The Arizona Department of Economic Security administers the state’s Nutrition Assistance program, formerly known as the Food Stamp program. Families that need financial assistance to buy nutritious meals and snacks can get that assistance from the state. The application process requires an interview with a state official to ensure households meet eligibility criteria based on income and resources.
Arizona’s state government website says the goal of the Nutrition Assistance program is to ensure that low-income families, especially those with children and vulnerable adults, have access to healthy food. The term “food stamps” is obsolete, according to the website, because the Department of Economic Security, or DES, hands out electronic debit cards, rather than foods stamps, to eligible families. The program aims to provide nutritious food to all needy families in an effort to promote better school performance among children and better health outcomes among adults.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture sets the eligibility criteria for the nutrition assistance program in all states, including Arizona. A household’s countable resources, including money in a bank account, generally must be less than $2,000–$3,000 if at least one person in the home is 60 or older or has a disability. The income guidelines for eligibility depend on household size. After deductions, such as a 20 percent deduction for earned income, a household of one must have a gross monthly income of $1,174 or less as of 2010 to qualify for benefits. For each additional member, add $405 to the monthly income limit.
Federal guidelines establish a maximum monthly benefit amount depending on household size, from $200 for a household of one to $1,202 for a household of eight as of 2010. A household’s monthly income reduces the maximum allotment. To calculate the decrease based on income, multiply the monthly net income by 30 percent, or 0.03, and subtract that number from the maximum allotment. Once approved for benefits, the head of the household will receive a QUEST Electronic Benefits Transfer debit card. The card works at most local supermarkets and stores, such as convenience stores, that accept QUEST. The state adds your monthly benefit amount to your EBT card.
DES enforces certain limitations regarding items for purchase with Nutrition Assistance benefits. Items you can buy include food products for human consumption, vegetable seeds and food-producing plants, health foods such as wheat germ or sunflower seeds, infant formula or diabetic foods, deposits on returnable bottles or containers, distilled water or ice labeled for human consumption, and items such as spices and herbs to be used in the preparation or preservation of food. Items that are off limits include pet food, vitamins and minerals, health aids and restaurant food.
DES notes that the Nutrition Assistance is not the same as welfare, but rather a way to help low-income families add healthy food to their diet. Unlike with welfare, eligible families must use the assistance they receive to purchase food, not items such as cigarettes, alcohol, toiletries and clothing. Furthermore, low-wage earners, not only the unemployed, can receive benefits. According to DES, 36 percent of the 431,000 families who received Nutrition Assistance in January 2010 had jobs.