adjudication, such as notification 
and the disqualification consent agreement. The Department is proposing 
in this rule to remove prescriptive language from the regulations. The 
proposed rule, at Sec. 273.16(d)(4), would require the State agency to 
develop its own disqualification agreement form and provide the 
individual written notification of the consequences surrounding 
deferred adjudication.
    The current regulations at 7 CFR 273.16(h)(2) discuss the 
imposition of disqualification penalties. This is addressed in detail 
elsewhere in this preamble and would be consolidated into 
Sec. 273.16(c)(11) in the proposed rule.
    The current regulations at 7 CFR 273.16(h)(3) discuss notifying the 
individual of the impending disqualification and related matters 
including notifying the household and initiating collection action. The 
Department is proposing only to include a statement that the household 
is to receive written notification of the impending disqualification. 
This revision would be incorporated into Sec. 273.16(d)(1) in this 
proposed rule.

Conducting Both Court Referrals and ADHs

    The current regulations at 7 CFR 273.16(a)(1) prohibit a State 
agency from initiating an ADH against an individual, ``. . . whose case 
is currently being referred for prosecution or subsequent to any action 
taken against the accused individual by the prosecutor or court of 
appropriate jurisdiction. . . .'' However, the current regulations at 7 
CFR 273.16(e)(3)(iii)(H) appear to contradict this paragraph by stating 
that an advance notice of an ADH shall contain language indicating that 
``. . . the hearing does not preclude the State or Federal Government 
from prosecuting the household member for intentional Program violation 
in a civil or criminal court action.'' In an effort to eliminate this 
inconsistency while allowing greater State agency flexibility and 
increasing the likelihood that violators would receive the appropriate 
disqualification, the Department is proposing to change the policy at 7 
CFR 273.16(a)(1).
    The proposal, found in Sec. 273.16(d)(5) of this rule, would 
specify that a State agency may: (1) simultaneously begin and/or 
conduct an ADH and court action and may proceed with a court action 
whether or not a violation has been determined by the ADH; and (2) 
conduct and make a determination based on an ADH for any case for which 
the court has not already returned a verdict. The Department feels that 
allowing the transpiration of both activities would not constitute 
double jeopardy since one action is administrative while the other 
action is judicial.

Reporting Requirements--7 CFR 273.16(i)

    State agencies are required by 7 CFR 273.16(i) to report 
information about disqualified individuals to FNS. Outside of changes 
necessitated by the Garcia v. Concannon and Espy decision and the 
Departmental streamlining effort, policy interpretations and changes in 
this area will be addressed and proposed under a separate rulemaking.

Reversed Disqualifications--7 CFR 273.16(j)

    Current regulations at 7 CFR 273.16(j) discuss actions to be taken 
by the State agency on reversed disqualifications. The Department is 
not proposing any change in this area other than to redesignate the 
paragraph as Sec. 273.16(f).

7 CFR 273.25--Time Limit for Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents

    Section 824 of P RWORA amended Section 6 of the Act by adding a new 
section (o) that limits the receipt of food stamps for certain able-
bodied adults to three months in a three-year period unless the 
individual is working or participating in a work program 20 hours per 
week, or is participating in a workfare program. Individuals can regain 
eligibility, and may receive an additional three months of food stamps 
while not working in certain circumstances. Amended Section 6(o) 
creates some exceptions, and receiving food stamps while exempt does 
not count towards an individual's time limit. In recognition that it 
may be difficult for individuals to find work in depressed labor 
markets, the statute authorizes waivers for individuals in areas in 
which the unemployment rate

[[Page 70937]]

is above ten percent, or where there is a lack of sufficient jobs.
    The time limit is complex and raises many issues. In order to 
simplify the analysis, the preamble and regulatory language are 
organized as follows: general rule, exceptions, regaining and 
maintaining eligibility, eligibility for the second three countable 
months, and waivers. In developing this proposed rule, the Department 
has attempted to balance the competing goals of ensuring consistent 
national application of these requirements, and providing State 
agencies with appropriate implementation flexibility, to implement this 
provision. The Department is especially interested in comments on this 
balance, as well as on the practical implications of the proposed 
rule's provisions. Because there are many requirements that apply only 
to the time limit, the Department is proposing to codify this provision 
in a new regulatory section--7 CFR 273.25.

General Rule

    Under the time limit of Section 6(o), individuals are not eligible 
to participate in the Food Stamp Program as a member of any household 
if the individual received food stamps for more than three countable 
months during any three-year period. Individuals may regain eligibility 
or may be eligible for up to three additional countable months under 
certain circumstances. ``Countable months'' are months during which an 
individual receives food stamps and is not either exempt, covered by a 
waiver, working 20 hours per week, participating in and complying with 
a work program 20 hours per week (as determined by the State agency), 
or participating in and complying with a workfare program. As discussed 
below in the context of measuring and tracking the months, the 
Department is proposing that only full benefit months be considered 
``countable months.'' The provision also specifies that nothing in 
Section 824 makes an individual eligible for food stamps if he or she 
is not otherwise eligible for benefits. Therefore, in the discussion 
below, a statement that someone is ``eligible'' simply means that the 
person is eligible under the time limit. The person must still be 
otherwise eligible for the Food Stamp Program in order to receive 
benefits.
    This general rule raises four fundamental issues: what will satisfy 
the work requirement, how will the time (three months and three years) 
be tracked, what will count as receiving food stamps, and what are the 
other administrative requirements (e.g., verification and reporting) 
that are triggered by this provision? These issues are discussed below. 
The exceptions are discussed separately.

Satisfying the Work Requirement

    Section 6(o) limits the receipt of food stamps for certain able-
bodied adults who are not either: working 20 hours per week (averaged 
monthly), participating in and complying with a work program 20 hours 
per week (as determined by the State agency), or participating in and 
complying with a workfare program. These options (working or 
participating in a work program 20 hours per week or participating in 
workfare) will be referred to as the ``work requirement.'' As long as 
an individual is satisfying the work requirement (or is exempt or 
covered by a waiver), the individual's participation is not counted, 
and the individual can participate as long as he or she is otherwise 
eligible. Issues involving the ways that an individual can satisfy the 
work requirement are discussed separately below.
    The first issue that arises in this context is what is meant by 
``20 hours a week averaged monthly?'' The plain meaning of ``averaged 
monthly'' means averaged over the month. The month of February has 28 
days, or four weeks. In this case, 20 hours a week averaged monthly 
would be 80 hours (20  x  4 = 80). However, the month of March has 31 
days, or approximately 4 and a half weeks. If we were to take into 
consideration the additional 3 days, twenty hours a week averaged 
monthly would equal more than 80 hours. The Department believes that it 
would be administratively difficult for the State agency to calculate a 
different number of hours for each month according to how many days 
there are in the pertinent month. Also, the Department believes that it 
should not require an individual to work more than 80 hours to maintain 
eligibility while to regain eligibility an individual only has to work 
80 hours in a 30 day period. Therefore, the Department is proposing 
that ``20 hours a week averaged monthly'' mean 80 hours a month.
    An individual can satisfy the work requirement by ``working'' 20 
hours or more per week, averaged monthly. One issue that arises in this 
context is whether the ``work'' has to be paid work (or paid at any 
particular level). Neither the statutory language nor the legislative 
history requires that individuals receive money in exchange for work in 
order to satisfy this requirement. An individual who is being paid in 
kind (for example, someone managing an apartment complex in exchange 
for free rent), is clearly ``working,'' and should be considered as 
such. But the question about whether unpaid work will qualify as 
``working'' is less clear. The Department recognizes that it may be 
difficult for individuals with few job skills or no significant job 
history to obtain paid employment. In some cases, volunteer work may be 
the only way for these individuals to obtain needed job skills and a 
job history to make them more employable. Allowing volunteer work to 
count as work raises some concerns about verification and the potential 
for abuse. In order to balance these competing concerns, the Department 
is proposing a definition of ``work'' that specifically includes unpaid 
work under standards established by the State agency. It is the 
Department's intent that volunteer work will be allowed to satisfy the 
work requirement, and that State agencies shall verify it the same way 
they verify paid work. Work in exchange for goods or services (``in 
kind'' work) is not to be considered ``unpaid'' work for these 
purposes.
    Another issue that arises in this context is how much work will 
satisfy the work requirement, and how to handle situations in which 
someone normally meeting the work requirement falls somewhat short. The 
statutory language requires someone to work ``20 hours per week, 
averaged monthly.'' However, the Department recognizes that there may 
be cases in which an individual usually works 20 hours per week, but 
because of an emergency or other ``good cause,'' the individual falls 
short of the required number of hours. In part-time employment, workers 
are often not able to make up for lost hours. Someone who misses a day 
of work (or even a few hours) because of a family illness or other 
emergency could lose food stamp benefits for the month if he or she 
could not make up the hours. (As discussed later, someone who misses 
work because of his or her own illness may be exempt under the 
``medically certified as physically or mentally unfit for employment'' 
exception.)
    The Department believes that such a narrow interpretation of the 
requirement that an individual work 20 hours per week ignores the 
realities of working life and goes beyond the intent of the provision 
to require able-bodied adults to work in order to receive food stamp 
benefits. In addition, participants who are satisfying the work 
requirement by participating in a work program are already covered by a 
good cause provision in 7 CFR 273.7(m). A policy that includes some 
practical flexibility for individuals who are participating in a work 
program, but not for those who

[[Page 70938]]

are working could discourage individuals from electing to satisfy the 
requirement by working. Therefore, the Department is proposing that 
someone who has missed work for good cause (as determined by the State 
agency) will be considered to be satisfying the work requirement as 
long as the absence from work is temporary, and the individual retains 
his or her job. Beyond these basic limits, the Department believes that 
State agencies are in a better position to identify situations where 
the good cause provision would be appropriate. The Department intends 
for this good cause provision to be used sparingly, and only in 
circumstances under which the individual would normally be granted 
leave or time off, or when the absence would not jeopardize the 
individual's employment status. The Department believes that this 
proposal reasonably balances the reality of working life with Congress' 
intent to make food stamp recipients who can work, work.
    The second way an individual can satisfy the work requirement is by 
participating in and complying with a work program for 20 hours per 
week, as determined by the State agency. (The definition of ``work 
program'' makes reference to the Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA) 
(29 U.S.C. 1501, et seq). However, the Section 199A(c) of the Workforce 
Investment Act (WIA) of 1998 (Pub. L. 105-220) provides that all 
references in any other provision of law to a provision of the Job 
Training Partnership Act shall be deemed to refer to the Workforce 
Investment Act of 1998. Therefore in this preamble and in the 
regulation text any reference to JTPA has been replaced by WIA). ``Work 
program'' is defined by the statute to mean a program under the 
Workforce Investment Act of 1998 (29 U.S.C. 1501, et seq.)); a program 
under section 236 of the Trade Act of 1974 (19 U.S.C. 2296); or an 
employment and training program, other than a job search or job search 
training program, operated or supervised by a State or political 
subdivision of the State that meets standards approved by the Governor 
of the State. As specified in the statutory language, the State agency 
may determine whether and when an individual has participated in and 
complied with a work program for 20 hours per week. Existing 
regulations at 7 CFR 273.7 address issues that arise in this context 
(e.g., whether the individual has ``good cause'' for failing to meet 
the requirements of the work program), and the Department does not 
propose to change any of those regulations in this rulemaking. Only 
three issues are raised that are unique to this time limit: whether a 
program must be approved by FNS in order to qualify as a ``work 
program,'' whether an individual can combine work and participation in 
a work program to meet the 20 hour per week requirement, and whether 
the employment and training program can contain job search as a 
subsidiary component.
    The statutory language does not require that a qualifying work 
program be an FNS Employment and Training (E&T) program under 7 CFR 
273.7(f). Section 6(o) only requires that a qualifying work program not 
be a job search or job search training program, and that it meet 
standards approved by the Governor of the State. While the Department 
believes that it would be appropriate for FNS to review programs that 
States are proposing to operate as work programs, it also believes it 
would be administratively burdensome to do so, especially since FNS 
already reviews and approves FNS E&T programs through the state plan 
process. Therefore, the Department is not proposing that these plans be 
reviewed and approved by FNS, but is cautioning State agencies to 
scrutinize these programs carefully so that they are not later 
determined through the quality control process not to meet the 
requirements of the statute.
    The second issue raised in this context is whether the work program 
can contain job search as a subsidiary component. The Department 
realizes that there are work programs that may include some job search 
activity and it does not want the minor activity (such as job search) 
to invalidate the bulk of the component (such as education). Therefore, 
the Department is proposing that a qualifying work program may contain 
job search as a subsidiary component but that the program must 
emphasize the component that satisfies the work requirement and that 
the job search activity be less than half of the requirement.
    With respect to the question of whether work and work program hours 
can be combined to meet the 20 hour per week requirement, the 
Department believes allowing an individual to combine these hours would 
be consistent with the intent of the provision. The Department has 
therefore proposed to allow a combination of work and participation in 
a work program to satisfy the 20 hour per week requirement.

