Grocers SNAP Defense for Snap Violations
After a report that came out in 2013 in which the escalating violations in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) was exposed, the United States Congress had little choice but to resort to rather extreme measures . The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), backed by the Federal Codes, were successful in disqualifying hundreds of grocery stores and markets that were found to be in violation one way or another. Many of these closed down as a result. Being disqualified from SNAP can have far-reaching consequences including an enormous impact on a business’ bottom line. If a letter saying that SNAP charges have been brought against your store arrives in the mail, you will have to act fast.
The SNAP program, like other government benefits schemes, is heavily regulated and subject to certain federal codes. Since you are a shop proprietor, you may not have the much needed legal know-how to defend yourself against SNAP charges. In addition, there is a rather abbreviated, unyielding filing deadline under which the USDA expects your proper response. Non-compliance can result in negative and pretty severe sanctions against you.
The day you receive a charge letter that details the SNAP allegations charged against you, one wise initial thought you may consider is whether you should bring a specialist SNAP violation attorney on board. There are those who underestimate this charge letter or neglect to address it with the seriousness it calls for. Nonetheless, being subject to major losses in the wake of SNAP violation sanctions can be avoided in most situations. Numerous compelling reasons exist as to why retaining a violations attorney is a smart move.
The USDA Relentlessly Battles SNAP Violations and EBT Fraud
One aim the USDA has is to safeguard the financial interests of American taxpayers. In keeping with this duty, SNAP violations are dealt with expediently and severely. The federal government has even put measures in place to actively keep track of SNAP sales. This gives them quick evidence in pinpointing suspicious transactions and initiating investigations where they need to. The USDA also works hand in hand with other local state government agencies to accomplish the common goal of charging violators of SNAP rules.
USDA Puts the Latest Technology in Play to Go After Violating Business Owners
The USDA routinely invests in state-of-the-art technologies in hardware and software to make certain that their benefit program is not exploited. A core technological feature is the deployment of electronic “audit trails” to quickly pick up on and pursue any suspicious activity. They also use an Anti-Fraud Locator as a tool to remotely monitor Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) systems. Grocery workers acting in a potentially mistrustful manner can be spotted with ease and draw heavy fines for the store. Grave violations can result in a temporary, or under some circumstances, permanent disqualification.
USDA Hires a Team of SNAP Violation Investigators
There is now a wing at the USDA dedicated to SNAP fraud. This recently formed department comprises more than 100 investigators and analysts situated in specific regions around the United States. Their responsibility is to analyze data to mine for suspicious transactions. Also, they carry out undercover investigations in tandem with local police and detectives. This team is also charged with the duty of prosecuting cases and imposing monetary fines and disqualifications on grocers who are proven guilty of violations. The Department communicates frequently with law enforcement authorities and fraud experts.
The Federal Government Takes Stringent Measures Against Violators
Proprietors of grocery stores and markets who have been found to be misusing any federal programs can get slapped with some steep penalties. For instance, the Department sent more than 100 investigators out to study and monitor more than 15,000 stores in the year 2012. During the course of these investigations, roughly 1,400 stores were subject to permanent disqualification. A high percentage of these grocers were charged with trafficking. Around 70 of these 1,400 stores were sanctioned for other charges, including transacting illegal sales. The most egregious of the violators served jail sentences.
In order to shield yourself and your business from such a fate, remain on the right side of the law and to avoid lofty fines, the best practice is to become well acquainted with the situations that constitute a SNAP violation.
SNAP Violations 101
Here are some activities that can draw SNAP violation charges:
- Knowingly and intentionally providing false information on the application form for a store license or in an attempt to receive EBT benefits or more benefits than you would normally be eligible for.
- SNAP benefits trafficking. This term, trafficking, is a sweeping term used to refer to fraudulently accepting or stealing benefits.
- Coupon redemptions for a particular store were of greater value than the food sales during the same period.
- When the store owner or a cashier accepts EBT payments in exchanges for non-food items such as alcohol, cigarettes and other tobacco products, and other unqualified products.
- Knowingly taking benefits payments from unauthorized persons. SNAP benefits should only be used by legally entitled card holders.
- If a store keeps a credit tab in exchange for SNAP benefits.
To successfully bring a defense against any such violations, you must enlist legal consultation. On your own, you are likely to make critical errors that can greatly jeopardize your case. From the outset, you need to be aware that any conversations you conduct with the USDA are recorded. In that case, any admissions of guilt can and will be used against you. All too frequently, business proprietors attempt to negotiate with the USDA for SNAP charges. The Department of State is not in the custom of negotiating with violators. You can bet on the fact that once they have sent out a violation charge letter to you, their main goal is to fine you or disqualify your grocery store from the benefits program.
Another misstep commonly made is to openly admit wrongdoing before speaking with a violation attorney. It is paramount to bear in mind that regardless of whether the USDA claims to have detected something in your store’s transactions that sent up a red flag, you are not automatically guilty of a violation. The wise way to go is to review all your own records and get in touch with an attorney who specializes in this area. It would be greatly detrimental to you and your business if you admit to performing an incriminating transaction.
Equally damaging is when a store owner resorts to immediately accusing his or her employees of committing the crime and reporting this information to the USDA officials. As the proprietor, you can and will, nonetheless, be held personally accountable for any offences perpetrated on your premises and under the name of your business. Before you jump to wild conclusions and begin sharing out blame, first conduct an in-house investigation with the assistance of a SNAP specialist lawyer.
In the final analysis, the most effective method of defending against a SNAP violation charge is to simply instill compliance. Developing and distributing a written policy document that clearly details guidelines on how SNAP transactions must be handled in various circumstances is a wise way to accomplish this. The staff members also must be well trained on what to do and what not to do when dealing with SNAP transactions during the course of their work. Software exists that can assist you in keeping track of these special transactions. This is also a wise and advisable investment. Just one Civil Penalty Fine can make a huge negative impact on the operation of your business. It could be far worse indeed if you wind up with a temporary or permanent disqualification. Be wise in your business practice by retaining a SNAP violations attorney. Their expertise and experience can behoove you in mounting a solid defense that could help you avoid very costly USDA penalties.