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. The amount of your benefit depends on both your income and family size.
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 cannot purchase these pre-made, pre-cooked items with your Arizona Nutrition Assistance benefits.
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.
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.
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.
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.