Measuring and Tracking Time

    Within the context of the general rule that an individual can 
participate for three (countable) months during a three year period, 
there are two time elements that must be tracked: the three months of 
participation, and the three-year period. (In order to regain 
eligibility, the statute introduces a third measure of time--``a 30-day 
period''--which will be discussed later.) The Department believes that 
State agencies should have maximum flexibility to measure and track 
these time periods, and so is proposing only a few requirements in this 
area.
    With respect to the basic three months of participation, the 
statute provides specifically that the months do not have to be 
consecutive months. An individual could use one ``countable'' month, go 
off of the Food Stamp Program for a few months (those months are not 
counted because the individual is not receiving food stamps), and then 
use another countable month. This example holds true even if the 
individual was not participating because of a sanction. For example, if 
an individual uses one countable month, and then gets a job that he or 
she quits without good cause, he or she is ineligible under the 
voluntary quit provision of 7 CFR 273.7(n) for six months. Six months 
later, after the sanction has expired, the individual can use another 
countable month if he or she is otherwise eligible. An individual could 
also use one countable month, work 20 hours per week for a few months 
(those months are not counted because the individual is satisfying the 
work requirement), and then use another countable month. The fact that 
the first three countable months do not have to be consecutive is 
significant because the statutory language requires that the second 
three countable months be consecutive. (Eligibility for the second 
three countable months is discussed below.)
    The only other substantial issue to address in the context of 
measuring the basic three months of participation is whether to count 
partial months. To count a partial month of benefits as a ``month'' 
would penalize individuals who applied toward the end of the month. It 
could also result in someone getting substantially less than three full 
benefit months if the individual comes on and off the Food Stamp 
Program as he or she gets work and then loses it. Counting only full 
benefit months will also be much easier for States to administer. 
Therefore, as mentioned earlier, the Department is proposing that 
partial months, i.e., months in which benefits were prorated, not be 
considered ``countable months.'' These proposals involve measuring the 
basic three countable months; State agencies

[[Page 70939]]

can track these months as they deem appropriate.
    The second time period that must be measured (and possibly tracked) 
is the three-year period. Section 6(o) of the Act provides that 
individuals generally are limited to receiving food stamps for three 
countable months in a three-year period. Issues that arise in this 
context are whether the period will be ``rolling'' or ``fixed,'' when 
the period starts, and what the three-year period cannot include. The 
Department believes that a clarification will help explain the issues 
and options discussed below. Conceptually, the three-year period is a 
background against which an individual's countable months are measured. 
Therefore, unlike the ``countable months,'' which start and stop as 
appropriate, the three-year period is a continuous period. Within the 
few parameters discussed below, the Department proposes to give State 
agencies maximum flexibility to track the three-year period as they 
deem appropriate, given their choices as to how to measure the period, 
their computer systems' tracking abilities, etc.
    The language of Section 6(o) provides that an individual is 
ineligible if, ``during the preceding 36-month period,'' (emphasis 
added), the individual participates for more than three countable 
months. There are two basic ways a State agency could measure or track 
the three-year period: as a ``fixed'' or a ``rolling'' period. A fixed 
period has a definite start and stop date; it starts on a given date, 
runs continuously for three years, stops exactly three years later, and 
then a new fixed three-year period starts. Under a fixed period 
approach, when a new three-year period starts, a participant's slate is 
``wiped clean,'' and he or she can be eligible for another three 
countable months. A rolling period does not have definite start or stop 
dates; using a rolling period, the eligibility worker always ``looks 
back'' three years from the date of application (but not beyond the 
notification date or November 22, 1996, as discussed below) and keeps 
looking back three years each ensuing month. Under the rolling period 
approach, a participant must wait three years between a total of three 
countable months.
    The following example illustrates the different approaches. The 
State agency notified recipients of this provision on November 22, 1996 
that it is using a fixed three-year period beginning November 22, 1996 
and ending November 21, 1999. Mary, a food stamp recipient, gave birth 
to a baby in November, 1996. Mary's three-year clock started on 
November 22, but because she had a baby she was exempt from the time 
limit. On April 30, 1999, Mary's baby (now almost three years old) 
moves in with the baby's father, causing Mary to lose her exemption 
from this provision. Mary reports this change to her eligibility 
worker, and because she is no longer exempt, not covered by a waiver, 
and not satisfying the work requirement, she uses up her first three 
countable months in May, June, and July, 1999. In August, 1999, Mary 
gets a job and works 80 hours, regaining her eligibility as explained 
below. When Mary loses her job at the end of August and returns to her 
food stamp office on September 1, she gets her second three countable 
months (also explained below) for September, October, and November, 
1999. On December 1, 1999, Mary has still not found a job. Under a 
fixed approach, Mary's three-year period ran from November 22, 1996 to 
November 21, 1999. On November 22, 1999, Mary started a new three-year 
period. If she is otherwise eligible, Mary can receive three countable 
months of food stamps for December (1999), January, and February, 2000.
    Under a rolling approach, on December 1, 1999, Mary's eligibility 
worker will look back three years to December 1, 1996 to see if Mary 
has used all of her allowable countable months. Mary's worker will find 
all of Mary's allowable countable months from May through November, 
1999, so Mary will not be eligible until she becomes exempt, covered by 
a waiver, or until three years have elapsed between a total of three 
countable months. Assuming she is not exempt, covered by a waiver, or 
satisfying the work requirement, Mary will begin to be eligible in 
June, 2002, as the May, 1999 countable month drops off of the rolling 
period.
    How can Mary be eligible in June 2002 when in fact Mary's 
eligibility worker will look back and see that Mary still has used five 
countable months (May dropped off the calendar, but Mary still received 
food stamps in June and July, and September, October and November 
1999)? The law says, ``no individual shall be eligible * * * if, during 
the preceding 36-month period, the individual received food stamp 
benefits for not less than 3 months (consecutive or otherwise)'' during 
which he did not fulfill the work requirement, was exempt or covered by 
a waiver. The law also provides individuals the opportunity to receive 
an additional 3 months of food stamps if he regains eligibility by 
working 80 hours in a 30 day period. Therefore, the law actually 
provides an individual the opportunity to receive a total of 6 months 
of food stamps in a three-year period if the two periods are 
interrupted by a period of work. Given this ambiguity, the Department 
believes it is appropriate to allow the State agency to issue benefits 
to an individual who has used up his/her countable months, three years 
after receiving his/her first countable months benefits. Therefore, 
under the rolling period, as the first 3 (consecutive or otherwise) 
month period falls off the calendar, the individual can become eligible 
for another 3 (consecutive or otherwise) month period. In the example 
above, Mary will become eligible for her first three (consecutive or 
otherwise) months again in June 2002 as May 1999 falls off the 
calendar. She will only become eligible for her second three 
(consecutive) months in October 2002 as September 1999 falls off the 
calendar.
    Under either the fixed or rolling approach, the outcome is the 
same; individuals who are not either exempt, covered by a waiver, or 
satisfying the work requirement will not receive food stamps for more 
than three months (six, under circumstances discussed below) in three 
years. Neither the statutory language nor the legislative history 
specifically address how to measure or track the three-year period. If 
the statutory language had referred to the preceding ``36 months,'' 
rather than the ``36-month period'' as it did, there would be no 
ambiguity, and State agencies could only measure the period as a 
``rolling'' period. Allowing the use of a ``fixed'' period will not 
increase Program costs, it would be consistent with the provision's 
intent, and would be easier for many State agencies to administer. 
Given these factors and the ambiguity in the statutory language and 
legislative history, the Department believes it is appropriate to allow 
State agencies to choose either approach, and is proposing to do so. 
However, under the proposal, the State agency must apply its procedures 
consistently, and make sure that participants who are similarly 
situated are treated the same.
    Under a fixed approach, there are a few areas where the State 
agency will have additional flexibility. The State agency can elect to 
administer separate three-year periods for individuals, or it can use 
the same three-year period for everyone. If the State uses individual-
based periods, for non-exempt individuals, the periods would start on 
the date of application (but, as discussed below, not before the 
earlier of November 22, 1996, or the date the state notified recipients 
of this provision). For someone who is exempt from the provision, the 
State agency can

[[Page 70940]]

either start the three-year period at the date of application (so that 
the period runs during the period of exemption) or on the date the 
individual's exemption is removed. The State could also choose to use 
the same three-year period for everyone. As in the example above, the 
State had the same three year clock for everyone, regardless of when 
they applied or lost their exemption, which ran from November 22, 1996 
through November 21, 1999. On November 22, 1999, everyone's slate is 
wiped clean and a new three year clock begins. Under either approach, 
non-exempt individuals who are not satisfying the work requirement will 
only get food stamps for three months in three years. The Department 
believes that the added flexibility of determining how to track a fixed 
three-year period will be useful to State agencies, who can develop 
tracking policies to suit their computer systems, other welfare reform 
initiatives, etc.
    There is one important limitation on the three-year period which 
applies under both a fixed and a rolling approach. The statute mandates 
that the three-year period shall not include any time before the date 
the State notifies recipients of the application of this provision (the 
``notification date''), or November 22, 1996 (the date that was three 
months after the date of enactment of the PRWORA), whichever is 
earlier. Therefore, if the State agency chooses a fixed three-year 
period, the start date cannot be before November 22, 1996, or the 
notification date, whichever was earlier. If the State agency elects to 
use a rolling three-year period, it cannot look back beyond either 
November 22, 1996, or the notification date, whichever was earlier. The 
proposed rule includes this limitation.

What Counts as ``Receiving'' Food Stamps?

    Section 6(o) of the Act, subsequent to amendment by Section 824 of 
PRWORA makes individuals ineligible for food stamps if during the 
preceding 36-month period, the individual ``received food stamp 
benefits'' for more than three months during which time the individual 
was not either exempt, covered under a waiver, or satisfying the Food 
Stamp Program work requirement. An individual's participation in a 
particular month does not count toward the time limit unless he or she 
actually received some food stamps during that month. The statute does 
not require that the individual actually use his or her benefits in 
order for a month to be counted; it just requires that he or she 
receive them. The only significant issue that the Department must 
address in this context is how to handle a situation in which an 
individual was certified in error. As discussed below, the Department 
is proposing that when an individual is certified in error, the stamps 
be considered to have been ``received'' unless the erroneous benefits 
have been repaid.
    In a situation in which an individual was mistakenly certified 
(e.g., a work sanction was incorrectly applied), the clear language of 
the statute would require that the month be counted because the 
individual received food stamps. Once a claim is established and the 
overissued benefits are repaid in full, counting the erroneously issued 
benefits as having been received would be inappropriate. A policy that 
ignores the actual receipt of food stamps based on the possibility that 
they might be repaid would be inconsistent with the intent of the 
provision and the statutory language. A policy that did not count 
erroneously issued benefits as having been ``received'' would be 
inconsistent with efforts to discourage clients from misrepresenting 
their circumstances. However, the Department recognizes the 
administrative complexity involved, and is therefore proposing that the 
State agencies may opt to treat benefits erroneously received as having 
been ``received'' unless or until they are repaid in full.

Administrative Requirements

    The statutory language and legislative history are silent as to 
verification and reporting requirements, and how the income and 
resources of someone made ineligible by this provision should be 
handled for the rest of the household.
    The statutory language of Section 6(o) is very specific as to the 
number of hours required to be worked in order to satisfy the work 
requirement (``20 hours per week, averaged monthly''). Because 
eligibility can hinge on the actual number of hours worked, the 
Department believes that it is necessary to verify an individual's work 
hours when that individual is meeting the requirement of this provision 
by working. None of the current mandatory verification items at 7 CFR 
273.2(f)(1) would capture all work situations. Income must be verified, 
so paid work hours would probably be captured as part of the 
verification of income. But the Department is proposing to allow unpaid 
or ``in-kind'' work to satisfy the work requirement, and those items 
would not be captured in the verification of a household's income. 
Because the accurate assessment of an individual's work hours is 
crucial (both at initial certification and recertification) to the 
eligibility determination, the Department is proposing to make 
verification of work hours mandatory at certification and 
recertification for certain individuals who are subject to the time 
limit. The State agency should have information as to an individual's 
work hours if the individual is satisfying the work requirement by 
participating in a state-operated work or workfare program. Therefore, 
additional verification of work hours will not be necessary in those 
circumstances. However, the State agency may not have information about 
an individual's work hours if the individual is participating in a work 
or workfare program that is not operated by the State agency. The 
Department is therefore proposing that the verification requirement 
apply to individuals subject to the food stamp time limit who are 
satisfying the work requirement by working, or by combining work and 
work program participation, or by participating in a work or workfare 
program that is not operated or supervised by the State agency.
    One other verification issue is raised when an individual indicates 
that he/she has participated in the food stamp program in another 
State. Though no national database exists now that would capture the 
number of ``countable months'' each participant has used, the 
Department is in the process of exploring the feasibility of designing 
one. In the meantime, the Department believes that it is not overly 
burdensome to require State agencies to check other States for the 
number of ``countable months'' an individual has used when the 
individual indicates that he/she has participated in those other 
states. Such a policy is consistent with Food Stamp procedures that 
require State agencies to verify anything that appears 
``questionable.'' The Department does not believe, however, that it 
would make sense to require the new State to perform an independent 
analysis to determine how many countable months the individual has 
used. Therefore, the Department is proposing to allow a State agency to 
rely on another State agency's assertion as to how many countable 
months an individual has used. Verification of the number of countable 
months an individual has used in another State is not necessary at 
recertification, so the Department is proposing to make it mandatory 
only at initial certification (and when there is an indication that the 
individual participated in another state). To codify these policies, 
the Department is proposing to amend regulations at 7 CFR 273.2(f)(1) 
and 273.2(f)(8) to add

