Grocers SNAP Defense for Snap Violations

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.

SNAP Reauthorization – Dairy Requirements

SNAP Dairy Inventory Requirements for Reauthorization:

 

Has a letter from the USDA arrived at your store regarding licensing authorization in relation to your inventory of dairy products?  Frequently the USDA will announce that your business fails to meet the dairy criteria due to the fact that you don’t stock any, or you stock insufficient SKUs of dairy products.  During the past year, this assertion by the USDA has become almost customary.  It is an outcome of the updates on SNAP legislation that took place in January 2018, which made it necessary for participating stores to stock more inventory.  One difficulty the USDA had seen was in the dairy inventory in smaller grocers.  Dairy, as a category, is challenging for smaller stores because the items in this category are expensive, perishable and necessitate refrigeration. In addition, profit margins on dairy are narrow.  These factors made it easy for the USDA to employ this as their most recent tactic to further reduce the quantity of participating stores – especially small ones.

 

Lawyers on our team have fought and prevailed on a multitude of these SNAP re-authorization denials since the regulations were revamped.  This firm boasts a strong, lengthy track record of getting reversals to these decisions and making it possible for our clients to get their EBT machines in gear again.

 

SNAP Dairy Requirements

Two sets of criteria exist that retailers need to meet to qualify: 

  • Criterion A is a set of inventory prerequeisites.You must bring your inventory in line with these for you to qualify; and 
  • Criterion B says that greater than 50% of your sales must derive from purchases in  “staple foods.”  

The lion’s share of stores qualify under Criterion A, which is why being aware of the dairy prerequisites is so vital.

 

In keeping with these rules, under Criterion A, a SNAP retailer is supposed to stock seven (7) different varieties in the Dairy Category.  The term variety is used to refer to a different type of food in the same category.  Varieties of dairy can include, for instance: milk, cheese, yogurt, infant formula, cottage cheese, etc.  Different brands of the same variety does not suffice as separate varieties.  Interestingly, non-dairy beverages such as soymilk and almondmilk are counted as varieties in the dairy category so having these two can count as towards fulfilling your dairy inventory requirement. The Department has said they implemented this to make certain that there is a broad variety of nutritious and healthy food choices accessible by SNAP recipients.

 

What can help me understand what is considered a variety? 

A useful rule of thumb in determining what different products in your store can be classed as what is to consider both the product type and the main ingredient in it.  For instance, if you sell whole milk and skim milk – the main ingredient in both of these is cow’s milk, so it follows that the two items are of the same product type.  Conversely, almondmilk and skim milk have different main ingredients – almonds versus cow’s milk – therefore these are classed as different varieties.  In addition, if you have dehydrated milk and fluid milk – even though they are both cow’s milk – those are classed as two different varieties because the type of product differs.  The latter is sold ready to consume, while the former is a powder form that necessitates an additional step of preparation prior to consumption.

 

Some additional varieties that can be considered as options when making inventory choices to satisfy the dairy prerequisites at your grocery store include: plant-based dairy category items, such as almond-based milk, almond-based cheese, soy-based milk, soy-based cheese, and rice-based milk. Any of these would be classed as a unique variety because they differ as product types with different main ingredients. In addition, stocking cow’s milk-based soft cheese and cow’s milk-based hard cheese is another way to quickly meet the criteria because these are considered unique varieties from each other.

 

More varieties you can choose to stock include: goat cheese, butter substitute (like margarine), powdered milk, cow milk-based infant milk, and goat milk.

 

On-Site Store Inspections

If you get a letter that brings your inventory qualifications into question, an on-site inspection is probably how the problem started.  These inspections are carried out by USDA contractors (who are not department employees) who make the rounds evaluating stores and are paid for every inspection they complete.  They use a checklist and question to the store managers or store proprietors.

 

One of their primary purposes in the inspection is to take photos of the store’s inventory and to do a rather simple inventory report.  The inventory report categorizes your inventory into the four staple food segments: (1) dairy, (2) fruits and vegetables, (3) breads and cereals, and (4) meats and protein.  The inspector is charged with the task of simply checking off the quantity of different varieties that your store stocks, and record the quantity of units that they can see on your shelves.

 

Upon completion of this  report, a program specialist at the USDA scans through it and flags inventory problems (such as insufficient dairy products).  Then, they customarily mail you a letter.  In the letter, the USDA will request that you furnish documentation to demonstrate that the store was indeed carrying a sufficient variety and numbers of required dairy inventory items.  You can supply them with copies of invoices or other paperwork, but bear in mind, you have to demonstrate that those purchases took place within 21 days of the store visit.

 

What is the Next Step After Receiving a Letter

If your store depends greatly upon EBT transactions, or requires the extra revenue in the short term, the smartest thing you can do is to contact our firm. You can reach us by phone at 1-833-SNAP-LAW.  We are equipped with the expertise to take care of these matters and win your case, and the USDA officials are acquainted with us.  We will put together all of the records that the USDA would need to grant your authorization, and we will put together the brief to present the case of why your store should be authorized.  Our Attorneys will also look over your whole application to make certain that the Department will not be able to reject it for other causes.

 

If you opt to deal with the response yourself, do understand that, if the USDA denies your application, you will be required to wait at least 6 months before you will be able to file again.  You stand to forfeit months of revenue at your store, so be very certain that you have documented your inventory as accurately as possible.

 

We can provide you with a free consultation, and we are available to answer any questions you may want to ask us about the process.

SNAP Trafficking Charge Letter

Charge Letter Regarding SNAP Trafficking

 

Having a licence in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) as a grocer means that you have the ability to serve customers living in low income brackets. You would be surprised how much revenue this fact can translate to in your business.

 

That said, selling to SNAP customers is attached to important legal responsibilities established to eliminate fraud from the government benefits program. Such obligations are not only for you as the proprietor.  These rules apply to your managers and all of your employees.  In the event that anyone in your store happens to be caught committing fraudulent acts, the government may dispatch a “Trafficking Charge Letter” to your store. Responding to it expeditiously and properly is of great importance.

 

For What Infraction Did I Get a Trafficking Charge Letter?

 

Trafficking can take place in the form of buying EBT benefits from your card holding clients. The recipients take cash from you and, under some arrangements, they might turn around and purchase products that they are not authorized to pay for with their EBT card. The crime of trafficking in SNAP benefits also covers the use of a benefit recipient’s EBT card to procure inventory and then reselling those products to other stores or customers. In some trafficking transactions, a SNAP customer may offer to exchange their benefits with you for guns, bullets or illicit drugs. A grocery store can permanently lose its license to accept EBT payments as a penalty for participating in trafficking.

 

You can end up with a Charge Letter when agents of the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) or the relevant state agency have reason to believe that you have violated SNAP laws. The FNS frequently employs undercover buyers from whom they procure Information on which to base their charges. Undercover shoppers will approach you and/or your workers, posing as EBT customers to determine whether or not you or your employees break rules. They may either offer to sell their benefits to you or see if you ask to buy them. At times, the FNS will get evidence of your violations from real EBT recipients who report you or from data mined from EBT records that are analyzed by computers to expose habits and patterns in the transactions.

 

Aside from the crime of trafficking, SNAP violations can include failing to post prices, charging different (usually higher) prices to EBT customers than other customers, segregating EBT customers into separate checkout aisles and taking EBT payments for nonfood items. Your customers are prohibited from using SNAP funds to buy beer, wine, liquor, cigarettes, other tobacco products, prepared foods that are served hot or meals at restaurants (A few exceptions have been allowed in specific restaurants in some communities that provide reduced-price prepared meals to low-income or homeless people).

 

A Guide to Correctly Responding to a Charge Letter

 

The Trafficking Charge Letter that arrives in the mail will explain to you, in addition to the causes for the trafficking charge, of your options. The USDA may allow you the option of remitting a civil monetary penalty instead of threatening to permanently disqualify you from the SNAP program altogether. You have only ten (10) days from the date that the letter was delivered to request that the FNS impose the less drastic alternative. If you neglect to reply at all, you forfeit your right to select the lesser penalty. Keep in mind that trafficking customarily ends up in a permanent disqualification from participating in the SNAP program. In other words, you would never be able to enter the program again. 

