Arizona’s Nutrition Assistance program, previously known as “food stamps,” can help you buy nutritious food from local stores and supermarkets. The Nutrition Assistance program provides you with a electronic benefits transfer card, similar to a debit card, that is loaded each month with funds for food purchases. In Arizona the EBT card is called the Quest Card, and the amount of your benefit depends on both your income and family size.
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Foods Prepared at Home
While there are few restrictions on the types of groceries that you can buy with food stamps, the program restricts purchases to food intended for preparation outside the store. For example, many grocery store delis offer sandwiches or hot food items for carry out or eating right in the store. You usually cannot purchase these or other types of hot food with food stamps.
The Nutrition Assistance program does make an exception to the “no prepared foods” rule for some elderly, disabled or homeless people who receive prepared meals through approved organizations. This is called the Restaurant Meals Program with a hot foods program that is available to people who meet those requirements.
Seeds and Plants
The Nutrition Assistance program encourages users to grow their own food. You can use your benefits to buy seeds for fruits and vegetables, as well as food-producing trees, plants, saplings, and roots. However, you cannot buy gardening supplies, such as plant food or fertilizer with your food stamps. Nor can you buy live animals, such as a chicken that can lay eggs, with Nutrition Assistance funds.
Health Foods and Special Diets
You can use your Nutrition Assistance funds to purchase food items for special diets. For example, if you are a vegetarian, you are at liberty to buy meat substitutes with your food stamps. You can also buy sugar-free foods, or “health food” such as wheat germ. You cannot use food stamps to buy vitamin pills, nutritional supplements or over-the-counter medications.
Pregnant and nursing women will also be allotted special food packages. The packages are designed to give women nutritional options to grow healthy babies while maintaining a healthy weight themselves. You can find all the food details in chapter three of the Arizona EBT food package guidelines.
Types of Allowed Beverages
Food stamps are good for purchasing most nonalcoholic beverages, including juice, milk, baby formula and bottled water. You can purchase bottled energy drinks with food stamps under certain conditions. The manufacturer of the drink cannot market it as a supplement by including a “supplement facts label” on the bottle. The drink must be printed with a nutritional facts label.
There are further restrictions on milk if you have children and toddlers. The program allows 1% milk or skim milk for 2-4 year olds, while 12-23 month olds will receive whole milk. Infants that are not breastfed, are eligible to infant formula through Arizona EBT benefits. In addition, if the child is lactose intolerant, milk substitutions are eligible for purchase with the EBT benefits.
Oils and Seasonings
It is permissible to use your food stamps for cooking fats and oils, as well as herbs and spices to season your food. You cannot buy nonfood cooking supplies such as utensils or pots and pans.
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Lainie Petersen writes about business, real estate and personal finance, drawing on 25 years experience in publishing and education. Petersen's work appears in Money Crashers, Selling to the Masses, and in Walmart News Now, a blog for Walmart suppliers. She holds a master's degree in library science from Dominican University.