[[Page 70941]]

the new mandatory verification requirements.
    As discussed above, the number of hours an individual works is 
crucial to the eligibility determination for most individuals subject 
to the time limit and satisfying the work requirement. None of the 
current requirements for reporting changes that occur during a 
certification period would necessarily capture changes in an 
individual's work hours. Because the Department is proposing to allow 
unpaid or ``in-kind'' work to satisfy the work requirement, reporting 
changes in income will not necessarily capture changes in the number of 
work hours. As part of its flexible approach to change reporting, the 
Department published a proposed rule on December 17, 1996 (61 FR 
66233), which would provide State agencies with options for requiring 
changes to be reported. One of the options would require a change 
report when the number of hours worked changed more than 5 hours a 
week, and the change is expected to continue for more than a month. 
Even this requirement will not capture a small change in the number of 
hours worked, which could affect eligibility. The Department believes 
that because hours worked are so critical to the eligibility 
determination for individuals subject to the time limit, it must 
require that changes in work hours be reported. Therefore, the 
Department is proposing to require that individuals subject to the time 
limit must report changes in work hours that bring the individual below 
20 hours per week, averaged monthly. The Department is proposing to 
amend 7 CFR 273.12(a)(1) accordingly.
    Another reporting issue is whether or not a household must report 
when an able-bodied adult without dependents obtains or loses 
employment, thus becoming eligible or ineligible. For example, if an 
individual is ineligible because he/she has used up his/her countable 
months, and then gets a job and works 80 hours in a 30 day period, he/
she becomes eligible. The regulations at 273.12(a) require that a 
household report changes in the source or amount of gross monthly 
income and changes in household composition such as the addition or 
loss of a household member. Policy memo 86-7 further addresses this 
issue and states that households are required to report changes during 
the certification period which affect the nonhousehold status of 
members, for example, when a full-time student quits college or 
increases part-time employment from 15 hours to 20 hours a week, or a 
household member marries a live-in attendant or begins to purchase and 
prepare food with a nonhousehold member. A household must report these 
changes because they may affect the household's eligibility or 
allotment. Therefore, as the regulations and current policy already 
address this issue, the Department is not proposing additional 
household composition reporting requirements specific to able-bodied 
adult without dependents.
    Another issue that arises in this context is how to handle an 
unreported job. Section 6(o)(2)(A) of the Act provides that an 
individual's participation counts toward the time limit during times 
when the individual ``did not work 20 hours or more per week.* * *'' If 
an individual was working 20 hours per week but did not report the job, 
the individual may have received benefits erroneously (or a higher 
allotment that he or she should have received), but the individual was 
working 20 hours per week, and so the participation should not count 
toward the time limit. Existing policy would require that when an 
unreported job is discovered, the State agency must count the 
unreported income, recalculate the household's eligibility and benefit 
level, and establish claims as appropriate. But the State agency must 
also consider the individual to have been ``working,'' and so not count 
those months of participation if the work requirement was being 
satisfied with an unreported job. The Department has incorporated this 
policy into its proposal.
    The final administrative issue is the treatment of an ineligible 
individual's income and resources. In other contexts, the Department 
handles the nonhousehold member's income and resources in one of three 
ways. The income and resources of the nonhousehold member are either 
counted in full as available to the household, excluded from those of 
the household except to the extent that they are actually contributed 
to, or jointly owned by, eligible household members, or a pro rata 
share of the individual's income and all of the individual's resources 
are counted as available to the household. The Department recognizes 
that most of these individuals will not have much income or resources. 
However, if the ineligible able-bodied adult without dependents is 
purchasing and preparing food with the remaining members of the 
household, what little income he/she has should be counted at least in 
part as available to the household and the resources be counted in 
full. To count all of the income as available to the household would be 
more punitive than necessary. Therefore, the Department is proposing 
that the income and resources of someone made ineligible under this 
provision be handled according to Sec. 273.11(c)(2); The resources of 
the ineligible able-bodied adult without dependents shall count in 
their entirety and a pro rata share of the income shall be counted as 
income to the remaining members. The remaining provisions of 
273.11(c)(2) concerning deductible expenses and eligibility and benefit 
levels will also apply. In order to codify this policy, the Department 
is proposing a technical amendment to 273.1(b); section 273.11(c)(2) 
does not need to be amended.

Exemptions

    Section 6(o) of the Act exempts from the otherwise generally 
applicable statutory time limit individuals who are: (1) under 18 or 
over 50 years of age; (2) medically certified as physically or mentally 
unfit for employment; (3) a parent or other household member with 
responsibility for a dependent child; (4) exempt from work registration 
requirements under section 6(d)(2) of the Act; or (5) pregnant. Periods 
of participation in the Food Stamp Program while an individual is 
exempt are not counted toward the individual's three-month limit. 
Therefore, exempt individuals may participate in the Food Stamp Program 
for as long as they are otherwise eligible. Eligibility workers should 
set certification periods as appropriate for the exemption. Two of the 
exemptions (age and pregnancy) need minor clarification; two of the 
exemptions raise substantial issues (the ``unfit for employment'' and 
the ``household member with responsibility for a child'' exemptions). 
As elsewhere in this proposed rule, the Department is seeking a balance 
between consistency and State agency flexibility in the context of 
these exemptions.
    Section 6(o)(3)(A) of the Act exempts individuals who are ``under 
18 or over 50 years of age.'' The Department would like to clarify that 
someone is ``over 50 years of age'' on his or her 50th birthday. On 
that day, the individual starts his or her 51st year, and so is ``over 
50 years of age.'' Similarly, an individual loses the exemption on his 
or her 18th birthday. The provision also exempts pregnant women, and 
the Department would like to clarify that any trimester of pregnancy 
exempts a woman from this provision. However, to clarify and be 
consistent with the proposal to not count partial months, the 
Department is proposing that a month is not a countable month for able-
bodied adult without dependents purposes if the individual is exempt 
for part of the month. For example, if an individual turns 18 on 
September 5, he retains his exemption for September, and his first 
countable month is

[[Page 70942]]

October. Or if an individual turns 50 in September, he will be exempt 
for the entire month of September. The provision incorporates by 
reference the work registration exemptions from subsection 6(d)(2) of 
the Act. Regulations at 7 CFR 273.7(b) already implement those 
exemptions, so they will not be addressed further in this rulemaking.
    The Department would like to clarify that only those provisions of 
7 CFR 273.7(b) that implement the section 6(d)(2) exemptions are 
incorporated by reference as exemptions to this provision.

Medically Certified as Physically or Mentally Unfit for Employment

    Section 6(o)(3)(B) of the Act exempts individuals who are 
``medically certified as physically or mentally unfit for employment.'' 
Nothing in the legislative history of this provision provides guidance 
in defining either ``medically certified,'' or ``unfit for 
employment.'' In crafting this exemption, Congress did not use the term 
``disabled,'' which is defined in Section 3 of the Act, 7 U.S.C. 2012. 
Someone who is disabled as defined in the Act may be ``unfit for 
employment,'' but the language of this exemption is more broad. The 
concept of physical or mental ``fitness'' for employment, as 
distinguished from physical or mental ``disability,'' is found in the 
context of the work requirements that predate PRWORA. Section 
6(d)(1)(A) of the Act defines the work requirements for ``physically 
and mentally fit'' individuals (emphasis added). Regulations that 
implement this provision (at 7 CFR 273.7(b)(1)(ii)) exempt individuals 
who are ``unfit for employment.'' It would not make sense for Congress 
to have intended two different meanings of ``unfit for employment'' in 
the context of exemptions from food stamp work requirements. It appears 
that the only difference between the ``unfit for employment'' exemption 
in section 6(d)(1)(A) of the Act (as implemented in 7 CFR 
273.7(b)(1)(ii)) and the one in Section 6(o)(3)(B) of the Act is 
whether the condition is ``medically certified.''
    Regulations at 7 CFR 273.7(b)(1)(ii) do not define ``unfit for 
employment,'' but set out verification requirements if the 
``unfitness'' is not evident. Someone whose condition (and that the 
condition made him or her unfit for employment) was ``evident'' would 
not have to provide any verification in order to be entitled to the 
exemption. Under this rule, verification ``may consist of receipt of 
temporary or permanent disability benefits issued by governmental or 
private sources, or of a statement from a physician or licensed or 
certified psychologist.'' The receipt of disability benefits is 
indirect proof that there has been a medical certification of a 
condition making the recipient unfit for employment. A statement from a 
physician or licensed or certified psychologist is certainly a 
``medical certification.'' The Department believes that the 
verification requirement in this context is essentially a ``medical 
certification'' requirement. With no legislative history to indicate 
otherwise, the Department believes that it would not make sense to try 
to establish a new, separate definition of ``medically certified.'' The 
real distinction appears to be that under the work registration 
exemption, participants only have to furnish a medical certification if 
the condition (or its debilitating nature) is not evident. Section 
6(o)(3)(B) of the Act requires medical certification in all cases. The 
verification requirement in 7 CFR 273.7(b)(1)(ii) is a reasonable 
definition of what ``medically certified'' might mean. In addition, it 
would not make sense for an individual to be considered ``unfit for 
employment'' under 7 CFR 273.7(b)(1)(ii) after providing the requisite 
verification, but not be considered ``unfit for employment'' in this 
context, even after providing the same verification. For these reasons, 
the Department is proposing to incorporate the exemption in 7 CFR 
273.7(b)(1)(ii), as the ``unfit for employment'' exemption, except that 
the verification (medical certification) will be mandatory.

Parent or Other Household Member With Responsibility for a Dependent 
Child

    Section 6(o)(3)(C) of the Act exempts an individual who is ``a 
parent or other member of a household with responsibility for a 
dependent child.'' This exemption raises two issues: what is the age of 
the child that entitles certain household members to the exception; and 
assuming a qualifying ``child,'' which household members can qualify 
for the exemption.
    The Department is proposing that in this context ``child'' mean any 
individual under age 18. The Department has considered proposing a 
lower age, but could find no basis in the Act or the regulations for 
any qualifying age other than six. Section 6(d)(2) of the Act exempts 
parents or other household members responsible for the care of a child 
under age six from the work requirements that predate the PRWORA. 
However, as mentioned above, Section 6(o)(3)(D) of the Act exempts from 
its provisions anyone who is exempt under Section 6(d)(2) of the Act. 
Clearly Congress would not have created a separate exception in Section 
6(o)(3)(C) for parents or other household members with ``responsibility 
for a dependent child'' if it intended that the ``child'' be under age 
six. Without any legislative history on the issue, or any other 
statutory or regulatory basis, the Department believes that selecting 
an age other than that of majority would be arbitrary. The Department 
also believes that this is one area in which consistency is important, 
and so is proposing to consider anyone under age 18 a ``child'' for 
these purposes.
    The statutory language exempts any parent of a child household 
member. Therefore, if a food stamp household consists of two parents 
and a child, the child is exempt as being under 18, and both parents 
are exempt under the ``parent'' exemption. As in other contexts, the 
Department is proposing to include adoptive and stepparents in the 
definition of ``parent.''
    The provision also exempts an individual who is not a parent, but 
who is a member of the household ``with responsibility for'' a child. 
The Department recognizes that there will be many situations in which 
non-parent adults have responsibilities for child household members. A 
grandparent may provide most of the financial support for the child, an 
unrelated household member may be the child's primary caretaker, etc. 
The statutory language did not limit the number of household members 
that could be exempted under this provision. The Department believes it 
would be administratively burdensome to require the State agency to 
evaluate the exemption on a case-by-case basis to determine whether an 
individual has ``responsibility'' for a dependent child. Accordingly, 
the Department is proposing that whenever there is a child under 18 in 
the household, no adult in the household would be subject to the work 
requirements.

Regaining and Maintaining Eligibility

    Section 6(o)(5) of the Act allows an individual who has ``used up'' 
his or her countable months to regain eligibility if, during a thirty-
day period, the individual works 80 or more hours, participates in and 
complies with a work program for 80 or more hours (as determined by the 
State agency), or participates in and complies with a workfare program. 
Someone who has regained eligibility under this provision may remain 
eligible as long as he or she continues to satisfy the work requirement 
(or is exempt or covered by a waiver). The terms ``work program''

[[Page 70943]]