 

As they consider whether you are eligible for the less drastic sanction, the FNS will take into account whatever actions you have taken to create or attempt to create a culture of obedience to SNAP laws in your store. The requirements include how you respond to violations in-house and what measures you have implemented or enacted to ensure that your managers and staff stay in compliance – ahead of any potential allegations of violation. The specialist SNAP violation attorneys at our firm can work with you to assemble the necessary evidence so you can measure up to the standard for avoiding permanent disqualification.

 

Policy Standards for Compliance

 

FNS expects to see documented evidence of your business policies for trading in SNAP benefits. Are employees who violate SNAP rules subject to sanctions or dismissal? What actions do you take to correct mistakes or violations? Exactly what kinds of procedures do you have in place in your grocery store for internally reviewing EBT transactions?

 

Your history of compliance weights extremely heavily in the decision of whether you may avoid permanent disqualification. If this is your first offense, you are more likely to be able to persuade FNS to only levy a monetary penalty instead of removing you entirely from the SNAP program. If the business owner knew about or benefited from a trafficking violation prior to this current one, the likelihood is much greater that they will suffer disqualification. Further, avoidance of disqualification cannot occur if firearms, ammunition or controlled substances were involved in exchanges with EBT benefits. Considerable trafficking or situations that involve exorbitant amounts of money are also highly likely to bring the store a disqualification.

 

Training in Compliance

 

To qualify for the penalty option in place of a disqualification, you will have to demonstrate to the FNS that you took the steps to train your employees about the SNAP regulations. This includes your managers and every store worker  whose position and duties could encompass handling EBT cards, such as cashiers. The staff training program should emphasize detailed written instructions against accepting EBT benefits for firearms, ammunition, or controlled substances.

 

In keeping with this, documentation of the training programs or education is critical. The logs you keep in the store must show that the employees were trained by you on the SNAP procedures and laws prior to the date of the alleged violations. Your files need to be thorough, showing dates of hire and training of every staff member. As a part of your training program, you could even give each new hire a copy of publications or regulations from FNS. Obtain a signature from each staff member you give this to acknowledging receipt of the booklet and any other written materials.

 

After answering the Charge Letter, FNS will make a choice as to whether to proceed with the permanent disqualification or simply charge you the monetary fine instead. If they decide upon the former option, your disqualification takes effect immediately. Once this reaches this stage, you won’t be eligible to participate in SNAP even if you undergo an appeal through administrative or judicial review. If either forum gives you a reversal of the disqualification, FNS Is not obligated to reimburse you for the sales you lost during the review period.

 

Alternatively, if you meet the criteria for the civil monetary penalty and you appeal the  trafficking charges, you would be able to continue to receive EBT funds for your customers’ purchases until the reviews are over.

 

After the Charge Letter

 

Again, you have a short ten (10) days from when FNS delivers its written decision to ask for an administrative review. An FNS reviewer will determine whether to uphold the court’s decision or to reverse it.

 

If the FNS reviewer shands on their assertion that you should be disqualified or should be subject to other penalties for trafficking, your option at that stage is judicial review. You are obligated to request this by filing a lawsuit in state court or federal district court within thirty (30) days after the reviewer’s decision is served on you. Our attorneys can assist you in commencing the lawsuit and prepare for the trial.

 

A Charge Letter for SNAP trafficking is an extremely serious circumstance that your business can hardly afford. The deadlines to get things done run quickly and require prompt, thorough and decisive action on your part. Reach out to one of our SNAP attorneys for help working your way through this process.

SNAP Violation Charge Letters

A SNAP Violation Charge Letter arrives in the mail from the USDA looking like a simple, innocuous delivery brought to you like any normal UPS letter package.  Don’t be misled.  This letter contains either very serious allegations following an in store visit by a department agent, or a compilation of what the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) classified as “suspicious transactions” completed on your store’s register.  At first glance, it is not terribly unique from letters that other government agencies and departments send people. The reality is, nevertheless, that this is a completely different process and mindset on the part of the USDA.

 

The USDA’s Desire is to Shut Down Your Grocery Store or Market

 

In a 2013 study carried out by the USDA, the department discovered that Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP) fraud was at a twenty-year high.  To combat this problem, the Department stepped up its fraud detection and prevention procedures using a two pronged approach. (1) they bumped up the number of undercover investigations they do every year and (2) they more commonly utilize their ALERT system.  If a SNAP Violation charge letter showed up with documented descriptions of transactions that were carried out at your place of business, this signifies that the store has been shopped by one of their undercover agents.  If your SNAP Violation charge letter simply included a list of transactions, then the Department utilized its remote ALERT system to indicate the infractions.

 

No matter the circumstances of how your case was launched, the USDA has espoused a “zero tolerance” policy against fraud and it proceeded to permanently disqualify as many grocers as it could root out.  Congress supported the Department’s position.  As a result, it is mandated by law that the USDA crack down on SNAP violators.  Therefore, the Department is constantly on the lookout to disqualify and suspend as many grocery store licenses as possible.

 

A Better Understanding of the SNAP Charge Letter

Business owners get their SNAP charge letters through UPS overnight delivery.  The charge letter itself is a simple form letter.  It describes details on page one of the letter including what charges are being brought against the owner of the store. The letter will list the specifics of the disqualification the United States Department of Agriculture is dedicated to pursuing.  Such SNAP violation charges can fall under any of the following types of cases:

 

SNAP Benefits Trafficking

Trafficking is essentially defined as the act of exchanging SNAP benefits for cash, weapons, or drugs.  Of critical importance is that this category does not cover the sale and purchase of ineligible items.  There are attorneys in the field that say they specialize in SNAP law and are nonetheless oblivious of the difference, but it is rather important.  There are two categories of trafficking cases. One kind is a data or EBT SNAP violation case.  These cases include details of transactions but no specific descriptions. The second is a witnessed trafficking, which comes with its specific transaction descriptions. The usual verdict in a trafficking case is permanent disqualification.

 

Sale of Ineligible Products

This category of charges involves a retail store taking SNAP benefits as payments in exchange for items recipients are not allowed to purchase with EBT funds.  Under normal circumstances, these ineligible items include items such as soap, plastic cutlery and sandwich bags.  More egregious violations  involve such items as gasoline, tobacco or alcohol.   Term disqualification is the customary sanction the USDA seeks in these sorts of cases.  For more innocuous ineligible products, the Department often attempts to levy a six (6) month disqualification during which the retailer cannot serve their SNAP customers.  Those store owners with more serious cases often wind up with three-to-five (3-5) year disqualifications.

 

Reciprocal Disqualifications

If you have been disqualified from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for Women, Infants and Children (also called WIC), this can lead to a disqualification from the SNAP benefits program.  In such cases, the USDA normally looks to disqualify your grocery store for three (3) years, or they may even hit you with a permanent disqualification.

 

SNAP Charge Letter

 

Things You Should NOT Say to the USDA

We are equipped to deal with SNAP Violation charge letters that put forth a list of transactions and allege SNAP trafficking.  Quickly calling the USDA may seem like a wise step, but it is, in fact, a very risky move.  Even though it is usually wise when you receive such a letter in the mail for you to call up the state agency to ask questions about what’s going on and offer to cooperate to resolve the issues, the USDA is a very different animal.  The case analysts (that is, the person whose name and number were in the SNAP Violation charge letter) is charged with the task of collecting evidence against you in relation to the charges.  They come across as professional and personable individuals, but these same analysts are well trained to ask you questions and interpret your replies as admissions of guilt.

 

What You Should Not Do with Your SNAP Violation Charge Letter:

There are no such things in these cases as conversations being “off the record.”  Everything you say to them can and will be used against you.  In general, if you request an explanation from a program specialist regarding what they’re expecting to find, they then turn around and instruct you to mail them an explanation in writing for the transactions in question.  Additionally, they will request that you mail them supporting documents that you believe might assist them in a review of your transactions.  Neither of those instructions is to alleviate the problem for you. Quickly peruse our website and you will find much more SNAP violation advice than a conversation with a USDA employee.

