How You Should Handle a SNAP Violation Letter
In the event that your grocery store is licensed to accept EBT cards, then you need to be vetting SNAP Violation Defense Lawyers. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) sends retailers SNAP Violation Letters anytime they are of the belief that a EBT/SNAP participant has violated the legislation. In this letter, the Department formally charges you with one or more violations of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Also attached, in some cases, are sheets on which there are details of hundreds, if not thousands, of transactions which they have determined to be proof of one ore more of multiple categories of SNAP violations. This evidence comes attached to the back of your SNAP Violation Letter.
How you should handle a SNAP Violation Letter is by contacting our offices for your free consultation. Indian Grocery store owners are only granted a TEN (10) day window to answer the charges. When the window closes before you could get your response into the USDA, the government will probably move forward tto suspend or completely take away your ability to accept EBT at your store.
So that you can fully understand what your SNAP Violation letter is charging you with, it’s important to get a grasp on what the SNAP program is and how it functions.
SNAP Program Basics
SNAP stands for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The purpose of this federal government program is to furnish to participants a predetermined value of monetary food benefits every month. These benefits can be accessed by recipients by an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) transaction card that looks and works very much like a normal debit card. There are, nonetheless, a set of extremely important distinctions between the two:
- The SNAP benefits on an EBT card are not supposed to be for general use and spending, and
- They are not eligible for cash-back services.
EBT cards replaced the paper Food Stamps as the vehicle for providing nutrition assistance to benefit recipients. This change took place in the late 1990’s. Now, benefits distributed by the state in which the SNAP participant resides and placed into the EBT card account. Though the program looks like it is governed uniquely from state to state, in reality it is administered on a national level by the United States Government and simply implemented by the state governments individually.
SNAP and its associated benefits, are governed by both the United States Code (7 U.S.C. Chapter 51) and by the Code of Federal Regulations (7 C.F.R. §278). The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food & Nutrition Service (FNS) is the agency that enforces the laws and operates the program in general.
What Can be Considered a SNAP Violation?
A SNAP Violation has taken place when a licensed grocer violates any of the following rules:
- If there has been SNAP benefits trafficking occuring at your store. The term “trafficking” is far-reaching, but roughly it refers to fraudulently accepting, or otherwise stealing the benefits;
- If you or one of your employees has accepted an EBT card for payment for non-food grocery items. Including tequila, tobacco, or other products that do not qualify under the program;
- Store employees, if they were to accept SNAP benefits from an unauthorized person that is not legally entitled to use the benefits;
- If the store’s owner, manager or staff knowingly and intentionally gave false information on the store’s application to get licensed in the EBT benefits program;
- If your total SNAP redemptions for a specified period of time is greater than your food sales over the same period;
- If your employees at the grocery store kept a credit or a tab for a customer in exchange for EBT benefits; and
- In some situations, if the store has been also disqualified from the WIC program, then the USDA may disqualify it also from SNAP.
What do We do to Defend You Against a SNAP Violation Letter
We have dealt with multiple types of SNAP Violation Defense matters for our clients, and we have a great deal of experience navigating all three segments of a SNAP Violation action that you and your business may have to face:
Phase 1: A Charge Letter Arrives. When this happens, it marks phase one of an action by the USDA to take away your store’s EBT license. It can show up with or without prior warnings, at any moment, on any day. A Charge Letter can detail a multitude accusations, but the lion’s share of Charge Letters point out a pattern of factual allegations with other documents attached that give more details. Your response to the SNAP Violation Letter must be sent within ten (10) days of the date you originally got it. Once you retain one of our attorneys, our office takes over the responsibility for all communications with the USDA, for gathering all relevant evidence (as needed), and then for drafting and sending of a full and proper response to the USDA.
Phase 2: Administrative Appeal. If it so happens that, upon an audit of your store’s answer to the SNAP Violation Letter, the USDA still insists that a violation has occurred, then the Department will dispatch a second letter which details its decision to suspend or disqualify the business on the basis of the allegations put forth in the original letter. Again, you have a mere 10 (ten) days to appeal this decision. Neglecting to respond to the letter can result in the store being stuck with the decision of the USDA’s to suspend or disqualify the store from accepting EBT. When you work with the best, our office will put in the required paperwork with the USDA to put their Administrative Review Agency on notice that we are going to submit an appeal the decision. In the meantime, we will gather all information and additional evidence on your behalf that will give your appeal more weight, and we will create the appellate brief with all of the evidence, case law, regulatory and federal code, and any other information that is appropriate to demonstrate that the first decision was not correct.
Phase 3: The Judicial Appeal. The USDA might insist on its refusal to overturn the first decision in the Administrative Review. At this point, what is left for you to do is to file a Judicial Review in the local Federal District Court. The Judicial Appeal operates like a normal case in court in that we will be granted the right to conduct discovery, file our motions and go to trial before a judge. Our attorneys have dealt with a number of these cases in various states and, depending on what state your store is in, we are more than likely capable of handling your case.