and ``workfare'' have the same meaning as in the discussion of the 
general rule. The discussion as to what will qualify as ``work'' 
(volunteer or ``in kind'' work) is also applicable in this context, and 
the Department's proposal reflects that. The provision allowing 
individuals to regain eligibility raises three new issues: what is the 
``30-day period,'' whether the 80 hours of work or participation in a 
work program has to be completed before the individual can receive 
benefits, and whether the individual can regain eligibility more than 
once in a three-year period. The Department would also like to clarify 
that someone who becomes ineligible under the time limit, but later 
becomes exempt or covered by a waiver, does not have to regain 
eligibility under this provision (i.e., he or she does not have to work 
80 hours in a thirty-day period, etc.). He or she is exempt from the 
provision, and can begin or continue to receive benefits as long as the 
exemption or waiver lasts and the individual is otherwise eligible.
    The statutory language requires that the 80 hours of work, etc. be 
completed ``during a 30-day period.'' The provision does not specify 
that the work must be done during a calendar month, but it does imply 
that the thirty-day period be uninterrupted. To allow otherwise would 
distort the plain meaning of the language. The Department is therefore 
proposing to define ``30-day period'' as ``30 consecutive days.'' A 
second issue in the context of the thirty-day period is whether the 
thirty days has to immediately precede the date of reapplication. There 
is no requirement in the statutory language that the thirty-day period 
immediately precede the reapplication. Elsewhere in the provision, 
Congress specified reference to the ``preceding'' time period, and it 
certainly could have in this context if it had intended that the 80 
hours of work (or work program, etc.) be completed immediately prior to 
the reapplication. The Department is therefore proposing that someone 
can regain eligibility by working 80 hours, etc. during any 30 
consecutive days.
    When an individual applies for benefits and completes the ``cure'' 
for regaining eligibility during the application period by either 
working or participating in a work program, the Department is proposing 
to allow States the option of either providing benefits back to the 
date of application or prorating benefits from the date the cure is 
complete. For example, for an individual who uses up his or her three 
countable months, reapplies on December 1, but does not complete his or 
her 80 hours of work until the 15th of December, the State agency may 
either provide benefits back to December 1st , or prorate them from 
December 15th. However, the Department would like to stress that this 
proposed policy is for individuals regaining eligibility by working or 
participating and complying in a work program. An individual who 
regains eligibility by participating in and complying with workfare, 
and whose workfare obligation is based on an estimated monthly 
allotment prorated to the date of application, then the allotment 
issued must be prorated back to this date. Section 20 of the Act, 7 
U.S.C. 2029, is clear that food stamps are compensation for work 
performed in a workfare program. For example, if an individual has used 
up his first three months, then applies for food stamps, and is 
assigned to a workfare slot prior to determination of eligibility, and 
he then completes his workfare obligation within 30 days, his benefits 
shall be calculated to the date of application. The Department believes 
that this interpretation is the only one consistent with the Act 
regarding workfare. One additional clarification is proposed in the 
regulatory language. The statutory language of Section 6(o)(5) does not 
require individuals participating in workfare to work 80 hours in a 30-
day period because under a workfare program, an individual's work 
obligation is linked with the amount of the individual's food stamp 
benefit. The language requires that an individual ``participate in and 
comply with'' a workfare program during a 30-day period, not that an 
individual participate in a workfare program for 30 days, which would 
essentially require a 30-day waiting period. The Department is 
proposing to clarify that when an individual is regaining eligibility 
through a workfare program, the individual must be considered to have 
completed the cure when the individual has completed the required 
number of hours of work.
    The last issue in this context is whether an individual can regain 
eligibility and then maintain eligibility under this provision more 
than once during the three-year period. Neither the statutory language 
nor the legislative history address this issue. (The statutory language 
does prohibit someone from using his or her second three ``countable 
months'' more than once, as discussed below.). As mentioned above, 
Section 6(o)(5) of the Act allows an individual who has ``used up'' his 
or her countable months to regain eligibility if, during a thirty-day 
period, the individual works 80 or more hours, participates in and 
complies with a work program for 80 or more hours (as determined by the 
State agency), or participates in and complies with a workfare program. 
Someone who has regained eligibility under this provision may remain 
eligible as long as he or she continues to satisfy the work requirement 
(or is exempt or covered by a waiver). This provision is a time limit 
for individuals who are not working, and individuals can only regain 
eligibility by working (or participating in a work program or workfare) 
and then maintain eligibility by continuing to work. Allowing 
individuals to be able to regain and maintain eligibility whenever and 
as often as they meet the 80 hour/30-day work requirement would 
encourage individuals to continue to look for work even after having 
used up their countable months. The Department is therefore not 
proposing to limit the number of times an individual can regain and 
maintain eligibility under this provision.

Eligibility for the Additional Three ``Countable Months''

    Section 6(o)(5)(C) allows an individual who has regained 
eligibility (by working 80 hours in a 30-day period, etc.) and then 
lost the job (or workfare slot, etc.) to be eligible for an additional 
period of three countable months. The additional three months must be 
consecutive, and they start on the date the individual notifies the 
State agency that he or she is no longer meeting the work requirement. 
An illustration will help explain this general concept. Joe uses up his 
three countable months, and becomes ineligible for food stamps. Two 
months later, he gets a job and works 80 hours in a thirty-day period, 
regaining eligibility. For six months, Joe works at least 20 hours per 
week. He is satisfying the work requirement, so he is maintaining his 
food stamp eligibility. Joe is laid off in the seventh month of Joe's 
job, and notifies his eligibility worker immediately. Starting the day 
he notifies his worker, Joe is eligible for an additional three 
consecutive ``countable'' months of food stamps. That is, even though 
he already used up his (first) three countable months, he is eligible 
for up to three consecutive months without having to either fulfill the 
work requirement (20 hours per week, etc.), be exempt (physically or 
mentally unfit for employment, etc.), or be covered by a waiver. There 
are two significant issues that arise only in the context of this 
additional three countable months: the additional countable months are 
consecutive, and they start the date the client notifies the

[[Page 70944]]

State that he or she is no longer meeting the work requirement.
    Section 6(o)(5)(C) of the Act specifies that, although the first 
three countable months can be consecutive or otherwise, the second 
three countable months are consecutive. The plain meaning of this 
language is that the second three countable months cannot be used in a 
piecemeal fashion, they must be used consecutively. For example, Sue 
has just lost her job, and becomes eligible for the second three 
countable months on January 1, so (if she is otherwise eligible) her 
second three countable months are January, February, and March. If she 
gets a job in March, she essentially ``forfeits'' her last countable 
month (a month when she can receive food stamps without working, etc.) 
because she cannot ``save'' the month for use some time later when she 
is no longer working.
    The statute not only requires that the additional three countable 
months be consecutive, but it requires that they start ``the date the 
individual first notifies the State agency'' that the individual is no 
longer fulfilling the work requirement. That means that even if the 
individual cannot take advantage of the second three countable months 
(e.g., he or she is under a work sanction or temporarily resource 
ineligible), the additional three month ``window'' opens the date the 
individual notifies the State that he or she is no longer working (and 
because it has to be three consecutive months, it closes exactly three 
months later). To illustrate, if John notifies the State agency on 
January 1 that he has quit his job (without good cause), he is 
potentially eligible under this provision for a period of three 
consecutive months starting January 1. However, Section 6(o)(6) of the 
Act states that nothing in its provisions makes an individual eligible 
for food stamps if he or she is not otherwise eligible for benefits. 
Therefore, the provisions in Section 6(o) that make an individual 
eligible do not override other provisions of the Food Stamp Act and 
implementing regulations that make an individual ineligible. In the 
illustration, John is subject to a 90-day voluntary quit sanction under 
7 CFR 273.7(n). His sanction would expire on April 1, but his second 
three-month window of eligibility was only open from January 1 (the day 
he notified the State agency that he was no longer working) through the 
end of March (three consecutive months later). John has forfeited the 
opportunity to use his additional three countable months (at least this 
time).
    There are two more issues arising from the provision mandating when 
the additional three months of eligibility start. Section 6(o)(5)(C) 
mandates that the additional three countable months start the date the 
individual ``first notifies the State agency'' that he or she is no 
longer meeting the work requirement. Therefore, even if the individual 
does not report the job loss right away, the additional three month 
``window'' opens when the individual notifies the State agency.
    Although this policy might not provide incentive to report the job 
loss immediately, the Department cannot ignore the plain language of 
the statute. Therefore, the Department's proposal mirrors the statutory 
requirement that eligibility for the additional three countable months 
starts the day the client first notifies the State agency that he or 
she is no longer meeting the work requirement.
    There is one circumstance when the Department believes that a 
departure from this general rule is necessary. If an individual is 
meeting the work requirement by participating in a work program or 
workfare, and at some point no longer meets the requirements of the 
work or workfare program (such that he or she could be eligible for the 
additional three months), in most cases the State agency becomes aware 
of this information and is required by work rules to take an action on 
the individual's case. In most cases the State agency is either 
supervising the workfare or work program and is aware that the 
individual is no longer meeting the work requirements or is notified by 
the agency that is. Once the State agency becomes aware that the 
individual is no longer meeting the work requirements, the eligibility 
worker will send the individual a notice explaining that he or she no 
longer meets the work requirements (of 7 CFR 273.7), and advise him of 
his options. The Department believes that in these cases, when the 
State agency becomes aware that the individual is no longer meeting the 
work requirement because the State agency was operating or supervising 
the work or workfare program, or was notified by the agency that was, 
it would be meaningless to require the individual to contact his or her 
eligibility worker in order to trigger the eligibility for the 
additional three months. The individual may not even be aware that he 
or she is no longer meeting the work requirement. When the State agency 
is the entity with information as to whether the work requirement is 
being met, the additional three month period should start on the date 
of the notice. Accordingly, the Department is proposing that when an 
individual is meeting the work requirement by participating in a work 
or workfare program, the additional three-month period will start the 
date the State agency notifies the individual that he or she is no 
longer meeting the work requirements.
    The statute also makes it clear that individuals may only ``receive 
benefits'' for a second three countable months once in a three-year 
period. Therefore, although individuals may regain eligibility (by 
working 80 hours in a 30-day period, etc.) many times, they can only 
take advantage of the second three countable months once. Individuals 
can therefore get food stamps for no more than six countable months in 
a three-year period, but in order to become eligible for the second 
three countable months, the individual has to have worked at least 80 
hours in a thirty-day period. Significantly, the statute uses the 
following language: ``an individual shall not receive any benefits 
pursuant to * * * [the additional three month provision] for more than 
a single 3-month period in any 36-month period.'' (emphasis added.) 
Therefore, using the example above, although John has essentially 
forfeited the second three countable months (because of the voluntary 
quit sanction), he may become eligible again for the additional three 
consecutive countable months because he never received benefits for 
that period. As before, any three consecutive month window would open 
the day John first notifies the State agency that he has lost his job, 
and would close three months later. In the example, after John's 
voluntary quit sanction expires (and he has forfeited the opportunity 
to use the three consecutive countable months), he finds a new job on 
May 1. He works 80 hours in a thirty-day period, regaining his 
eligibility. On August 1, John is laid off from the new job, and 
notifies his eligibility worker.
    John is now eligible for three consecutive countable months 
starting August 1. After John has received any benefits during this 
second three-month window, he will have to either meet the work 
requirement, become exempt, or be covered by a waiver in order to 
participate.

Waivers

    Section 6(o)(4) of the Act allows the Department, at the request of 
a State agency, to waive the time limit for any group of individuals if 
the Secretary determines that the area in which the individuals reside 
has an unemployment rate of over ten percent, or ``does not have a 
sufficient number of jobs to provide employment for the individuals.'' 
The Department issued guidance for States seeking waivers on

[[Page 70945]]

December 3, 1996. The guidance contained basic procedures for applying 
for waivers, identified data sources which could be used to 
substantiate requests, and described some approaches that could support 
a ``lack of sufficient jobs'' waiver. This proposed rule does not 
substantially change the policies expressed in the December 3, 1996 
guidance. Because of the nature of the waiver approval process and the 
many factors involved in the analysis of whether a waiver is 
appropriate, the Department cannot specify which waiver requests it 
will approve and which it will not. This proposed rule is intended 
merely to provide a framework for waiver requests.
    The waiver authority raises several issues: data required to 
justify a waiver, the duration of waivers, defining an area, and 
factors to indicate a lack of sufficient jobs. Other than the limits 
discussed here, FNS is not proposing any specific procedures for 
applying for waivers. FNS will expedite the approval process, and 
intends that it be as simple as possible. Consistent with these goals, 
FNS is proposing that in areas for which the State has certified that 
data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) show an unemployment 
rate above 10 percent, the State may begin to operate the waiver at the 
time the waiver request is submitted. FNS has proposed to retain the 
ability to require any modifications that might be required in order to 
meet the requirement of the statute. For example, if the most recent 
data (that might not have been available to the State at the time of 
the request) shows that some areas no longer have unemployment rates 
above 10 percent, FNS must be able to reexamine the basis for waivers 
in those areas. The terms of any such modification of the waiver would 
be negotiated with the State agency. Allowing States to begin to 
operate such waivers would provide immediate relief to areas long 
suffering with high unemployment rates. All other waivers will need 
prior approval before they take effect.

Kinds of Data Needed

    With respect to the kinds of data required to support a waiver, 
established Federal policy requires Federal executive branch agencies 
to use the most recent National, State or local labor force and 
unemployment data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) for all 
program purposes. This policy is contained in Statistical Policy 
Directive No. 11, issued by the Office of Federal Statistical Policy 
Standards, Office of Management and Budget. This policy ensures the 
standardization of collection methods and the accuracy of data used to 
administer Federal programs. In accordance with this policy, the 
Department is proposing that States seeking waivers for areas with 
unemployment rates higher than 10 percent be required to rely on 
standard BLS data or methods. To the extent that a ``lack of sufficient 
jobs'' waiver is also based on labor force and unemployment data, the 
Department is proposing that the labor force and unemployment data also 
be based on BLS data or methods.

Duration of Data and Duration of Waivers

    Another issue related to the data required to support a waiver is 
how recent the data and analysis must be, and whether the data must 
cover a certain period before a waiver will be granted. Closely related 
is the issue of the duration of the waivers. Unemployment rates 
fluctuate from month to month, with fluctuations likely to be larger 
for estimates based on smaller areas. Data must be recent because a 
waiver must be based on the job market as it then exists. Stale data 
could mask areas in which the labor market has recently declined, or 
overestimate the unemployment rate in an area that is experiencing job 
growth. If requested, FNS will automatically grant a waiver in any area 
in which the average unemployment rate in the preceding 12 months is 
greater than 10 percent. However, the Department will not require a 12-
month average to approve a waiver for two reasons: a 12-month average 
may mask portions of the year when the unemployment rate rises above or 
falls below 10 percent. In addition, requiring a 12-month average 
before a waiver could be approved would necessitate a sustained period 
of high unemployment before an area became eligible for a waiver. 
However, although allowing States to obtain a year-long waiver based on 
fewer months of data might be more responsive to early labor market 
signals, it could be an over response to a seasonal problem or a short 
term aberration. Therefore, the Department is proposing that in 
general, the duration of a waiver should bear some relationship to the 
documentation provided in support of the waiver request. FNS will 
consider approving waivers for up to one year based on documentation 
covering a shorter period, but the State must show that the basis for 
the waiver is not a seasonal or short term aberration. In general, the 
Department will not approve waivers for more than one year. In 
addition, States in areas with predictable seasonal variations in 
unemployment may use historical trends to anticipate the need for 
waivers for certain periods. For example, if the pattern of seasonal 
unemployment is such that an area's unemployment rate typically 
increases by two percentage points in January, February, and March, and 
the area's unemployment rate is currently 9 percent, a State may 
request a waiver for this area based on its current rate and historical 
trends. The period covered by the waiver would then coincide with the 
period of projected high unemployment.