 

Furthermore, be warned that department associates do not negotiate with accused violators.  Much unlike other state organizations, the USDA is not in the habit of lowering charges or penalties.  The very fact that you got  a letter from them demonstrates their intention to disqualify you.  Although the SNAP Violation Charge Letter mentions a Civil Money Penalty, in reality, the USDA only issues less than ten of those in any given year.  More frequently, the USDA disqualifies businesses.

 

Never verbally acknowledge that any wrongdoing took place at your store, nor should you make such an acknowledgement in writing.  There are a myriad of legitimate situations under which their data may make it appear that there’s something off color at your place of business when in reality, there were never any infractions perpetrated there.  Before you have an opportunity to sit down with a SNAP violation attorney or at least review your own records, you can’t know for certain if any of their charges have any validity.  The worst action you can take is to acknowledge any validity in the allegations made in an inaccurate SNAP Violation charge letter.  Indeed, you should go through our website to get more details about the different violation categories.

 

Avoid jumping to accuse your workers of the infractions.  Communicating to the officer that it was someone else’s doing will backfire on you.  The SNAP legislation is clear that regardless of the fact that it was your parking lot attendant who perpetrated the trafficking offence, you (the proprietor) are no less responsible.  Furthermore, there’s a decent chance that your staff members have not broken any laws. Even stating that you were not on site in the store can be used against you by the USDA.

 

Enlist good help in crafting and dispatching your response.  The majority of responses that are sent directly by the shop owner in question are perceived skeptically by the USDA.  In a case analysis I recently read, the analyst stated “of course the store would deny the charges in order to keep their EBT business.”  They espouse the belief that your response is sure to be embedded with compromised information or that something was kept out.  Utilizing a SNAP Violation attorney can give you the edge to avoid the mistakes most unaware individuals make in these cases.  If your EBT business is important to your store’s survival, paying to have your case professionally defended is a wise investment.   Otherwise, your case could be in great jeopardy because of errors of inexperience.

 

Recommendations for Your Response

We highly recommend that you bring in a professional to take care of these matters, but should you opt to represent yourself, here are a few recommendations:

 

Be as specific as you can.  A program specialist reviewing your case has never been in your grocery store.  Your customers and their spending habits are foriegh to them.  The USDA needs to be provided with a better understanding of how you run your business and what preventative measures you have already implemented to prevent SNAP violations. Be sure to include as much detail (and photos) as you can in your reply.

 

If you are accused of a violation in the SNAP Violation charge letter, interview your staff members.  Once that process is complete, if iyou find out that none of them perpetrated a violation, then share that information with the agency.

 

Don’t ever attempt to guess about the identity of a household.  If the USDA provided you with a data-driven SNAP Violation charge letter, it will come with a list of transactions.  Try to stop yourself from attempting to guess which families made which purchases.  In the event that you are 100% sure who it was, then you share this information with the agency.  Bear in mind that if you guess incorrectly, the agents will believe that you are lying and you will lose credibility with them.

 

In cases where you had to provide invoices for your inventory, furnish them for the Review Period.  The review period is defined as the date range of transactions that you see in the attachments. If you only provide selected ranges, then they will reject all of them.

 

We Can Assist You In Correctly Responding to a SNAP Violation Charge Letter

Specialist attorneys on our team have represented many retail store owners since 2013 in SNAP violations matters.  We boast a greater breadth and depth of experience than any other SNAP firm or attorney in the country, and our fees will likely work with your budget.  If you are in receipt of a charge letter and you need answers, or if you are interested in getting a free consultation, we are available to speak with you at your convenience any day of the week.  The quickest  way to get an appointment with us is by filling in our online intake form. 

 

You may also give us a call anytime at this number:

SNAP Dairy Inventory Requirements for Reauthorization

SNAP Dairy Inventory Requirements for Reauthorization:

 

Has a letter from the USDA arrived at your store regarding licensing authorization in relation to your inventory of dairy products?  Frequently the USDA will announce that your business fails to meet the dairy criteria due to the fact that you don’t stock any, or you stock insufficient SKUs of dairy products.  During the past year, this assertion by the USDA has become almost customary.  It is an outcome of the updates on SNAP legislation that took place in January 2018, which made it necessary for participating stores to stock more inventory.  One difficulty the USDA had seen was in the dairy inventory in smaller grocers.  Dairy, as a category, is challenging for smaller stores because the items in this category are expensive, perishable and necessitate refrigeration. In addition, profit margins on dairy are narrow.  These factors made it easy for the USDA to employ this as their most recent tactic to further reduce the quantity of participating stores – especially small ones.

 

Lawyers on our team have fought and prevailed on a multitude of these SNAP re-authorization denials since the regulations were revamped.  This firm boasts a strong, lengthy track record of getting reversals to these decisions and making it possible for our clients to get their EBT machines in gear again.

 

SNAP Dairy Requirements

Two sets of criteria exist that retailers need to meet to qualify: 

  • Criterion A is a set of inventory prerequeisites.You must bring your inventory in line with these for you to qualify; and 
  • Criterion B says that greater than 50% of your sales must derive from purchases in  “staple foods.”  

The lion’s share of stores qualify under Criterion A, which is why being aware of the dairy prerequisites is so vital.

 

In keeping with these rules, under Criterion A, a SNAP retailer is supposed to stock seven (7) different varieties in the Dairy Category.  The term variety is used to refer to a different type of food in the same category.  Varieties of dairy can include, for instance: milk, cheese, yogurt, infant formula, cottage cheese, etc.  Different brands of the same variety does not suffice as separate varieties.  Interestingly, non-dairy beverages such as soymilk and almondmilk are counted as varieties in the dairy category so having these two can count as towards fulfilling your dairy inventory requirement. The Department has said they implemented this to make certain that there is a broad variety of nutritious and healthy food choices accessible by SNAP recipients.

 

What can help me understand what is considered a variety? 

A useful rule of thumb in determining what different products in your store can be classed as what is to consider both the product type and the main ingredient in it.  For instance, if you sell whole milk and skim milk – the main ingredient in both of these is cow’s milk, so it follows that the two items are of the same product type.  Conversely, almondmilk and skim milk have different main ingredients – almonds versus cow’s milk – therefore these are classed as different varieties.  In addition, if you have dehydrated milk and fluid milk – even though they are both cow’s milk – those are classed as two different varieties because the type of product differs.  The latter is sold ready to consume, while the former is a powder form that necessitates an additional step of preparation prior to consumption.

 

Some additional varieties that can be considered as options when making inventory choices to satisfy the dairy prerequisites at your grocery store include: plant-based dairy category items, such as almond-based milk, almond-based cheese, soy-based milk, soy-based cheese, and rice-based milk. Any of these would be classed as a unique variety because they differ as product types with different main ingredients. In addition, stocking cow’s milk-based soft cheese and cow’s milk-based hard cheese is another way to quickly meet the criteria because these are considered unique varieties from each other.

 

More varieties you can choose to stock include: goat cheese, butter substitute (like margarine), powdered milk, cow milk-based infant milk, and goat milk.

 

On-Site Store Inspections

If you get a letter that brings your inventory qualifications into question, an on-site inspection is probably how the problem started.  These inspections are carried out by USDA contractors (who are not department employees) who make the rounds evaluating stores and are paid for every inspection they complete.  They use a checklist and question to the store managers or store proprietors.

 

One of their primary purposes in the inspection is to take photos of the store’s inventory and to do a rather simple inventory report.  The inventory report categorizes your inventory into the four staple food segments: (1) dairy, (2) fruits and vegetables, (3) breads and cereals, and (4) meats and protein.  The inspector is charged with the task of simply checking off the quantity of different varieties that your store stocks, and record the quantity of units that they can see on your shelves.

 

Upon completion of this  report, a program specialist at the USDA scans through it and flags inventory problems (such as insufficient dairy products).  Then, they customarily mail you a letter.  In the letter, the USDA will request that you furnish documentation to demonstrate that the store was indeed carrying a sufficient variety and numbers of required dairy inventory items.  You can supply them with copies of invoices or other paperwork, but bear in mind, you have to demonstrate that those purchases took place within 21 days of the store visit.

