Revised March 3, 2003


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States are able to exempt individuals who would otherwise be subject to the three-month time-limit, allowing certain childless 18-49 year-olds to continue receiving food stamps once they have exhausted their three months of benefits. Table 1 provides the total number of months of food stamps that each state can authorize with its individual exemptions during federal fiscal year 2003.

Exemptions not used in a fiscal year may be carried over to the next year. As Table 1 shows, most states have used far fewer exemptions than they were allotted, and therefore have large stores of exemptions that can be used in the future. In addition, states that use more than their allotment of exemptions in a given year are not subject to quality control errors or fiscal sanctions. Instead, the state's exemption allotment for the following year is simply reduced by the number of exemptions by which it exceeded its allotment. For these reasons, states may wish to consider more generous exemption policies than they have used in previous years. Examples of exemption policies are:

NOTE: States that use exemptions to lengthen the time-limit to six months could assign individuals subject to the time-limit to semi-annual reporting. This would allow states to provide food stamps to this population for six months and streamline administrative processes by reducing reporting and office visit requirements.


Understanding the Number of Exemptions

USDA informs states every year of the average number of exemptions that a state can grant each month. To arrive at the total number of case-months of benefits a state can provide over the course of the fiscal year (the figure shown on the attached table), the average number of exemptions per month must be multiplied by twelve. Since states generally report to USDA on the total number of benefit months they have authorized with their exemptions, comparing those reports to the total number of benefit months they had available seems easier than working with the numbers that USDA provides concerning each state's average monthly number of allowable exemptions.

The first column of Table 1 shows the total number of exemptions available to each state in federal fiscal year 2002. This number includes both exemptions allotted to the state in fiscal year 2002 and exemptions carried over from previous fiscal years. The second column shows the total number of exemptions used in fiscal year 2002. The third column shows the number of exemptions newly allotted to each state in federal fiscal year 2003. The last column shows the number of exemptions available in fiscal year 2003 including carryover from previous years. As described above, each column of the table contains numbers of single exemptions; none of the numbers in the table are average numbers of exemptions per month.

For example, the state of Alabama had 87,216 exemptions available to use in fiscal year 2002. Alabama used 8,170 of these exemptions in fiscal year 2002. In fiscal year 2003, Alabama received an additional 1,945 exemptions per month, or 23,339 total exemptions. Combining this with the carryover from previous years, Alabama has 102,385 exemptions to use in fiscal year 2003 (an average of 8,532 per month), or 12.5 times the number it used the previous year.


The Dollar Value of Exemptions

Unused exemptions are benefit dollars that low-income unemployed individuals do not receive and unrealized economic activity in the state. Table 2 provides an estimate of the value of each state's available exemptions for FY 2003 in food stamp benefit dollars. These figures are based on Congressional Budget Office estimates of the national average value of the benefits individuals subject to the time-limit receive. If a state has a generous General Assistance program available to these individuals, the table may overstate the size of the average food stamp allotment for this group in that state.

Nationally, $480 million in food stamp benefits are available for these individuals through exemptions.

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