Defining an ``Area''

    With respect to the question of what ``areas'' can receive waivers, 
the Department is allowing States broad discretion in defining areas 
that best reflect the labor market prospects of Program participants 
and State administrative needs. In general, the Department encourages 
States to consider requesting waivers for areas smaller than the entire 
State. Statewide averages may mask slack job markets in some counties, 
cities, or towns. Accordingly, States should consider areas within, or 
combinations of, counties, cities, and towns. The Department also urges 
States to consider the particular needs of rural areas and Indian 
reservations. Although the Department is proposing to allow States 
flexibility in defining areas to be covered by waivers, the supporting 
data must correspond to the requested area (e.g., a county-wide waiver 
must be supported by county-wide data).
    Unemployment figures for many local areas based on standard BLS 
data or methods are readily available. Through its Local Area 
Unemployment Statistics (LAUS) program, BLS works in concert with State 
employment security agencies to estimate unemployment rates for all 
states and counties, all cities with a population of 25,000 or more, 
all cities and towns in New England, and all metropolitan and small 
labor market areas in the United States. In addition, State employment 
security agencies can use standard BLS methods to generate unemployment 
rates for smaller geographic areas and special geographic areas such as 
Indian reservations, as long as the boundaries of those areas coincide 
with the boundaries of a group of census tracts. While standard methods 
can be used to estimate unemployment rates for smaller areas, the 
estimates will be less reliable. A list of State employment security 
agency contacts can be accessed through the BLS LAUS  home  page  
(found  at  http://stats.bls.gov:80/lauhome.htm). Monthly State and 
local area unemployment rates are also readily available from a variety 
of published sources. Current data can be obtained via the LAUS home 
page,

[[Page 70946]]

the LAUS program, BLS regional offices, or the State's employment 
security agency.

Lack of Sufficient Jobs

    Section 6(o)(4)(A)(ii) of the Act allows the Department to waive 
the time limit for a group of individuals if the area in which the 
individuals reside ``does not have a sufficient number of jobs to 
provide employment for the individuals.'' The legislative history does 
not provide guidance on what types of waivers the Department should 
approve under this standard, and there are no standard data or methods 
to make the determination of the sufficiency of jobs. States requesting 
waivers are therefore free to compile evidence and construct arguments 
to show that in a particular area, there are not enough jobs for 
individuals who are affected by the time limit. However, as described 
in the December 3, 1996, guidance, some indicators that an area has 
insufficient jobs are: if the area is on the U.S. Department of Labor's 
(DOL) Employment and Training Administration's list of labor surplus 
areas; if the area qualifies for extended unemployment benefits; or if 
the area has a falling ratio of employment to population. No particular 
approach is required. Because waivers are approved based on current 
labor market conditions, evidence and data should be the most recent 
available to the State. The Department will make the decisions on a 
case-by-case basis.

Implementation

    While most of the provisions of PRWORA were effective, and required 
to be implemented on August 22, 1996, some of the provisions in this 
rule have different statutory implementation dates. Section 115 (42 
U.S.C. 862a), denial of benefits for drug-related convictions, was 
required to be implemented July 1, 1997, unless the State submitted a 
TANF plan to DHHS, in which case the effective date of Section 115 was 
the date the TANF plan was received by DHHS. In no event may State 
agencies disqualify an individual for a conviction occurring on or 
before August 22, 1996. States may also opt out of Section 115 by 
legislative action.
    Sections 829 and 911 of PRWORA (Section 8(d) of the Act and 42 
U.S.C. 608a) are mandatory and were required to be implemented on 
August 22, 1996, for all reductions in an assistance program's benefits 
initiated on or after that date for failure to perform a required 
action or for fraud. Section 819 of PRWORA (Section 6(i) of the Act) 
regarding comparable disqualifications is optional and, therefore, 
effective when the State chooses to implement it; but disqualifications 
imposed prior to August 22, 1996, shall not be imposed for food stamp 
purposes. The provisions in 42 U.S.C. 404(i) and (j) (Section 103(a) of 
PROWRA) are optional and, therefore, effective when the State chooses 
to implement them, but not prior to the State's receipt of a TANF block 
grant.
    Pursuant to Section 824 of the PRWORA, (7 U.S.C. 2015(o)) the time 
limit for able-bodied adults is effective the date the State notifies 
recipients of the application of the time limit, or November 22, 1996 
(the date that was three months after the date of enactment of the 
PRWORA), whichever is earlier.
    The Department is proposing that the changes made by this rule 
would be effective and implemented no later than the first day of the 
month 180 days after publication of the final rule.

List of Subjects

7 CFR Part 272

    Alaska, Civil rights, Food stamps, Grant programs-social programs, 
Reporting and recordkeeping requirements.

7 CFR Part 273

    Administrative practice and procedures, Claims, Food stamps, Grant 
programs-social programs, Penalties, Reporting and recordkeeping, 
Social Security, Students.

    Accordingly, 7 CFR Parts 272 and 273 are proposed to be amended as 
follows:
    1. The authority citation for parts 272 and 273 continues to read 
as follows:

    Authority: 7 U.S.C. 2011-2036.

PART 272--REQUIREMENTS FOR PARTICIPATING STATE AGENCIES

    2. In Sec. 272.1, a new paragraph (c)(1)(vii) is added to read as 
follows:


Sec. 272.1  General terms and conditions.

* * * * *
    (c) Disclosure. (1) * * *
    (vii) Local, State or Federal law enforcement officers, upon 
written request, for the purpose of obtaining the address, social 
security number, and, if available, photograph of any household member, 
if the member is fleeing to avoid prosecution or custody for a crime, 
or an attempt to commit a crime, that would be classified as a felony 
(or in the State of a New Jersey, a high misdemeanor), or is violating 
a condition of probation or parole imposed under a Federal or State 
law. The State agency shall also provide information regarding any 
household member, upon the official request of a law enforcement 
officer, necessary for the conduct of an official duty, such as 
apprehension or investigation, related to the any of the above-
described individuals.
* * * * *
    3. In Sec. 272.2, new paragraphs (d)(1)(xiii) and (d)(1)(xiv) are 
added to read as follows:


Sec. 272.2  Plan of operation.

* * * * *
    (d) Planning documents. (1) * * *
    (xiii) If the State agency chooses to implement the optional 
provisions specified in (273.11(l), (m), and (n) of this chapter, the 
Plan's attachment shall include the options selected, guidelines to be 
used, and specify how the income of any disqualified individuals will 
be treated.
    (xiv) If the State agency chooses to implement the optional 
provisions specified in (273.11(q), (r), and (s) of this chapter, the 
Plan's attachment shall include the options selected, and procedures to 
be used. The plan shall also include a description of the safeguards 
the State agency will use to restrict the use of information collected 
by a State agency in implementing the optional provision contained in 
Sec. 273.11(r) of this chapter.
* * * * *

PART 273--CERTIFICATION OF ELIGIBLE HOUSEHOLDS

    4. In Sec. 273.1, new paragraphs (b)(2)(viii), (b)(2)(ix), 
(b)(2)(x), (b)(2)(xi), (b)(2)(xii), and (b)(2)(xiii) are added to read 
as follows.


Sec. 273.1  Household concept.

* * * * *
    (b) Nonhousehold members. * * *
    (2) * * *
    (viii) School attendance requirements. At State agency option, 
individuals who are disqualified in accordance with the school 
attendance provisions of Sec. 273.11(m) and (n).
    (ix) Individuals convicted of drug-related felonies. Individuals 
who are ineligible under Sec. 273.11(o) because of a drug-related 
felony conviction.
    (x) Individuals disqualified from other means-tested programs. At 
State agency option, individuals who are disqualified in another 
assistance program in accordance with Sec. 273.11(l).
    (xi) Fleeing felons. Individuals who are fleeing to avoid 
prosecution or custody for a crime, or an attempt to commit a crime, or 
who are violating a condition of probation or parole who are ineligible 
under Sec. 273.11(p).
    (xii) Individuals ineligible because of child support issues. 
Individuals disqualified for failure to cooperate with

[[Page 70947]]

child support enforcement agencies in accordance with Sec. 273.11(q) or 
(r), or for being delinquent in any court-ordered child support 
obligation in accordance with Sec. 273.11(s).
    (xiii) Able-bodied adults who have exceeded the time limit. Persons 
ineligible under Sec. 273.24, the time limit for able-bodied adults.
* * * * *
    5. In Sec. 273.2:
    a. Two new paragraphs (f)(1)(xiv) and (f)(1)(xv) are added.
    b. Paragraph (f)(8)(i)(C) is redesignated as paragraph 
(f)(8)(i)(D), and a new paragraph (f)(8)(i)(C) is added.
    The additions read as follows:


Sec. 273.2  Application processing.

* * * * *
    (f) Verification. * * *
    (1) Mandatory verification. * * *
    (xiv) Additional verification for able-bodied adults subject to the 
time limit. (A) Work hours. For individuals subject to the food stamp 
time limit of Sec. 273.24 who are satisfying the work requirement by 
working, by combining work and participation in a work program, or by 
participating in a work or workfare program that is not operated or 
supervised by the State agency, the individuals' work hours shall be 
verified.
    (B) Countable months in another state. For individuals subject to 
the food stamp time limit of Sec. 273.24, the number of countable 
months (as defined in Sec. 273.24(b)(1)) an individual has used in 
another State shall be verified if there is an indication that the 
individual participated in that State. The State agency may accept 
another State agency's assertion as to the number of countable months 
an individual has used.
    (xv) Verification of applicants fleeing to avoid prosecution or 
custody for felonies. The State agency shall establish a system for 
verifying whether applicants or participants are subject to 
disqualification under the provisions of Sec. 273.11(p) based on their 
possible status as individuals fleeing to avoid prosecution or custody 
for a crime, or an attempt to commit a crime, that would be classified 
as a felony (or in the State of New Jersey, a high misdemeanor) or who 
are violating a condition of probation or parole under a Federal or 
State law, or fleeing to avoid prosecution or custody for felonies; or 
are subject to disqualification under Sec. 273.11(o) as individuals 
convicted of drug-related felonies.
* * * * *
    (8) Verification subsequent to initial certification.* * *
    (i) Recertification* * *
    (C) For individuals subject to the food stamp time limit of 
Sec. 273.24 who are satisfying the work requirement by working, by 
combining work and participation in a work program, or by participating 
in a work program that is not operated or supervised by the State 
agency, the individuals' work hours shall be verified.
* * * * *
    6. In Sec. 273.9, paragraph (b)(5)(i) is revised in its entirety to 
read as follows:


Sec. 273.9  Income and deductions.

* * * * *
    (b) Definition of income. * * *
    (5) * * *
    (i) Moneys withheld from an income source, or moneys received from 
the income source, which are voluntarily or involuntarily returned to 
repay a prior overpayment from that income source, shall not be counted 
as income provided that the overpayment was not excludable under 
paragraph (c) of this section. However, this exclusion shall not apply 
to means-tested public assistance income sources when the overpayment 
was caused by the household.
* * * * *
    7. In Sec. 273.11:
    a. The introductory text of paragraphs (c), (c)(1) and (c)(2) are 
revised.
    b. Paragraph (c)(3)(ii) is revised.
    c. Paragraph (k) is revised.
    d. Paragraphs (l), (m), (n), (o), (p), (q), (r), and (s) are added.
    The additions and revisions read as follows:


Sec. 273.11  Action on households with special circumstances.