 

What is the Next Step After Receiving a Letter

If your store depends greatly upon EBT transactions, or requires the extra revenue in the short term, the smartest thing you can do is to contact our firm. You can reach us by phone at 1-833-SNAP-LAW.  We are equipped with the expertise to take care of these matters and win your case, and the USDA officials are acquainted with us.  We will put together all of the records that the USDA would need to grant your authorization, and we will put together the brief to present the case of why your store should be authorized.  Our Attorneys will also look over your whole application to make certain that the Department will not be able to reject it for other causes.

 

If you opt to deal with the response yourself, do understand that, if the USDA denies your application, you will be required to wait at least 6 months before you will be able to file again.  You stand to forfeit months of revenue at your store, so be very certain that you have documented your inventory as accurately as possible.

 

We can provide you with a free consultation, and we are available to answer any questions you may want to ask us about the process.

SNAP Defense for Snap Violations

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. For example, if you’re caught selling Caymus vineyard wine, that can hurt you. 

 

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. Something as simple as selling Italian red wines, can cause you to lose SNAP privileges. 

 

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.

Applying for a Retailer SNAP License and EBT Machine

Applying for a Retailer SNAP License and EBT Machine

 

Are you opening a grocery store?  Would you like to tap into a new customer base and want to now bring in an EBT Machine?  Our attorneys can help!  Our firm can assist you with an SNAP retailer application for retail food stores.  The attorneys and staff at our firm have years of experience with business SNAP Program applications and have expertise in how to navigate the process and avoid some of the common mistakes that people tend to make when applying.  Additionally, our quick and responsive service can help to respond to any questions or concerns the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) may want to ask you about the details on your application.

 

Making Your Application for a Retailer SNAP License

The system through which a grocer can submit a Retailer SNAP Application is web-based. Your application needs to be accompanied by a certain obligatory information about the proprietor’s personal history, the history of the business (including a financial history of the store, where applicable), and details of the way in which your grocery store is (or will be) managed in general.  Sometimes the USDA will require a proprietor to add supporting documents to the EBT application for business licensure.  They will have the applicant furnish information and paperwork to show that he or she is the actual individual who will be managing and operating the store.  Several other categories of documents that the Department may request before finalizing your application and issuing you an EBT machine include: your personal tax returns, your business licenses, your lottery and liquor licenses, your bank records and a personal affidavit. One of the important things to remember is you can’t be selling things like Red Wine

 

SNAP lawyers on our team will do all we can to make sure that the Department gets every bit of information it requires from you, while making certain that you avoid costly pitfalls that could end up in a denial of your EBT application. For example, you don’t want to submit an application and meanwhile claim you’ll be selling Caymus vineyard wine.

 

Experts in EBT Applications and the USDA

Our firm interacts with the USDA just about every day in multiple matters, including cases of improper denial of EBT applications for business retailers under 7 CFR §278.1.  This expertise gives us an advantage when it comes to putting together your application and anticipating what pieces of additional information the USDA will possibly later ask you to produce to raise the chances that your application proceeds smoothly.  If you’re interested in applying for an EBT machine, contact us today to get more information.

Protecting Against SNAP Violations

Protecting Your Business Against SNAP Violations

 

Numerous grocery stores accept payments from recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs (SNAP), formerly known as Food Stamps.  Simply participating in this program opens proprietors up to the risk of being accused of non-compliance and having the privilege to accept SNAP payments from program recipients revoked. The USDA operates the SNAP program to assist with support for needy households in the United States of America. Households whose members are eligible to receive an Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card  can use their benefits to purchase food and food products at retail outlets that participate in the program.

 

Stores and markets where SNAP benefits are accepted are subject to routine inspections that can be executed by undercover United States Department of Agriculture inspectors. A business that is observed violating SNAP rules will find itself in jeopardy of disqualification from participating in the program, civil cash fines, or in extreme cases, the managers and/or owner could face criminal charges.

 

Some Possible SNAP Violations

 

During the course of an undercover inspection, an agent will look out for a number of practices that are considered to be SNAP violations. The most frequent one is trafficking, which can comprise such unscrupulous acts as exchanging SNAP benefits for money or taking a payment for which no goods were sold. The rules expressly forbid grocers from accepting SNAP benefits in exchange for cash. SNAP fraud can occur when an individual provides untrue information on their application to receive benefits when they may not otherwise be eligible or to qualify themselves for more benefits than they are entitled to. Grocery store owners who, after having been disqualified in the past, often purposefully lie about details on their application to re-enter into the program.  They’re also in violation of SNAP legislation.

 

More of the numerous non-compliance issues include selling unauthorized items, such as  Caymus Vineyard wine, and failure to meet specified SNAP requirements. Should an investigator discovers a violation, the retailer suddenly receives a charge letter from the Food Nutrition Service (FNS), the body in charge of SNAP regulations. The SNAP charge letter details out a full analysis of the charges, including   where and how the offenses are said to have occurred. Furthermore, this letter lays out the prescribed penalties for the alleged infractions. It is now on the proprietor to promptly respond to and defend themselves against the allegations detailed in the letter.

 

Legal Implications of SNAP Violations

 

It is no secret that the U.S. government is ardent about waging war against SNAP benefits fraud and moves aggressively against business people who abuse the program. Grocery store owners who sell or allow the sale of  unauthorized items could get disqualified from the program for at least six months. If you accumulate numerous violations after repeated prior warnings, you could be permanently disqualified from accepting SNAP payments at your store.

 

The federal government considers SNAP trafficking as a very serious crime. If they come across evidence that you or your staff members have committed the act of exchanging SNAP benefit funds for cash, for example, you could end up with a permanent disqualification from the program. The FNS does not take into account the fact that it was the first infraction or how small an amount of money the fraud involved. Permanent disqualification can greatly impact some grocery stores, causing them to forfeit hundreds or thousands of dollars per day in sales.

 

A particularly unfortunate circumstance that grocery store owners face when they participate in SNAP is that charges can come up against them even when the offenses in question were transacted by their employees or managers. It is the proprietor who is forced to deal with the charges and suffer the consequences even if they may not have been aware of what was going on. In light of this possibility, it is a critical measure for participating grocers to do all they can to prevent SNAP infractions from happening in their stores.

 

Wise Ways to Prevent SNAP Violations

 

One of the most important initiatives that businesses who have been accepted into the SNAP program can take is to establish practices and regulations designed to prevent front line staff members (especially cashiers) and store managers from committing acts of SNAP fraud. Here are some smart steps to take:

 

  • Train Every Staff Member

 

Your employees need to be sensitized about the SNAP benefit program and the activities that are classed as infractions against the applicable legislation. Smart store owners put a written training program in place to help their staff to be ready for the various situations that they may encounter and how to properly deal with them. The program should be all encompassing and interactive so that the staff members feel free to ask questions and have constructive ways to retain the information. Foster an environment that encourages workers to openly consult with the store managers if and when they come across an unfamiliar circumstance or are unsure how to handle unique SNAP transactions.

 

  • Implement Formal Guidelines

 

Workers in grocery stores and markets are apt to ignore or even forget directions that are presented in an informal manner. When it comes to working with SNAP benefits, the best practice is to write a formal document laying out the guidelines and express to every staff member the importance of obeying them. To put this in play, you can include the manual in their employment contract. The manual should list for the employees the categories of products that qualify for SNAP program, forbidden activities, and the consequences of violating SNAP rules in the store. As soon as a staffer signs the agreement, and you impress upon them  the gravity of these rules, it will be much more simple for them to recognize and keep away from transactions that could be classed as SNAP fraud.

 

  • Track Your Store Transactions

 

Some of the things you do in your business to track the store’s transactions in general and SNAP sales in particular can help you spot and address potential violations long before inspectors come to your store from the USDA. Install a point of sale system that employs the most up-to-date technology and can sort through all the transactions and the items purchased. The POS system should also be handy at flagging products that don’t qualify for EBT purchase as your cashiers ring them up. With this kind of a system in place, store proprietors can troubleshoot problems in real time and stay on top of their business compliance with SNAP regulations.

