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Learn About SNAP Benefits in Iowa

Food stamps, which have been replaced with electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards across the country, help millions of needy families in the U.S. expand their food budgets. While the main goal of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is to help qualifying households put food on the table, the program also educates low-income families on nutritional foods. Another goal is to reduce stigma for qualified applicants who receive benefits, which is why the program was renamed SNAP.

Your Iowa SNAP benefits may be used in a variety of different retailers, as long as they have a sign posted that states the store accepts EBT cards or Quest cards, which is a term often used for benefit cards. Although you may buy a large variety of food items with your benefits, there are many items sold in authorized stores that are prohibited by the IA Department of Human Services (DHS). Understanding how to use your Quest card may make it easier to select approved items in stores and markets.

Which food items can you buy using food stamps in Iowa and where can you buy them?

The focus of the SNAP program in Iowa is to help you get healthy food if you cannot afford it alone. Buying nutritious food is often expensive, and food assistance may help you improve your quality of life. If you have children, it is especially important that they have a proper diet and are exposed to a wide variety of healthy foods.

In general, if you are eligible for SNAP benefits you may only use your Quest card at approved retailers. Businesses that will allow you to purchase items with a Quest card include:

  • Bakery outlets.
  • Convenience stores.
  • Farmers markets.
  • Grocery stores.
  • Health food stores.
  • Meat markets.

In addition, the DHS recommends that you use your SNAP food stamps primarily for staple foods. Staple foods, as defined by the USDA, are nutritious items from the main food categories. They include:

  • Fruits and vegetables.
  • Meat, poultry and fish.
  • Vegetarian and vegan meat substitutes, such as vegetable burgers or tofu.
  • Dairy products.
  • Bread and whole grains, such as rice, oats or quinoa.

Purchasing staple foods with your SNAP benefits may improve your diet and the diets of your other household members.

While the guidelines of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program recommend that staple foods are the focus of your food budget, you are perfectly entitled to buy accessory foods as well. These are food items that may supplement or complement your meals, including:

  • Snacks, including pre-packaged granola bars, popcorn, chips, cookies and pretzels.
  • Non-alcoholic beverages.
  • Baking and cooking ingredients.
  • Condiments, such as mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard, jam and honey.

The baking and cooking ingredients you may purchase with your food stamps benefits include:

  • Flour, baking powder and baking soda
  • Vanilla extract
  • Sugar, honey and maple syrup
  • Vegetable oil
  • Vinegar
  • Spices

You are also allowed to purchase seeds and plants, which may produce food that will be eaten later on. For a better idea of which food items you may buy with your benefits, download our free guide.

Note: These lists are not exhaustive. They are simply meant to give you an idea of which food items are approved for purchase with your SNAP food stamps.

Products You Cannot Buy Using Food Stamps in Iowa

When using your SNAP assistance in IA, it is important that you try not to purchase items that are prohibited under the program guidelines. However, mistakes can occur. In general, you will not lose your eligibility for accidentally trying to purchase a prohibited item. If you intentionally abuse your EBT card, however, you may lose your benefits.

You may not use your Quest card to buy:

  • Alcoholic beverages.
  • Tobacco, cigarettes and vape products.
  • Vitamins and supplements.
  • Live animals.
  • Hot foods.
  • Prepared foods.
  • Pet foods.
  • Cleaning supplies, cosmetics and toiletries.

In general, your SNAP food benefits may not be used to purchase any item that does not have a nutrition label. You may not use a Quest card to buy vitamins and supplements, for example, because they have supplement labels. It is a good idea to check all the items in your grocery cart for nutrition labels, just in case.

The food stamps program in Iowa does allow for certain exceptions to the prepared foods rule. For instance, you can buy baked goods even though they are packaged and prepared because they are not meant to be eaten in the store. If you have the option of eating an item in the store, it is likely that you cannot buy it with your EBT card.

This does not mean that you cannot buy anything from restaurants. For example, you may purchase items from specialty pizza stores that are meant to be prepared and baked at home. If you want to buy foods such as these, first make sure that the seller accepts Quest cards.

Finally, federal guidelines state that you may use SNAP benefits to purchase live animals in specific instances. You may use your Quest card to buy shellfish from a fish market or grocery store, as long as the shellfish is removed from the water. You may also buy a live animal from a meat market, as long as it is slaughtered before you pick it up.

How are food stamps benefits amounts calculated in Iowa?

You may use a food stamp calculator to get an estimate of the benefit amount to which you are entitled. These types of calculators are available online, and typically require you to submit personal information about your situation, including your income level and the number of people in your household.

The DHS will determine your benefit allotment based on the size of your household and your total monthly income. Keep in mind that the maximum benefit allotment is reserved for households with an income of $0. Therefore, it is most likely that your household will receive less than the maximum allotment.

When do you start receiving SNAP benefits after applying in Iowa?

According to federal SNAP program guidelines, you will receive a decision on your application within 30 days. If you are approved for benefits, your local DHS will provide you with information on how to obtain your Quest card.

If it is being sent to you in the mail, it may take up to seven days for you to receive it. To gain a better understanding of benefits, download our guide.