* * * * *
    (c) Treatment of income and resources of certain nonhousehold 
members. During the period of time that a household member cannot 
participate for the reasons addressed in this section, the eligibility 
and benefit level of any remaining household members shall be 
determined in accordance with the procedures outlined in this section. 
The State agency may opt to treat individuals disqualified under 
paragraph (l), (m), (n), (q), (r), or (s) of this section under either 
paragraph (c)(1) or (c)(2) of this section.
    (1) Intentional Program violation, felony drug conviction, or 
fleeing felon disqualifications, and workfare or work requirement 
sanctions. The eligibility and benefit level of any remaining household 
members of a household containing individuals determined ineligible 
because of a disqualification for an intentional Program violation, a 
felony drug conviction, their fleeing felon status, noncompliance with 
a work requirement of Sec. 273.7, or imposition of a sanction while 
they were participating in a household disqualified because of failure 
to comply with workfare requirements shall be determined as follows:
* * * * *
    (2) Ineligible alien, SSN disqualifications and ineligible ABAWDs. 
The eligibility and benefit level of any remaining household members of 
a household containing individuals determined to be ineligible for 
being an ineligible alien, for refusal to obtain or provide an SSN, or 
for meeting the time limit for able-bodied adults without dependents 
shall be determined as follows:
* * * * *
    (3) Reduction or termination of benefits within the certification 
period. * * *
    (ii) Disqualified or determined ineligible for reasons other than 
intentional Program violation. If a household's benefits are reduced or 
terminated within the certification period for reasons other than an 
intentional Program violation disqualification, the State agency shall 
issue a notice of adverse action in accordance with Sec. 273.13(a)(2) 
which informs the household of the ineligibility, the reason for the 
ineligibility, the eligibility and benefit level of the remaining 
members, and the action the household must take to end the 
ineligibility.
* * * * *
    (k) Reduction of public assistance benefits. If the benefits of a 
household that is receiving public assistance are reduced under a 
Federal, State, or local means-tested public assistance program because 
of the failure of a household member to perform an action required 
under the assistance program or for fraud, the State agency shall not 
increase the household's food stamp allotment as the result of the 
decrease in income. In addition to prohibiting an increase in food 
stamp benefits, the State agency may impose a penalty on the household 
that represents a percentage of the food stamp allotment that does not 
exceed 25 percent. Reaching a time limit for time-limited benefits, 
having a child that is not eligible because of a family cap, or failure 
to comply with purely procedural requirement such as failure to submit 
a monthly report for the other program or failure to reapply for 
continued assistance under the other program, shall not be considered a 
failure to perform an action required by an assistance program for 
purposes of

[[Page 70948]]

this provision. This provision shall not be applied at the time of 
initial application for assistance. It shall be applied if the person 
was receiving such assistance at the time the reduction was imposed and 
to reductions imposed at the time of application for continued benefits 
if there is no break in participation. The person does not have to be 
certified for food stamps at the time of the failure to perform a 
required action for this provision to apply. Public assistance benefits 
shall be considered reduced if they are decreased, suspended, or 
terminated.
    (1) For purposes of this provision a Federal, State, or local 
``means-tested public assistance program'' shall mean any public or 
assisted housing under Title I of the United States Housing Act of 
1937; any State program funded under part A of Title IV of the Social 
Security Act; any program for the aged, blind, or disabled under Titles 
I, X, XIV, or XVI of the Social Security Act; and State and local 
general assistance as defined in Sec. 271.2 of this chapter. This 
provision must be applied to all applicable cases. If a State agency is 
not successful in obtaining the necessary cooperation from another 
Federal, State or local means-tested welfare or public assistance 
program to enable it to comply with the requirements of this provision, 
the State agency shall not be held responsible for noncompliance as 
long as the State agency has made a good faith effort to obtain the 
information. The State agency, rather than the household, shall be 
responsible for obtaining information about sanctions from other 
programs and changes in those sanctions.
    (2) The prohibition on increasing food stamp benefits applies for 
the duration of the reduction in the assistance program, and shall be 
concurrent with the reduction in the other assistance program to the 
extent allowed by normal food stamp change processing and notice 
procedures.
    (3) The State agency shall determine how to prevent an increase in 
food stamp benefits. Among other options, the State agency may increase 
the assistance grant by a flat percent, not to exceed 25 percent, for 
all households that fail to perform a required action in lieu of 
computing an individual amount or percentage for each affected 
household.
    (4) If the allotment of a household is reduced under Title IV-A of 
the Social Security Act, the State agency may use the same procedures 
that apply under Title IV-A to prevent an increase in food stamp 
benefits as the result of the decrease in Title IV-A benefits. For 
example, the same budgeting procedures and combined notices and 
hearings may be used, but the food stamp allotment may not be reduced 
by more than 25 percent.
    (5) In no event shall the prohibition on increasing food stamp 
benefits apply for longer than 1 year. The State agency may lift the 
ban on increasing food stamp benefits at any time if the person becomes 
ineligible during the disqualification period for some other reason.
    (6) If an individual who fails to perform a required action in a 
State or local assistance program moves within the State, the 
prohibition on increasing benefits shall be applied to the gaining 
household unless that person is ineligible for the assistance program 
for some other reason. If such individual moves to a new State the 
prohibition on increasing benefits shall not be applied. If an 
individual fails to perform a required action in a Federal program, and 
the individual moves, either interstate or intrastate, the State must 
verify the status and continue the disqualification if appropriate.
    (l) Comparable disqualifications. If a disqualification is imposed 
on a member of a household for failure to perform an action required 
under a Federal, State, or local means-tested public assistance 
program, the State agency may impose the same disqualification on the 
member of the household under the Food Stamp Program. The program must 
to be authorized by a Federal, State, or local law, but the provision 
itself does not have to be specified in the law. A State agency may 
choose to apply this provision to one or more of these programs, and it 
may select the types of disqualifications within a program that it 
wants to impose on food stamp recipients. The State agency shall be 
responsible for obtaining information about sanctions from other 
programs and changes in those sanctions.
    (1) For purposes of this section Federal, State, or local ``means-
tested public assistance program'' shall mean any public or assisted 
housing under Title I of the United States Housing Act of 1937; any 
State temporary assistance for needy families funded under part A of 
Title IV of the Social Security Act; any program for the aged, blind, 
or disabled under Titles I, X, XIV, XVI, or XIX of the Social Security 
Act; Medicaid under XX of the Social Security Act; and State and local 
general assistance as defined in Sec. 271.2 of this chapter.
    (2) This provision shall not be applied at the time of initial 
application for public assistance. It shall be applied if the person 
was receiving such assistance at the time the disqualification was 
imposed and to disqualifications imposed at the time of application for 
continued benefits if there is no break in participation with the 
following exceptions. Reaching a time limit for time-limited benefits 
or having a child that is not eligible because of a family cap shall 
not be considered failures to perform an action required by an 
assistance program. In addition, this provision shall not apply to 
purely procedural requirements such as failure to submit a monthly 
report for the other program or failure to reapply for continued 
assistance under the other program. Assistance disqualifications that 
were imposed while the person was receiving assistance and are still in 
effect shall be applied to both food stamp applicants and recipients.
    (3) In no event shall the disqualification be applied for food 
stamp purposes for longer than 1 year. The State agency may stop the 
disqualification at any time if the person becomes ineligible for 
assistance for some other reason.
    (4) If a disqualification is imposed for a failure of an individual 
to perform an action required under a program under Title IV-A of the 
Social Security Act, the State may use the rules and procedures that 
apply under the Title IV-A program to impose the same disqualification 
under the Food Stamp Program.
    (5) Only the individual who committed the violation may be 
disqualified for food stamp purposes even if the entire assistance unit 
is disqualified for Title IV-A purposes.
    (6) A comparable disqualification for food stamp purposes shall be 
imposed concurrently with the disqualification in the assistance 
program to the extent allowed by normal food stamp processing times and 
notice requirements. For example, if the assistance disqualification is 
for June and July, and the State is unable to disqualify the person 
until July for food stamp purposes, the person would only be 
disqualified for July for food stamp purposes.
    (7) If there is a pending disqualification for a food stamp 
violation and a pending comparable disqualification, they shall be 
imposed concurrently to the extent appropriate. For example, if the 
household is disqualified for June for a food stamp violation and an 
individual is disqualified for June and July for an assistance program 
violation, the whole household shall be disqualified for June and the 
individual shall be disqualified for July for food stamp purposes.
    (8) The State agency may choose to count all or only a prorated 
amount of

[[Page 70949]]

the member's income and expenses as available to the household. All of 
the member's resources shall be counted as available to the household.
    (9) After a disqualification period has expired, the person may 
apply for food stamp benefits and shall be treated as a new applicant 
or a new household member, except that a prior disqualification based 
on a food stamp work requirement shall be considered in determining 
eligibility.
    (10) A comparable food stamp disqualification may be imposed in 
addition to any coupon allotment reductions made in accordance with 
paragraph (k) of this section.
    (11) State agencies shall state in their Plan of Operation if they 
have elected to apply comparable disqualifications and indicate the 
options and procedures allowed in paragraphs (l)(1), (l)(2), (l)(3), 
(l)(4), (l)(8), and (l)(10) of this section which they have selected.
    (m) School attendance. (1) A State agency may not apply a food 
stamp sanction to an adult because he or she fails to ensure his or her 
minor children attend school. However, if the benefits of a household 
are reduced under a TANF sanction due to the failure of an adult to 
ensure that his or her minor dependent children attend school as 
required by State law while the children are living with him or her, 
the State agency shall not increase the household's food stamp 
allotment as the result of the decrease in income in accordance with 
paragraph (k) of this section. In addition to prohibiting an increase 
in food stamp benefits, the State agency may impose a penalty on the 
household that represents a percentage of the food stamp allotment that 
does not exceed 25 percent in accordance with paragraph (k) of this 
section. Finally, if a member of a household is disqualified under the 
TANF program for failure to ensure that his or her minor dependent 
children attend school as required by State law while the children are 
living with him or her, the State agency may impose the same 
disqualification on the member of the household under the Food Stamp 
Program in accordance with paragraph (l) of this section.
    (2) A State agency electing to reduce the household's benefits in 
accordance with paragraph (k) of this section or to apply a comparable 
disqualification in accordance with paragraph (l) of this section shall 
so specify in its Plan of Operation. If the member will be 
disqualified, the State agency shall specify in its Plan of Operation 
if all or a prorated share of the income of the disqualified member 
shall be counted as available to the household. All of the disqualified 
member's resources shall be counted as available to the household. If 
the food stamp allotment is to be reduced, the State agency shall 
specify in its Plan of Operation the method of reduction.
    (n) Secondary school diploma. (1) A State agency may not apply a 
food stamp sanction to an adult because he or she is not working 
toward, or does not have, a secondary school diploma or its recognized 
equivalent. However, if the benefits of a household are reduced under a 
TANF sanction because an adult who is older than age 20 and younger 
than age 51 does not have, or is not working toward attaining, a 
secondary school diploma or its recognized equivalent, the State agency 
shall not increase the household's food stamp allotment as the result 
of the decrease in income in accordance with paragraph (k) of this 
section. In addition to prohibiting an increase in food stamp benefits, 
the State agency may impose a penalty on the household that represents 
a percentage of the food stamp allotment that does not exceed 25 
percent in accordance with paragraph (k) of this section. Finally, if a 
member of a household is disqualified under the TANF the State agency 
may impose the same disqualification on the member of the household 
under the Food Stamp Program in accordance with paragraph (l) of this 
section.
    (2) A State agency electing to reduce the household's benefits in 
accordance with paragraph (k) of this section or to apply a comparable 
disqualification in accordance with paragraph (l) of this section shall 
so specify in its Plan of Operation. If the member will be 
disqualified, the State agency shall specify in its Plan of Operation 
if all or a prorated share of the income of the disqualified member 
shall be counted as available to the household. If the food stamp 
allotment is to be reduced, the State agency shall specify in its Plan 
of Operation the method of reduction. All of the disqualified member's 
resources shall be counted as available to the household.
    (o) Individuals convicted of drug-related felonies. An individual 
convicted (under Federal or State law) of any offense which is 
classified as a felony by the law of the jurisdiction involved and 
which has as an element the possession, use, or distribution of a 
controlled substance (as defined in section 102(6) of the Controlled 
Substance Act) shall not be considered an eligible household member 
unless the State legislature of the State where the individual is 
domiciled has enacted legislation exempting individuals domiciled in 
the State from the above exclusion. If the State legislature has 
enacted legislation limiting the period of disqualification, the period 
of ineligibility shall be equal to the length of the period provided 
under such legislation.
    (p) Fleeing felons and probation or parole violators. Individuals 
who are fleeing to avoid prosecution or custody for a crime, or an 
attempt to commit a crime, that would be classified as a felony (or in 
the State of New Jersey, a high misdemeanor) or who are violating a 
condition of probation or parole under a Federal or State law shall not 
be considered eligible household members.
    (q) Custodial parent's cooperation with the State agency. (1) 
Option to disqualify custodial parent for failure to cooperate. At the 
option of a State agency, subject to paragraphs (q)(2) and (q)(4) of 
this section, no natural or adoptive parent or other individual 
(collectively referred to in this paragraph (q) as ``the individual'') 
who is living with and exercising parental control over a child under 
the age of 18 who has an absent parent shall be eligible to participate 
in the Food Stamp Program unless the individual cooperates with the 
State agency and the agency administering a Child Support Enforcement 
program established under Part D of Title IV of the Social Security Act 
(42 U.S.C. 651, et seq.).
    (i) Cooperation in obtaining support. As a condition of eligibility 
for food stamps, the individual will be required to cooperate with the 
State agency in:
    (A) Identifying and locating the absent parent of the child;
    (B) Establishing the paternity of a child born out of wedlock;
    (C) Obtaining support payments for the child or the individual and 
the child; and
    (D) Obtaining any other payments or property due the child or the 
individual and the child.
    (ii) Cooperation. Cooperation includes any of the following actions 
that are relevant to, or necessary for, the achievement of the 
objectives specified in paragraph (q)(1)(i) of this section:
    (A) Appearing at any office of the State or local agency or the 
child support agency as necessary prior to receipt of benefits (or, if 
necessary for recipients, at recertification) to provide verbal or 
written information, or documentary evidence known to, possessed by, or 
reasonably obtainable by the individual. State agencies shall specify 
the actions, documents and information required of individuals to 
cooperate in achieving the objectives specified in paragraph (q)(1)(i) 
of this section;

[[Page 70950]]