 

Your Reply to a SNAP Charge Letter

 

Unfortunately, a grocery store owner can take all these prescribed measures to protect their business and still find themselves slapped with SNAP violation charges after a USDA inspection. In these situations, the business usually has 10 (ten) days to respond to the charges, after which time the penalties outlined in the letter will be implemented. If the response to the accusations arrives at the Department in time, the USDA may dispatch a second letter saying that they want to maintain that the violations did truly occur. The second letter lays out their decision to disqualify or suspend the store from the program.

 

Best practice is for proprietors of grocery stores in this kind of a situation to consult with legal counsel right away after receiving an initial violation letter. An experienced SNAP lawyer can take over the administrative appeal process, put together any evidence (if it is useful), and take over responsibility for all ongoing communications with the USDA. If the USDA insists on pursuing the charges in the second letter, the attorney can file a judicial appeal on the client’s behalf to get a judge to try the case. Retaining an experienced lawyer places the business in a more favorable position to defeat the charges against it.

 

The federal government desires to diligently protect the integrity the SNAP program and make certain that it is providing vital assistance to the families in the country who need it most. In fact, trafficking crimes have dramatically declined over the last two decades because companies that violate its laws have been penalized with rather severe penalties. It is critical for every store owner to take the prescribed measures to shield their business against the possible legal implications of violating SNAP legislation. Additionally, if after such measures are implemented, the retailer finds themselves charged nonetheless as a result of a USDA investigation, they should get a good lawyer right away.

SNAP Violation Civil Money Penalties

SNAP Violation Civil Money Penalties

 

The cost of living is high in numerous regions of the United States.  As a result, millions of families in this country consistently fall short financially for all of their living expenses and bills. Many times, they run out of money to put food on the table and care for their children in spite of the fact that adults in the home work full-time or receive disability benefits for their families. It’s a remarkable obstacle that millions of Americans face day in and day out, even though almost no one is open to discuss their financial troubles, even with people they know. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is a government benefit system created and implemented by the U.S. government to furnish nutrition assistance to families who face the uncertainty of providing adequate nutrition to their families.

 

SNAP is the biggest of the schemes the federal government has launched to assist in feeding the hungry and getting much needed supplemental nutrition to children and families in lower socioeconomic households. The purpose is to give adults who are indeed employed but earn low wages and face difficulties making ends meet an opportunity to alleviate the pressure of an inadequate food budget for their families so no one has to remain hungry. That said, it’s entirely too common for both grocers who accept Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards and benefit recipients to have misrepresented themselves on their applications to get more money and benefits out of the government. If you own a grocery store that serves SNAP benefit customers and you get a SNAP Civil Money Penalty letter in the mail, you are advised to pay keen attention and take this extremely seriously. You are not allowed to sell liquor products, like Hennessy, for example. 

 

Civil Money Penalty Basics

 

In essence, the SNAP Civil Money Penalty is a charge letter that lists alleged violations and the related sanctions a business has been charged for conducting illegal transactions and profiting unscrupulously from their ability to accept EBT benefits payments. Should such a letter show up in your mailbox, it indicates a very grave situation and it would follow that you should get yourself a good attorney with haste. Profiting from SNAP benefits is considered by the USDA as a criminal offense, and you can be fined heavily and sanctioned for crimes in this category.

 

In the event that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is of the belief that your business has been profiting financially or benefitting in any other form from the improper use of EBT cards that your customers use in your store, they dispatch a letter to you.  The letter lays out two options. The first is to respond to the letter within the 10 (ten) days you are granted to pay a cash fine and keep your store’s SNAP license.  In option two, you can ignore the letter or respond too late and have your store disqualified from accepting  SNAP payments.

 

As we have said, you have only 10 (ten) days to reply to the Civil Money Penalties letter. They do not provide an option to apply for an extension. This is an exceedingly stringnet procedure with no exceptions. The USDA expects your answer as to whether you’re going to send in the money in an effort to hold on to your license to accept SNAP benefits or not.

 

Why bother with a Civil Money Penalty?

 

Some business proprietors question the wisdom of paying a monetary penalty for this instead of simply accepting a suspension of their SNAP license. The answer is fairly straightforward. In this country, millions of dollars in sales take place through EBT cards annually for the use of SNAP benefits. If you lose the ability to accept EBT cards from your customers, you will lose customers. There are millions of people who are simply  not able to pay for their monthly food supplies out of their working income, and the fact that you can no longer accept their EBT cards for food means you’re not going to benefit from their frequent business anymore.

 

The financial ramifications of no longer having a license to accept SNAP payments suspended even temporarily are far more expensive  for most businesses than the amount of a fine. On top of this fact, you may not have enough knowledge to properly respond to the letter, to make your payment of the fine, or to know what you need to do when a letter arrives in the mail in the first place. This is particularly true if you are not fully clear about why you have been sent such a letter. That’s why hiring an experienced criminal attorney cannot wait another day.

 

How Can My Attorney Help Me?

 

The ins and outs of SNAP civil money penalties are not so  simple for the average individual to navigate. In addition to the huge number of requirements, rules, and stipulations associated with them, there are far too many miniscule details for an untrained individual to wrap their head around in 10 days or less intimate knowledge of the laws.

 

Some questions to consider: 

  1. Have you implemented  SNAP compliance policies at your store? 
  2. Can you prove that your SNAP compliance policy was in effect before it was violated? 
  3. Do your employees undergo training in your store to learn about SNAP benefits, and do you furnish a written training guide to every employee? 
  4. Did you yourself,  any of your employees or managers or your store profit personally from the abuse of SNAP benefits in any way?

 

You must come up with thorough answers to all of these questions to begin to even qualify for a civil money penalty in the first place. There are dozens of other questions, each one being more complicated than the one before. Experienced SNAP lawyers can help you to sift through the mountain of paperwork,complete  the application for the penalty, and understand the issuance of the notice you’ve received. Ten business days is too little time for you to handle this kind of situation successfully without the help of a lawyer, and improperly handling the application and/or documentation can actually end up in denial of a civil money penalty.

 

Reticiense about paying out a Civil Money Penalty to the USDA is normal, and it make sense from a business perspective. Under these circumstances, nonetheless, the penalty is the least costly way to get an issue of this magnitude behind you. Abuse of SNAP funds is a serious crime in the eyes of the government, and having your ability to accept SNAP benefits in your store taken away can greatly impact your business finances. This situation can quickly become unaffordable.

 

For most family grocers, their store is a key source of income for their family and for the families of their employees and managers, which means one cannot afford to have the ability to accept any commonly used method of payment revoked. The time for you to enlist a top notch attorney to come to your aid in this circumstance is the very day a Civil Money Penalty letter arrives in the mail. Do keep in mind that you have only 10 (ten) days to complete the process, which is inconceivable when you have little understanding of what’s being asked of you and what your obligations are.

 

A well versed SNAP program attorney can help you out by potentially getting the penalty amount reduced, helping you keep your license to accept SNAP benefits intact, and provide you with the ability to continue to operate your business and earn money. Even a brief suspension could cost your business thousands of dollars, and the effects of that suspension can endure much longer if customers opt to go elsewhere once they figure out that you can no longer accept their EBT cards. It is hardly worth the future financial pressure attempt to proceed without an experienced attorney to deal with the legal ramifications of this notice.

Protecting Your Business Against SNAP Violations

Protecting Your Business Against SNAP Violations

 

Numerous grocery stores accept payments from recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs (SNAP), formerly known as Food Stamps.  Simply participating in this program opens proprietors up to the risk of being accused of non-compliance and having the privilege to accept SNAP payments from program recipients revoked. The USDA operates the SNAP program to assist with support for needy households in the United States of America. Households whose members are eligible to receive an Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card  can use their benefits to purchase food and food products at retail outlets that participate in the program.

