You may need government assistance through the New Jersey food stamps program if your household is struggling to put food on the table. This form of federal assistance, which is now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), aims to fight hunger in the country through federal funding. If you are eligible for assistance, you will receive benefits every month on a “families first” electronic benefit transfer (EBT) card.
It is important for you to follow the rules of SNAP benefits in New Jersey so that you do not jeopardize your eligibility for the program. As a general rule, you can use your cash assistance in approved grocery stores and farmers’ markets. If some of your benefits go unused, they will roll over into the following month. To learn more about benefits distributed by the NJ Department of Human Services (DHS) and how to use them correctly, continue reading below.
Which food items can you buy using food stamps in New Jersey?
When using your NJ SNAP program benefits, keep in mind that this assistance is only meant to expand your budget. Thus, the DHS recommends that you use your benefits wisely and spend them on foods that are considered “staple items.” In other words, you are encouraged to buy foods that are deemed healthy and are high in nutrition. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), staple foods include:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Meat, poultry and fish
- Meat substitutes, such as tofu or vegetable burgers
- Dairy products
- Bread, cereals and grains, such as rice, quinoa and oats
Staple foods may be purchased separately or in stocking units. Stocking units include cans, bunches, boxes, bags or packages in which staple foods are sold. For instance, you may purchase apples directly from a food stand, and you may also purchase containers of apple sauce.
Your EBT card holds your benefits, which were originally in the form of SNAP food stamps. Overall, this card can be used to purchase other food items in authorized grocery stores and farmers’ markets, such as:
- Beans, nuts and seeds
- Snack foods
- Bakery foods
- Baking ingredients
Furthermore, you are allowed to buy pre-packaged items like chips, cookies, granola bars and pretzels, even if they are not considered the most nutritious foods by the USDA.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program categorizes non-staple food items as accessory foods. For instance, condiments are accessory foods because they complement your meal. You may use your EBT card to buy condiments such as ketchup, relish, vinegar, mayonnaise, salad dressing and more.
Baking ingredients are also considered accessory foods because they typically do not make up the majority of a person’s diet. You may purchase baking or cooking ingredients such as:
- Baking soda and baking powder
- Sugar, honey and maple syrup
- Vanilla extract
- Vegetable oil
Finally, your New Jersey food stamp benefits may also be used to buy certain beverages, such as cans or bottles of soda, juice and seltzer. For an in-depth explanation of what to buy with your SNAP benefits, download our free guide.
Products You Cannot Buy Using Food Stamps in New Jersey
The SNAP assistance guidelines have very specific regulations on which items you are not authorized to buy with your EBT card. This is not meant to limit you as a beneficiary, but to ensure that you do not misuse your benefits on non-essential items. Moreover, EBT cards do not work at unauthorized stores, and even approved establishments may reject unauthorized purchases. Generally, you are not allowed to use your benefits to buy:
- Tobacco, cigarettes and vaping products
- Pet food
- Toiletries and paper products
- Hot foods and prepared foods meant to be eaten in a store
- Live animals
On the other hand, the New Jersey SNAP assistance rules do allow for exceptions regarding certain prohibited items. For example, you may buy certain prepared and pre-packaged foods as long as they are not designed to be eaten in a store. Store-made bakery goods, such as pies, cakes, bread and cookies, may all be purchased with an EBT card.
In addition, you cannot use your benefits in restaurants, because they are not authorized to receive SNAP funds as forms of payment. The only time that a restaurant is authorized to accept food stamps payments is if less than 50 percent of its gross sales are made by selling heated and prepared foods.
In very specific situations, you may use your SNAP food benefits to purchase live animals. For instance, you are allowed to buy live shellfish with an EBT card, as long as the shellfish are removed from the water. You are also allowed to buy live farm animals from authorized sellers, as long as they are slaughtered by the time you pick them up.
If you are confused about the food stamps program rules regarding certain products, check to see whether the product has a nutrition label. Items with supplement labels or other types of labels may not be purchased with an EBT card.
How are food stamp benefits amounts calculated in New Jersey?
You may want to use a food stamp calculator to gain an idea of the total benefit amount you may receive. These calculators are typically offered by third-party websites and are not necessarily associated with a government agency. However, they may still be helpful in helping you establish a budget.
Generally, these calculators will require you to submit information about your household income, unearned income, the number of people in the home and the ages of each person. Be mindful that a food stamps calculator is different from a New Jersey SNAP calculator, which is provided by the state DHS. Ultimately, your total benefit amount is determined by:
- The total gross income of your household.
- Unearned income, such as investments or savings.
- Your eligibility for other government assistance programs. Remember that your eligibility for other assistance programs will not affect your SNAP eligibility, but it may affect your SNAP benefit amount.
- Your rent or mortgage and utilities.
- Your medical expenses, if you are 60 years of age or older or have a disability.
When do you start receiving SNAP benefits after applying in New Jersey?
The date when you begin receiving New Jersey food stamps depends on the date when your application was received. In most states, it takes up to 30 days for the state DHS to make a decision on your application. Once you are approved, keep in mind that it takes a few days to receive your “families first” card in the mail. For more information on SNAP benefits and EBT cards, download our free guide.