    (B) Appearing as a witness at judicial or other hearings or 
proceedings;
    (C) (1) In the establishment of paternity, providing the name of 
the putative father and sufficient additional information to enable the 
State agency, if reasonable efforts were made, to verify the identity 
of the person named, including such information as the putative 
father's social security number, date of birth, past or present 
address, telephone number, past or present place of employment, past or 
present school attended, names and addresses of parents, friends or 
relatives able to provide location information, or other information 
which could enable service of process on such person.
    (2) The state agency shall establish criteria for determining 
cooperation in cases where the individual cannot reasonably be expected 
to know the required identifying information about the father 
(including, but not limited to, cases where long-term recipients do not 
know the required information due to a lapse of a long period of time 
since contact with the father.)
    (D) Paying to the child support agency any support payments 
received from the absent parent.
    (2) Claiming good cause for noncooperation. Prior to requiring 
cooperation under paragraph (q)(1) of this section, the State agency 
will notify the household in writing of the right to good cause as an 
exception to the cooperation requirement and of all the requirements 
applicable to a good cause determination. Paragraph (q)(1) of this 
section shall not apply to the individual if good cause is found for 
refusing to cooperate, as determined by the State agency.
    (i) Circumstances under which cooperation may be ``against the best 
interests of the child.'' Under circumstances described in either 
paragraph (q)(1)(ii)(A) or (q)(1)(ii)(B) of this section, the 
individual's cooperation would be against the best interests of the 
child, and so the individual's failure to cooperate is deemed to be for 
``good cause.''
    (A) The individual's cooperation in establishing paternity, 
security support, or identifying and providing information to assist 
the State agency in pursuing third parties potentially liable for 
medical services is reasonably anticipated to result in:
    (1) Physical harm to the child for whom support is sought;
    (2) Emotional harm to the child for whom support is sought;
    (3) Physical harm to the parent or caretaker relative with whom the 
child is living, of such nature or degree that it would reduce such 
person's capability to care for the child adequately; or
    (4) Emotional harm to the parent or caretaker relative with whom 
the child is living which would reduce such person's capacity to care 
for the child adequately.
    (B) At least one of the following circumstances exists, and the 
State agency believes that, because of the existence of that 
circumstance, proceeding to establish paternity, secure support, or to 
identify and provide information to assist State agencies in pursuing 
third party liability for medical services would be detrimental to the 
child for whom support is sought:
    (1) The child for whom support is sought was conceived as a result 
of incest or forcible rape;
    (2) Legal proceedings for the adoption of the child are pending 
before a court of competent jurisdiction; or
    (3) The individual is currently being assisted by a public or 
licensed private social agency to resolve the issue of whether to keep 
the child or relinquish him or her for adoption, and the discussions 
have not gone on for more than 3 months.
    (ii) Physical harm and emotional harm defined. Physical harm and 
emotional harm must be of a serious nature in order to justify a 
finding of good cause under paragraph (q)(2) of this section. A finding 
of good cause for emotional harm may only be based upon a demonstration 
of an emotional impairment that substantially affects the individual's 
functioning.
    (iii) Special considerations related to emotional harm. For every 
good cause determination which is based in whole or in part upon the 
anticipation of emotional harm to the child, the parent or the 
caretaker relative, as provided for in this section, the State agency 
will consider the following:
    (A) The present emotional state of the individual subject to 
emotional harm;
    (B) The emotional health history of the individual subject to 
emotional harm;
    (C) Intensity and probable duration of the emotional impairment;
    (D) The degree of cooperation to be required; and
    (E) The extent of involvement of the child in the paternity 
establishment, support enforcement activity or collection of 
information to assist the State agency in the pursuit of third parties 
to be undertaken.
    (iv) Proof of good cause claim. (A) The State agency will make a 
good cause determination based on the corroborative evidence supplied 
by the household only after it has examined the evidence and found that 
it actually verifies the good cause claim.
    (B) The individual who claims good cause must provide corroborative 
evidence within 20 days (or whatever time frame the State Agency 
employs under Title IV, Part A, of the Social Security Act) from the 
day the claim was made. In exceptional cases where the State agency 
determines the applicant or recipient requires additional time because 
of the difficulty of obtaining the corroborative evidence, the agency 
shall allow a reasonable additional period of time upon approval by 
supervisory personnel.
    (C) A good cause claim may be corroborated with the types of 
evidence chosen by the State agency.
    (D) Where a claim is based on the individual's anticipation of 
physical harm and corroborative evidence is not submitted in support of 
the claim:
    (1) The State agency will investigate the good cause claim when the 
agency believes that the claim is credible without corroborative 
evidence and corroborative evidence is not available.
    (2) Good cause will be found if the claimant's statement and the 
investigation satisfy the agency that the individual has good cause for 
refusing to cooperate.
    (E) A determination that good cause exists will be recorded in the 
case file.
    (v) Review by the Child Support Enforcement Program agency. Prior 
to making a final determination of good cause for refusing to 
cooperate, the State agency will afford the Child Support Enforcement 
Program agency the opportunity to review and comment on the findings 
and the basis for the proposed determination and consider any 
recommendation from the Child Support Enforcement Program agency.
    (vi) Delayed finding of good cause. The State agency will not deny, 
delay, or discontinue assistance pending a determination of good cause 
for refusal to cooperate if the applicant or recipient has complied 
with the requirements to furnish corroborative evidence and 
information.
    (3) Individual disqualification. If the State agency has elected to 
implement this provision and determines that the custodial parent has 
not cooperated without good cause, then that individual shall be 
ineligible to participate in the Food Stamp Program. The 
disqualification shall not apply to the entire household. The income 
and resources of the disqualified individual shall be handled to the 
extent specified in paragraph (c)(1) or (c)(2) of this section, 
depending on how the State agency opts to do it.

[[Page 70951]]

    (4) Fees. A State electing to implement this provision shall not 
require the payment of a fee or other cost for services provided under 
Part D of Title IV of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. 651, et seq.)
    (5) The period of disqualification ends once it has been determined 
that the individual is cooperating with the child support agency. The 
state agency must have procedures in place for re-qualifying such an 
individual.
    (r) Non-custodial parent's cooperation with child support agencies. 
(1) Option to disqualify non-custodial parent for failure to cooperate. 
At the option of a State agency, subject to paragraphs (r)(2) and 
(r)(4) of this section, a putative or identified non-custodial parent 
of a child under the age of 18 (referred to in this subsection as ``the 
individual'') shall not be eligible to participate in the Food Stamp 
Program if the individual refuses to cooperate with the State agency 
administering the program established under Part D of Title IV of the 
Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. 651, et. seq.):
    (i) In establishing the paternity of the child (if the child is 
born out of wedlock); and
    (ii) In providing support for the child.
    (2) Guidelines for refusal to cooperate. Refusal to cooperate 
includes:
    (i) Refusal to appear for an interview;
    (ii) Refusal to furnish requested documentation;
    (iii) Refusal to cooperate with DNA testing; or
    (iv) Failing to make payments to the Child Support Enforcement 
agency.
    (3) Individual disqualification. If the State agency has elected to 
implement this provision and determines that the non-custodial parent 
has failed to cooperate, then that individual shall be ineligible to 
participate in the Food Stamp Program. The disqualification shall not 
apply to the entire household. The income and resources of the 
disqualified individual shall be handled to the extent specified in 
paragraph (c)(1) or (c)(2) of this section depending on how the State 
agency opts to do it.
    (4) Fees. A State electing to implement this provision shall not 
require the payment of a fee or other cost for services provided under 
Part D of Title IV of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. 651, et seq.)
    (5) Privacy. The State agency shall provide safeguards to restrict 
the use of information collected by a State agency administering the 
program established under Part D of Title IV of the Social Security Act 
(42 U.S.C. 651, et seq.) to purposes for which the information is 
collected.
    (6) The period of disqualification ends once it has been determined 
that the individual is cooperating with the child support agency. The 
State agency must have procedures in place for re-qualifying such an 
individual.
    (s) Disqualification for child support arrears. (1) Option to 
disqualify. At the option of a State agency, no individualshall be 
eligible to participate in the Food Stamp Program as a member of any 
household during any month that the individual is delinquent in any 
payment due under a court order for the support of a child of the 
individual.
    (2) Exceptions. A disqualification under paragraph (s)(1) of this 
section shall not apply if:
    (i) A court is allowing the individual to delay payment; or
    (ii) The individual is complying with a payment plan approved by a 
court or the State agency designated under Part D of Title IV of the 
Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. 651, et seq.) to provide support of a 
child of the individual.
    (3) Individual disqualification. If the State agency has elected to 
implement this provision and determines that the individual should be 
disqualified for child support arrears, then that individual shall be 
ineligible to participate in the Food Stamp Program. The 
disqualification shall not apply to the entire household. The income 
and resources of the disqualified individual shall be handled to the 
extent specified in paragraph (c)(1) or (c)(2) of this section, 
depending on how the State agency opts to do it.
    (4) Collecting claims. State agencies shall initiate collection 
action as provided for in Sec. 273.18 for any month a household member 
is disqualified for child support arrears by sending the household a 
written demand letter which informs the household of the amount owed, 
the reason for the claim and how the household may pay the claim. The 
household should also be informed as to the adjusted amount of income, 
resources, and deductible expenses of the remaining members of the 
household for the month(s) a member is disqualified for child support 
arrears.
    8. In section 273.12, a new paragraph (a)(1)(vii) is added as 
follows:


Sec. 273.12  Reporting changes.

    (a) Household responsibility to report. * * *
    (1) * * *
    (vii) For able-bodied adults subject to the time limit of 
Sec. 273.24, any changes in work hours that bring an individual below 
20 hours per week, averaged monthly.
* * * * *
    9. Section 273.16 is revised to read as follows.


Sec. 273.16  Disqualification for intentional program violation.

    (a) Administrative responsibility. Each State agency shall be 
responsible for effectively and efficiently:
    (1) Investigating instances of alleged intentional Program 
violation (IPV) and ensuring that appropriate cases are timely acted 
upon in accordance with the procedures outlined in this section;
    (2) Establishing and/or utilizing a system to determine whether an 
individual has committed an IPV and therefore warrants disqualification 
from the Program. This may be through administrative and/or judiciary 
means, or a combination of both; and
    (3) Disqualifying an individual from participation in the Program, 
where appropriate, in accordance with the procedures outlined in this 
section.
    (b) Definition of an IPV. (1) An IPV occurs when an individual 
intentionally either makes a false or misleading statement, or 
misrepresents, conceals or withholds facts or commits any act that 
constitutes a violation of the Food Stamp Act, the Food Stamp Program 
Regulations, or any State statute relating to the use, presentation, 
transfer, acquisition, receipt, possession or trafficking of coupons, 
authorization cards or reusable documents used as part of an automated 
benefit delivery system (access device).
    (2) The determination of an IPV shall be based on clear and 
convincing evidence which demonstrates that the individual committed, 
or intended to commit, the violation.
    (c) Disqualification penalties. (1) An individual found to have 
committed an IPV either through an administrative disqualification 
hearing (ADH) or by a Federal, State or local court, or who has signed 
either a waiver of his right to an ADH or a disqualification consent 
agreement in cases referred for prosecution, shall be ineligible to 
participate in the Program:
    (i) For a period of one year for the first IPV, except as provided 
under paragraphs (c)(2), (c)(3), (c)(4) and (c)(5) of this section;
    (ii) For a period of two years upon the second occasion of any IPV, 
except as provided in paragraphs (c)(2), (c)(3), (c)(4) and (c)(5) of 
this section; and
    (iii) Permanently for the third occasion of any IPV.
    (2) Except as provided under paragraph (c)(1)(iii) of this section, 
an individual found by a Federal, State or local court to have used or 
received coupons in a transaction involving the sale of a controlled 
substance (as

[[Page 70952]]

defined in section 102 of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 
802)) shall be ineligible to participate in the Program:
    (i) For a period of two years upon the first occasion of such 
violation; and
    (ii) Permanently upon the second occasion of such violation.
    (3) An individual found by a Federal, State or local court to have 
used or received coupons in a transaction involving the sale of 
firearms, ammunition or explosives shall be permanently ineligible to 
participate in the Program upon the first occasion of such violation.
    (4) An individual found by a Federal, State or local court to have 
trafficked benefits for an aggregate amount of $500 or more shall be 
permanently ineligible to participate in the Program upon the first 
occasion of such violation.
    (5) Except as provided under paragraph (c)(1)(iii) of this section, 
an individual found to have made a fraudulent statement or 
representation with respect to the identity or place of residence of 
the individual in order to receive multiple food stamp benefits 
simultaneously shall be ineligible to participate in the Program for a 
period of 10 years.
    (6) The penalties in paragraphs (c)(2), (c)(3) and (c)(4) of this 
section may also apply in cases of deferred adjudication as described 
in paragraph (d)(4) of this section, where the court makes a finding 
that the individual engaged in the conduct described in paragraph 
(c)(2), (c)(3) or (c)(4) of this section.
    (7) If a court fails to impose a disqualification or a 
disqualification period for any IPV, the State agency shall impose the 
appropriate disqualification penalty specified in paragraph (c) of this 
section unless it is contrary to the court order.
    (8) State agencies shall disqualify only the individual found to 
have committed the IPV, or who signed the waiver of the right to an 
administrative disqualification hearing or disqualification consent 
agreement in cases referred for prosecution, and not the entire 
household.
    (9) Even though only the individual is disqualified, the household 
is responsible for making restitution for the amount of any 
overpayment. All IPV claims shall be established and collected in 
accordance with the procedures set forth in Sec. 273.18.
    (10) The household shall be notified when it applies for benefits 
of the disqualification penalties if an individual intentionally 
violates the rules of the Program.
    (11) The individual shall be notified in writing once it is 
determined that he/she is to be disqualified. The disqualification 
period shall begin no later than the second month which follows the 
date the individual receives written notice of the disqualification. 
The disqualification period shall continue uninterrupted until 
completed regardless of the eligibility of the disqualified 
individual's household.
    (d) Bases for disqualification. (1) Administrative disqualification 
hearing (ADH). (i) Definition. An ADH is a hearing undertaken in a non-
judicial setting to determine whether an individual committed an IPV. 
This is one of two administrative State agency options for making this 
determination.
    (ii) ADHs and fair hearings. (A) The State agency may combine a 
fair hearing with an ADH if the factual issues arise out of the same, 
or related circumstances.
    (B) If the amount of the claim is determined at an ADH, the 
individual's household shall lose its right to a subsequent fair 
hearing on the amount of the claim.
    (iii) Advance notice of hearing. (A) The State agency shall provide 
written notice to the individual suspected of committing an IPV at 
least 30 days in advance of the date an ADH has been scheduled.
    (B) The notice shall contain at a minimum:
    (1) The date, time, and place of the hearing;
    (2) The charge(s) against the individual;
    (3) A summary of the evidence, and how and where the evidence can 
be examined;
    (4) A warning that the decision will be based solely on information 
provided by the State agency if the individual fails to appear at the 
hearing;
    (5) A statement that the individual or representative will, upon 
receipt of the notice, have a specified number of days from the date of 
the scheduled hearing to present good cause for failure to appear in 
order to receive a new hearing;
    (6) A warning that a determination of IPV will result in 
disqualification periods as determined by paragraph (c) of this 
section, and a statement of which penalty the State agency believes is 
applicable to the case scheduled for a hearing;
    (7) A listing of the individual's rights;
    (8) A statement that the hearing does not preclude the State or 
Federal Government from prosecuting the individual for the IPV in a 
civil or criminal court action, or from collecting any overissuance(s); 
and
    (9) If there is an individual or organization available that 
provides free legal representation, the notice shall advise the 
affected individual of the availability of the service.
    (iv) Program participation while awaiting a hearing. A pending ADH 
or a pending ADH decision shall not affect the individual's or the 
household's right to be certified and participate in the Program.
    (v) Conducting the ADH. The State agency shall establish its own 
procedures for conducting an ADH incorporating the requirements in this 
section.
    (vi) Written notification and time frame for a decision. The State 
agency shall provide written notification of its decision to the 
individual within 180 days after the discovery of the suspected 
violation or within 60 days of the date of the hearing, whichever is 
sooner.
    (vii) Local-level ADHs. The State agency may choose to provide ADHs 
at the local level in some or all of its project areas with a right to 
appeal to a State-level hearing. If the household or the State agency 
wishes to appeal a local-level hearing decision, the appeal request 
must be filed within 15 days of the local-level hearing decision 
notice.
    (viii) Appeal of a State-level ADH. The State-level decision shall 
be binding on the State agency. Also, no further administrative appeal 
procedure exists for the affected individual after an adverse State-
level ADH. The individual, however, is entitled to seek relief in a 
court having appropriate jurisdiction.
    (2) Waived ADHs. (i) State agency option and establishing 
procedures. A State agency may allow an accused individual to waive 
his/her right to an ADH in exchange for serving a disqualification 
period without necessarily admitting guilt. For a State agency which 
chooses this option, the procedures established shall conform with the 
requirements outlined in this section.
    (ii) Waiver requirements. (A) The State agency shall develop its 
own waiver form and provide written notification to the individual 
suspected of IPV that he/she can waive his/her right to an ADH.
    (B) The waiver/written notification shall clearly inform the 
individual that once the individual signs the waiver, he/she shall be 
disqualified from the Program in accordance with paragraph (c) of this 
section. A signed waiver shall have the same effect as a finding made 
after an ADH.
    (iii) Appeal of a signed waiver. No further administrative appeal 
procedure shall be made available to the affected individual after he/
she signs the waiver to the ADH. The individual, however, is