 

Stores and markets where SNAP benefits are accepted are subject to routine inspections that can be executed by undercover United States Department of Agriculture inspectors. A business that is observed violating SNAP rules will find itself in jeopardy of disqualification from participating in the program, civil cash fines, or in extreme cases, the managers and/or owner could face criminal charges.

 

Some Possible SNAP Violations

 

During the course of an undercover inspection, an agent will look out for a number of practices that are considered to be SNAP violations. The most frequent one is trafficking, which can comprise such unscrupulous acts as exchanging SNAP benefits for money or taking a payment for which no goods, such as hennessy, were sold. The rules expressly forbid grocers from accepting SNAP benefits in exchange for cash. SNAP fraud can occur when an individual provides untrue information on their application to receive benefits when they may not otherwise be eligible or to qualify themselves for more benefits than they are entitled to. Grocery store owners who, after having been disqualified in the past, often purposefully lie about details on their application to re-enter into the program.  They’re also in violation of SNAP legislation.

 

More of the numerous non-compliance issues include selling unauthorized items and failure to meet specified SNAP requirements. Should an investigator discovers a violation, the retailer suddenly receives a charge letter from the Food Nutrition Service (FNS), the body in charge of SNAP regulations. The SNAP charge letter details out a full analysis of the charges, including   where and how the offenses are said to have occurred. Furthermore, this letter lays out the prescribed penalties for the alleged infractions. It is now on the proprietor to promptly respond to and defend themselves against the allegations detailed in the letter.

 

Legal Implications of SNAP Violations

 

It is no secret that the U.S. government is ardent about waging war against SNAP benefits fraud and moves aggressively against business people who abuse the program. Grocery store owners who sell or allow the sale of  unauthorized items could get disqualified from the program for at least six months. If you accumulate numerous violations after repeated prior warnings, you could be permanently disqualified from accepting SNAP payments at your store.

 

The federal government considers SNAP trafficking as a very serious crime. If they come across evidence that you or your staff members have committed the act of exchanging SNAP benefit funds for cash, for example, you could end up with a permanent disqualification from the program. The FNS does not take into account the fact that it was the first infraction or how small an amount of money the fraud involved. Permanent disqualification can greatly impact some grocery stores, causing them to forfeit hundreds or thousands of dollars per day in sales.

 

A particularly unfortunate circumstance that grocery store owners face when they participate in SNAP is that charges can come up against them even when the offenses in question were transacted by their employees or managers. It is the proprietor who is forced to deal with the charges and suffer the consequences even if they may not have been aware of what was going on. In light of this possibility, it is a critical measure for participating grocers to do all they can to prevent SNAP infractions from happening in their stores.

 

Wise Ways to Prevent SNAP Violations

 

One of the most important initiatives that businesses who have been accepted into the SNAP program can take is to establish practices and regulations designed to prevent front line staff members (especially cashiers) and store managers from committing acts of SNAP fraud. Here are some smart steps to take:

 

  • Train Every Staff Member

 

Your employees need to be sensitized about the SNAP benefit program and the activities that are classed as infractions against the applicable legislation. Smart store owners put a written training program in place to help their staff to be ready for the various situations that they may encounter and how to properly deal with them. The program should be all encompassing and interactive so that the staff members feel free to ask questions and have constructive ways to retain the information. Foster an environment that encourages workers to openly consult with the store managers if and when they come across an unfamiliar circumstance or are unsure how to handle unique SNAP transactions.

 

  • Implement Formal Guidelines

 

Workers in grocery stores and markets are apt to ignore or even forget directions that are presented in an informal manner. When it comes to working with SNAP benefits, the best practice is to write a formal document laying out the guidelines and express to every staff member the importance of obeying them. To put this in play, you can include the manual in their employment contract. The manual should list for the employees the categories of products that qualify for SNAP program, forbidden activities, and the consequences of violating SNAP rules in the store. As soon as a staffer signs the agreement, and you impress upon them  the gravity of these rules, it will be much more simple for them to recognize and keep away from transactions that could be classed as SNAP fraud.

 

  • Track Your Store Transactions

 

Some of the things you do in your business to track the store’s transactions in general and SNAP sales in particular can help you spot and address potential violations long before inspectors come to your store from the USDA. Install a point of sale system that employs the most up-to-date technology and can sort through all the transactions and the items purchased. The POS system should also be handy at flagging products that don’t qualify for EBT purchase as your cashiers ring them up. With this kind of a system in place, store proprietors can troubleshoot problems in real time and stay on top of their business compliance with SNAP regulations.

 

Your Reply to a SNAP Charge Letter

 

Unfortunately, a grocery store owner can take all these prescribed measures to protect their business and still find themselves slapped with SNAP violation charges after a USDA inspection. In these situations, the business usually has 10 (ten) days to respond to the charges, after which time the penalties outlined in the letter will be implemented. If the response to the accusations arrives at the Department in time, the USDA may dispatch a second letter saying that they want to maintain that the violations did truly occur. The second letter lays out their decision to disqualify or suspend the store from the program.

 

Best practice is for proprietors of grocery stores in this kind of a situation to consult with legal counsel right away after receiving an initial violation letter. An experienced SNAP lawyer can take over the administrative appeal process, put together any evidence (if it is useful), and take over responsibility for all ongoing communications with the USDA. If the USDA insists on pursuing the charges in the second letter, the attorney can file a judicial appeal on the client’s behalf to get a judge to try the case. Retaining an experienced lawyer places the business in a more favorable position to defeat the charges against it.

 

The federal government desires to diligently protect the integrity the SNAP program and make certain that it is providing vital assistance to the families in the country who need it most. In fact, trafficking crimes have dramatically declined over the last two decades because companies that violate its laws have been penalized with rather severe penalties. It is critical for every store owner to take the prescribed measures to shield their business against the possible legal implications of violating SNAP legislation. Additionally, if after such measures are implemented, the retailer finds themselves charged nonetheless as a result of a USDA investigation, they should get a good lawyer right away.

USDA SNAP 10 (Ten) Day Notice

A major goal of the authorities who administer the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is to ensure that the right people receive their much needed food benefits and that those benefits are utilized for their intended purpose only. There are specific laws on the books to govern the use of SNAP funds. Grocery retailers undergo a process to become qualified before they receive a license to sell food to individuals with Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards. Such stores don’t often end up in legal trouble connected to food benefits, but it does occur from time to time. If, by chance, this should happen, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) dispatches a 10 (ten)-day notice to the proprietor. Inside the ten day window, the store owner can respond to the letter, explaining the violations from your perspective in writing.

 

SNAP Legal Sanctions

 

Should you neglect to reply to the SNAP violation accusations within the 10 (ten) days, you could be placing your EBT license in danger of being suspended temporarily, or in some cases, permanently revoked. You might also be charged lofty civil fines. The penalties negatively impact your business’ total revenue, especially if SNAP sales make up a major source of income for your store. You don’t want to accidentally sell Cakebread wine for example. The duration of a temporary suspension relies upon the number of cases and the extent of the evidence against you. Furthermore, if there has been a history of SNAP law violations on your record (more than two prior breaches constitutes a history), the USDA can disqualify you for longer periods. Temporary disqualification periods can be as short as 6 (six) months, but in some cases, it can be as much as 5 (five) years.

 

Where civil fines are concerned, the maximum amount that can be charged for violating SNAP legislation is $59,000. In every case, the amount charged correlates with the amount of money you transact in SNAP purchases. They also take into account the type and quantity of charges made against you to determine the amount of monetary sanctions. 

 

In extreme cases, you can potentially face criminal charges. Criminal charges in connection with SNAP violations are rather infrequent.  They normally only come into play in matters where the amount of money transacted is really large.

 

Commonly, a store proprietor may be totally oblivious of violations made by their staff members that violate SNAP rules. Some reasons for this could be insufficient or lack of training of staff or intentional illegal transactions or activities that are made by staff without the owner’s knowledge.

 

To avoid the possibility of getting disqualified from the EBT program because of staff behavior, it is very important that you make certain that every employee, especially your cashiers, get thorough training in all the details of how to serve  SNAP customers at your store. You should document their training in writing to cover yourself. Thorough and detailed documentation could make the difference between keeping you in business and closing your shop down, even if you are convicted and fined. Your compliance policies at your store must be in effect before the USDA charges were ever filed against your business. This can only be solid proof if you keep dated logs with the signatures of every individual who was involved to show when the traing took place. Your training program entries should show clearly when the employees were done with the training and you should have them sign to that effect. It should also lay out all of the details of what they were taught when and how to accept and process EBT card transactions.

 

In lieu of handling this training yourself and possibly overlooking key details, you can bring in a New York attorney who specializes in SNAP law to implement the training of your staff members. Lawyers with experience in this area can organize effective compliance programs for your store.  This measure of prevention will help your lawyers if they need to mount a strong defense in the future if you ever receive violation notices.

 

It is also worth noting that the legislation does not consider  if you were on the premises when the fraudulent transactions allegedly occurred or if you were offsite. You will be held responsible regardless of that fact for any violations that took place in your place of business, and the best you can do is lower the probability of losing your EBT privileges. That said, your chances of drawing a suspension from the SNAP program are way lower if neither you nor the management of the store benefited directly from the violations.

 

Once a violation notice arrives, it is critical to get in touch with an attorney quickly to respond to the USDA appropriately and in a timely fashion.

 

What Specific Actions Can Lead to SNAP Violation Charges

 

There are a number of reasons why you may end up with a charge letter  from USDA. One of these is a crime known as trafficking. One form of trafficking, for example, is when a store owner  or employee knowingly sells goods to people who are using a fraudulently procured EBT card. The use of stolen EBT cards is also considered trafficking.

 

Grocers are also forbidden from selling certain unqualified items using EBT cards. A detailed list of foods and non-alcoholic drinks can be purchased using these cards. On the other hand, using EBT cards to sell hot foods that are meant to be consumed in the store is against the law. Additionally, items including cigarettes, alcohol, medications, and non-human foods (such as pet food) are all included in the list of items that should never be purchased or sold using SNAP benefits. A wide range of food meant for human consumption and designed to be prepared and consumed at home are included in the list of items that a SNAP beneficiary can purchase with their EBT card.

 

There are business owners who were sent violation notices because they gave inaccurate information on their applications to obtain the USDA’s approval as a SNAP retailer. To get authorized, step one is to obtain an FNS number. This requires you to sell food for preparation and consumption at home. The Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) also obligates registered retailers to commit to selling items in at least three of these four food categories:

 

 

 

  1. Cereal
  2. Dairy Products
  3. Meat
  4. Fruits and Vegetables

 

Perishability is a criteria defined as foods that will spoil in a maximum of three weeks. In addition, a minimum of 50 (fifty) percent of the store’s total sales receipts must be of staple foods that qualify for EBT card purchases. Again, ready-made foods are not considered staple foods for the purposes of the SNAP program are excluded. They have to be sold for preparation at home. A donut shop, for example, cannot qualify for an FNS number.  Restaurants also cannot be deemed eligible for EBT cards. When the owner of a grocery store applies for approval to transact using SNAP benefits, they are asked to furnish information about the store and how it meets these obligations. In addition, they must provide up-to-date information on the  store names, store type, address, hours of operation, annual sales, and the personal information of the owner. The owner’s personal details requested will include the social security number and home address.

 

Being crystal clear about all of the above requirements and the accompanying definitions will save you from the mishap of submitting inaccurate information to the FNS for qualification.

 

In Conclusion

 

The USDA is actively seeking out and targeting retail store owners who are violating SNAP legislation. Normally, the owners of targeted stores will receive a notice 10 (ten) days before USDA takes any action against them. Within this period of time, the proprietor has an opportunity to send in their explanations of the charges and make defenses. Such violations can end up, at worst, in the permanent suspension of your EBT program, especially if you or any of your store managers benefited directly from the forbidden activities. At minimum, you will end up paying fines, but you can still carry on operations in the store. Your best move is to consult with a lawyer to oversee a thorough training of your staff and, in the event that you do get a letter, to assemble a defense against the charges.

Claims for Non-Insured Crop Disaster (NAP)

Our Noninsured Crop Disaster Attorneys can assist you in getting some relief in the event that your claim for benefits was denied.  The Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP) was created to give financial assistance to farmers and providers who raise non-insurable crops. When natural disasters happen and the  results are lower yields or crop losses, or the planting of crops is inhibited, it is possible that you are eligible for financial assistance.  The program was established to cover farmers any time they experience crop losses that have the potential to interrupt the operation of their farms.

 

Our specialists attorneys in Agriculture and Crop matters  represent farmers, sharecroppers and producers who need to file for coverage, file claims for crop loss, and appeal claim denials.  The NAP appeals attorneys on our team will collaborate with your farm or production facility to give you thorough and meticulous legal representation.  We have a long and impresive track record of working with and also against the USDA to keep our clients’ business and livelihood in tact.  Bring us onto your team and allow our experience and expertise strengthen your NAP claims today.

 

What Crops Are Covered by the NAP?

 

There are some crops that are not covered by the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program, and indeed some entities.  For those that are, the financial relief that is available to producers can be paid out to landowners, tenants or sharecroppers who partake in the risk of bringing up an “eligible crop.”  What qualifies as eligible crops are crops that are commercially produced agricultural commodities but don’t qualify for standard crop insurance.  Crops that are eligible for the non-insured crop disaster assistance program (NAP) meet any of the criteria below:

 

Food Crops

In this category is a variety of food items, including grains, fruits and vegetables that are grown for consumption by humans and are not insurable.

 

Crops for Livestock

This group is comprised of grain and forage crops, including native forage, which are grown and processed for animal consumption.  These crops must also not be insurable.

 

Fiber-Based Crops 

This category is for crops like flax and cotton. It excludes trees.

 

Controlled Environment

These are crops that are grown in a controlled environment, such as floriculture and mushrooms, and do not qualify for normal crop insurance.

 

Specialty Crops

This category is for crops such as honey and maple sap.  If they can be covered by crop insurance, they are not eligible.

 

Industrial Crops

Crops that are produced for manufacturing or raised as feedstock for biobased products, renewable biofuel and renewable electricity.

 

Sea Plant Crops

This category includes crops that grow in water, like sea oats and sea grass.  These crops must not be insurable.

 

Value Loss Crops

This category includes items like aquaculture, ornamental nursery, Christmas trees, ginseng and turf-grass sod.

 

Claims for Non-insured Crops: What Qualifies as a Natural Disaster

A natural disaster that is the reason for a claim because it created the conditions for loss of agricultural crops must have occurred during the coverage period, before or during harvest, and must directly affect the qualifying crop.  The coverage period can differ in relation to the crop in question.  The Eligible Natural Disasters as defined by the NAP include:

 

Adverse Natural Occurrences

This category includes such occurrences as floods, earthquakes, and in some cases, fires.

 

Damaging Weather

This can mean frost and freezes, droughts, hail, excessive moisture, hurricanes or excessive wind.

 

Adverse Climate Conditions

This is defined as conditions that are related to damaging weather or adverse natural occurrences, such as excessive heat, insect infestation, plant disease or volcanic smog (VOG).

 

Noninsured Crop Coverage Period

 

Coverage Period for Annual Crops

Generally speaking, the coverage period for an annual crop begins at the latest date in which any of these events occur:

 

30 days after an application for coverage has been filed and the applicable service fees have been submitted; or

The date on which the crop is planted (this cannot exceed the final planting date).

 

An annual crop coverage period comes to an end on the earliest date of any of these events:

 

  • The usual harvest date for the crop;
  • The final date of the harvest of the crop;
  • The date on which the crop was abandoned; or
  • The date the entire crop acreage is destroyed.

 

Coverage Periods for Perennial Crops

Excluding crops for forage, the period for perennial crops starts 30 (thirty) calendar days after the application closing date.  This period ends on the earliest date of any of these events:

 

  • The date on which the harvest is done;
  • 10 (ten) months from the application closing date;
  • The normal harvest date for the crop;
  • The date on which the crop was abandoned; or
  • The date on which the entire crop acreage was destroyed.