[[Page 70953]]

entitled to seek relief in a court having appropriate jurisdiction.
    (3) Court referrals. A State agency may seek a determination of IPV 
and subsequent disqualification by referring appropriate cases for 
prosecution in a court of appropriate jurisdiction. This is one of two 
judicial State agency options for making this determination. The State 
agency shall establish procedures to determine the types of cases to be 
referred for prosecution.
    (4) Deferred adjudication. (i) State agency option and establishing 
procedures. A State agency may allow an accused individual to sign a 
disqualification consent agreement for cases of deferred adjudication. 
For a State agency which chooses this option, the procedures 
established shall conform with the requirements outlined in this 
section.
    (ii) Written agreement. The State agency shall develop its own 
disqualification consent agreement and provide written notification to 
the accused individual of the consequences of consenting to a 
disqualification (as defined in paragraph (c) of this section) as part 
of a deferred adjudication.
    (5) Conducting both a court action and an ADH. State agencies may:
    (i) Simultaneously begin and/or conduct an ADH and court action and 
may proceed with a court action whether or not a violation has been 
determined by the ADH; and
    (ii) Conduct and make a determination based on an ADH for any case 
for which the court has not already returned a verdict.
    (e) Reporting requirements. (1) Each State agency shall report to 
FNS information concerning individuals disqualified for IPV, including 
those individuals disqualified based on the determination of an 
administrative disqualification hearing official or a court of 
appropriate jurisdiction and those individuals disqualified as a result 
of signing either a waiver of right to a disqualification hearing or a 
disqualification consent agreement in cases referred for prosecution. 
This information shall be submitted to FNS so that it is received no 
later than 30 days after the date the disqualification has taken 
effect.
    (2) Each State agency shall report information concerning each 
individual disqualified for IPV in a format designed by FNS. The format 
shall include the individual's social security number, date of birth, 
and full name, the number of the disqualification (1st, 2nd or 3rd), 
the State and county in which the disqualification took place, the date 
on which the disqualification took effect, and the length of the 
disqualification period imposed.
    (3) Each State agency shall submit the required information on each 
individual disqualified for IPV through a reporting system in 
accordance with procedures specified by FNS.
    (4) All data submitted by State agencies will be available for use 
by any State welfare agency.
    (i) State agencies shall, at a minimum, use the data for the 
following:
    (A) To determine the eligibility of individual Program applicants 
prior to certification in cases where the State agency has reason to 
believe a household member is subject to disqualification in another 
political jurisdiction, and
    (B) To ascertain the appropriate penalty to impose, based on past 
disqualifications, in a case under consideration.
    (ii) State agencies may also use the data in other ways, such as 
the following:
    (A) To screen all Program applicants prior to certification, and
    (B) To periodically match the entire list of disqualified 
individuals against their current caseloads.
    (5) The disqualification of an individual for IPV in one political 
jurisdiction shall be valid in another.
    (6) In cases where the disqualification for IPV is reversed by a 
court of appropriate jurisdiction, the State agency shall submit a 
report to purge the file of the information relating to the 
disqualification which was reversed in accordance with instructions 
provided by FNS.
    (f) Reversed disqualifications. In cases where the determination of 
IPV is reversed by a court of appropriate jurisdiction, the State 
agency shall reinstate the individual in the Program if the household 
is eligible. The State agency shall restore benefits that were lost as 
a result of the disqualification in accordance with the procedures 
specified in Sec. 273.17.
    10. A new Sec. 273.25 is added to read as follows:


Sec. 273.25  Time limit for able-bodied adults.

    (a) Definitions. For purposes of the food stamp time limit, the 
terms below have the following meanings.
    (1) Fulfilling the work requirement means:
    (i) Working 20 hours per week, averaged monthly; for purposes of 
this provision, 20 hours a week averaged monthly means 80 hours a 
month;
    (ii) Participating in and complying with the requirements of a work 
program 20 hours per week, as determined by the State agency;
    (iii) Working and participating in a work program for a total of 20 
hours per week, as determined by the State agency; or
    (iv) Participating in and complying with a workfare program.
    (2) Working means:
    (i) Work in exchange for money;
    (ii) work in exchange for goods or services (``in kind'' work); or
    (iii) Unpaid work under standards established by the State agency.
    (3) Work Program means:
    (i) A program under the Workforce Investment Act (Pub.L. 105-220);
    (ii) A program under section 236 of the Trade Act of 1974 (19 
U.S.C. 2296); or
    (iii) An employment and training program, other than a job search 
or job search training program, operated or supervised by a State or 
political subdivision of a State that meets standards approved by the 
Governor of the State, including a program under Sec. 273.7(f). Such a 
program may contain job search or job search training as a subsidiary 
component as long as such component is less than half the requirement.
    (4) Workfare program means:
    (i) A program under Sec. 273.22; or
    (ii) A comparable program established by a State or political 
subdivision of a State.
    (b) General Rule. Individuals are not eligible to participate in 
the Food Stamp Program as a member of any household if the individual 
received food stamps for more than three countable months during any 
three-year period, except that individuals may be eligible for up to 
three additional countable months in accordance with paragraph (e) of 
this section.
    (1) Countable months. Countable months are months during which an 
individual receives food stamps for the full benefit month while not 
either:
    (i) Exempt under paragraph (c) of this section;
    (ii) Covered by a waiver under paragraph (f) of this section; or
    (iii) Fulfilling the work requirement as defined in paragraph 
(a)(1) of this section.
    (2) Good cause. As determined by the State agency, if an individual 
would have worked an average of 20 hours per week but missed some work 
for good cause, the individual shall be considered to have met the work 
requirement if the absence from work is temporary and the individual 
retains his or her job.
    (3) Measuring the three-year period. The three-year period may be 
measured and tracked as the State agency deems appropriate; except 
that, with respect to a State, the three-year period:

[[Page 70954]]

    (i) Shall be measured and tracked consistently so that individuals 
who are similarly situated be treated the same; and
    (ii) Shall not include any period before the earlier of November 
22, 1996, or the date the State notified food stamp recipients of the 
application of Section 824 of the Personal Responsibility and Work 
Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (Pub. L. 104-193).
    (4) Treatment of income and resources. The income and resources of 
an individual made ineligible under this paragraph shall be handled in 
accordance with Sec. 273.11(c)(2).
    (5) Benefits received erroneously. If an individual subject to this 
section receives food stamp benefits erroneously, the State agency may 
opt to consider the benefits to have been received unless or until they 
are repaid in full.
    (6) Verification. Verification shall be in accordance with 
(273.2(f)(1) and (f)(8).
    (7) Reporting. A change in work hours below 20 hours per week, 
averaged monthly, is a reportable change in accordance with 
Sec. 273.12(a)(1)(vii). Work performed in a job that was not reported 
according to the requirements of Sec. 273.12 shall be considered 
``work'' for purposes of this provision.
    (8) Applicability of Food Stamp Act. Nothing in this paragraph 
shall make an individual eligible for food stamp benefits if the 
individual is not otherwise eligible for benefits under the other 
provisions of these regulations and the Food Stamp Act of 1977, as 
amended.
    (c) Exemptions. An individual is exempt from the time limit if he 
or she is
    (1) Under 18 or older than 50 years of age;
    (2) Determined by the State agency to be medically certified as 
physically or mentally unfit for employment. An individual is medically 
certified as physically or mentally unfit for employment if he or she:
    (i) Is receiving temporary or permanent disability benefits issued 
by governmental or private sources; or
    (ii) Provides a statement from a physician or a licensed or 
certified psychologist that he or she is physically or mentally unfit 
for employment.
    (3) Is a parent (natural, adoptive, or step) of a household member 
under age 18;
    (4) Is residing in a household where a household member is under 
age 18;
    (5) Is otherwise exempt from work requirements under section 
6(d)(2) of the Food Stamp Act, as implemented in regulations at 
Sec. 273.7(b); or
    (6) Is pregnant.
    (d) Regaining eligibility.
    (1) An individual denied eligibility under paragraph (b) of this 
section shall regain eligibility to participate in the Food Stamp 
Program if, as determined by the State agency, during any 30 
consecutive days, he or she:
    (i) Worked 80 or more hours;
    (ii) Participated in and complied with the requirements of a work 
program for 80 or more hours;
    (iii) Worked and participated in a work program for a total of 80 
hours; or
    (iv) Participated in and complied with a workfare program.
    (2) An individual regaining eligibility under paragraph (d)(1) of 
this section shall have benefits calculated as follows:
    (i) For individuals regaining eligibility by working, participating 
in a work program, or combining hours worked and hours participating in 
a work program, the State agency may either prorate benefits from the 
day the 80 hours are completed or from the date of application.
    (ii) For individuals regaining eligibility by participating in a 
workfare program, and the workfare obligation is based on an estimated 
monthly allotment prorated back to the date of application, then the 
allotment issued must be prorated back to this date.
    (e) Additional three-month eligibility. An individual who regained 
eligibility under paragraph (d) of this section and who is no longer 
fulfilling the work requirement as defined in paragraph (a) of this 
section is eligible for a period of three consecutive countable months 
(as defined in paragraph (b) of this section), starting on the date the 
individual first notifies the State agency that he or she is no longer 
fulfilling the work requirement, unless the individual has been 
satisfying the work requirement by participating in a work or workfare 
program, in which case the period starts on the date the State agency 
notifies the individual that he or she is no longer meeting the work 
requirement. An individual shall not receive benefits under this 
paragraph (e) more than once in any three-year period.
    (f) Waivers. (1) General. On the request of a State agency, the FNS 
may waive the time limit for a group of individuals in the State if FNS 
determines that the area in which the individuals reside:
    (i) Has an unemployment rate of over 10 percent; or
    (ii) Does not have a sufficient number of jobs to provide 
employment for the individuals.
    (2) Required data. In developing unemployment rates or labor force 
data to support waiver requests, States shall use standard Bureau of 
Labor Statistics (BLS) data or methods.
    (3) Effective date of certain waivers. In areas for which the State 
certifies that data from BLS show an unemployment rate above 10 
percent, the State may begin to operate the waiver at the time the 
waiver request is submitted. FNS will contact the State if the waiver 
must be modified.
    (4) Duration of waiver. In general, waivers will not be approved 
for more than one year, and the duration of a waiver should bear some 
relationship to the documentation provided in support of the waiver 
request. FNS will consider approving waivers for up to one year based 
on documentation covering a shorter period, but the State must show 
that the basis for the waiver is not a seasonal or short term 
aberration.
    (5) Areas covered by waivers. States may define areas to be covered 
by waivers, but the data and analysis used to support the waiver must 
correspond to the defined area.

    Dated: November 30, 1999.
Shirley R. Watkins,
Under Secretary, Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services.
[FR Doc. 99-32527 Filed 12-16-99; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3410-30-P