Controlled environment crops, perennial forage crops, specialty crops and value loss crops have different coverage periods.  To determine what the coverage periods are for these categories of crops, get in touch with your local Farm Services Agency office.

 

Our Agriculture Lawyers Can Assist Your Farm:

 

Working With You to Apply for Coverage

Our Non-insured Crop Disaster Claims attorneys can take care of your coverage applications for producers for minimal fees.  We are capable of counseling and helping you in navigating the coverage types, premium fees, and deadlines.  We can also help you figure out whether or not you qualify for Service Fee and Premium Discounts.  If you do qualify, the discount may help protect your crops at a reduced rate.

 

Application closing dates are not flexible.  In light of this fact, you should get in touch with your FSA state committee to confirm what the application closing date is for your category of crop.  Bear in mind that various crops have different application closing dates. We can answer the majority of your questions about whether or not your crop is eligible or how to do your application for coverage.  Call our agriculture specialists today.

 

Filing an NAP Claim

Financial assistance to producers can be accessed through a unique claims process. Our agricultural specialist attorneys can file your NAP claim with the Farm Service Agency and prepare the paperwork that you need to file a successful claim.  Nonetheless, filing a non-insured crop disaster assistance program claim is a time sensitive matter.  Your claim needs to be at your local FSA office within 15 (fifteen) calendar days of the earliest of the following events:

 

  • The occurrence of a natural disaster;
  • The normal harvest date;
  • The final planting date if planting was inhibited by a natural disaster; or
  • The date that damage to the crop or loss of production becomes apparent.

 

Farmers who work with hand-harvested crops and a category of perishable crops need to make their claims within 72 hours of the date a loss becomes evident.  Crops that are included in this 72-hour rule are listed in the NAP Basic Provisions.  Get in touch with our offices immediately after you realize a loss may occur so that we can start the claim process for you in a timely fashion.

 

Appeals for Noninsured Crop Disaster Claims

In reality, the USDA often denies NAP claims filed by producers and farmers.  In such situations, we have NAP appeals attorneys who can handle your appeal, and bring a thorough and detailed case before the Administrative Judge.  Our experience can help you get a reversal of an NAP claim denial, and in a few cases, even have your attorney’s fees and costs paid back by the USDA.  These kinds of cases are highly time sensitive, so as soon as you are issued a claim denial, give our offices a call.

Grocery Store Judicial Appeals for SNAP Violation Charges

In the event that you get accused of violating SNAP laws at your place of business, you are exposed to the risk of losing the privilege of accepting EBT cards from your customers. This kind of loss can jeopardize your whole business. Mercifully, you as the owner retain the right to have a court review the government’s verdict to end your participation in the SNAP program as a retailer. 7 U.S. Code § 2023 (a)(13) provides you the right to a judicial review of an administrative action caused by an alleged SNAP violation.

 

When can I get a Judicial Review?

 

After an administrative review, you can file for a Judicial Review. It is up to you as the proprietor to decide whether to file a judicial action. If you do, you only have thirty days to get the court action in  after the administrative reviewer hands down their decision. If it so happens that the business owner doesn’t get this court action in on time, they lose their right to bring a case.

 

How do I go about filing a Judicial Review?

 

The first step is to file a case in the appropriate U.S. District Court. Whoever desires to refute the administrative decision must be the individual who files the case in the court, naming the opposing party as the United States of America. Representatives for the USA (the defendant) need to receive service in accordance with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for the U.S. District Courts.

 

What is the Judicial Review procedure like?

 

A judicial appeal functions similarly to other court cases. It is also commonly referred to as a “de novo” hearing. In a de novo hearing, the judge hands down a decision from scratch without examining the details of what happened during the administrative review. This makes it absolutely imperative that you do thorough and in-depth preparation for your case, complete with admissible evidence. You are going to have to gather evidence to be presented in court under the Federal Rules of Evidence.

 

You may be allowed a period for discovery by the district court. It has that name because during this period, you are allowed to discover any witnesses that the government may call at trial. Furthermore, you may be afforded the opportunity to depose the government’s witnesses so that you can determine in advance what they are going to say. This can assist you greatly in preparing for effective questioning in the courtroom.

 

For the most part, the opposing parties are granted the opportunity to file court motions in advance of the trial. Filings might contain documents that ask the court to permit or refuse to allow certain evidence at the hearing. You may be obligated to respond to a motion from the government’s lawyers asking them to dismiss the case. Either side has the ability to ask the court to award summary disposition. A summary disposition can be awarded when the parties mutually come to the conclusion that enough facts are present to support the court in coming to a decision without hearing anything more.

 

The pretrial period can also include settlement negotiations. A well-versed lawyer can be an asset in discussions with the government’s counsel to figure out if you can connect somewhere on middle ground. You may indeed arrive successfully at an agreement that provides for the dismissal of the case and gives you a chance to get back to work.

 

In the event that no resolution is reached, the case proceeds to trial. You might be called upon to testify in court. The judge will hear all of the evidence and then render a verdict. You have no right to a jury trial for a SNAP judicial appeal. The judge is the sole individual presiding over the case and he or she has the final say.

 

What is going on while I am waiting?

 

Grocery store owners often wonder if the reviewer’s decision gets submitted while you await your trial date. If you do not want the reviewer’s decision to go into effect, you will need to be certain to ask the court to issue a stay. For a judge to grant you a stay, you need to be able to show the court that you’re likely to win your case based upon the merits of your position. The burden is also on you to demonstrate that irreparable damage is likely to result if the administrative verdict goes into effect before the court can hear the case and make a decision.

 

Does the government pay me back losses?

 

If it so happens that the court denies you an administrative stay, you could still win your case and wind up with a favorable verdict. Unfortunately, regardless of whether that happens or not, you are not due any compensation from the government for the sales you lost while the administrative decision was in effect. This is important to think about as you decide whether to negotiate an agreement with the opposition before the case goes to trial.

 

What results can I expect?

 

At times, the court will exercise the option to uphold the reviewer’s decision.  Other times, they decide to vacate it. There is another course of action they could take. It is vital that you clearly communicate to the court exactly what you’re asking of them when you bring your case.

 

What if the outcome is not in my favor?

 

Grocers who are displeased with a decision of the U.S. District Courts have the right to appeal the district court’s verdict to the U.S. Circuit Court. In an appeal, the circuit court judges look over the record from the district court. In fact, you could take your case all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court if you don’t get satisfaction in the lower courts. While it’s highly irregular for a case to reach so far, our experienced legal counsel can assist you in making the best possible choices.

 

What can a SNAP lawyer do for me?

 

The  SNAP violation judicial appeals attorneys at our firm have a wealth of education and experience that can be an asset to you in preparing and bringing an airtight case and filing it properly. No matter what point you are at in the process, we provide highly professional legal services that successfully fight for you to the fullest extent of the law. We work very hard to review the facts and the law and put together your case.

 

From day one, we will thoroughly review the current status of the case. If you are beyond the point of administrative review, we will then figure out what worked in your favor and what was unsuccessful.  We can figure out how to handle things differently to win better results in the U.S. District Court. To prepare for trial, we painstakingly build your case with our focus on the Rules of Evidence. We are diligent about gathering admissible evidence that effectively presents your side of the story.

 

Your family and dependents are counting on you. Your customers and your community are also interested in seeing you succeed. We make it our business to stand by your side until you get a resolution to your case and so you can get back to business as fast as possible. Our role is as your partner and advocate. The training and experience our lawyers have under their belts are there for you, to help move your case in the right direction and push towards a positive result. If you’re a grocery store proprietor who has been accused of a SNAP violation, please get in touch with us today.

Grocery Store Judicial Appeals for SNAP Violation Charges

Grocery Store Judicial Appeals for SNAP Violation Charges

In the event that you get accused of violating SNAP laws at your place of business, you are exposed to the risk of losing the privilege of accepting EBT cards from your customers. This kind of loss can jeopardize your whole business. Mercifully, you as the owner retain the right to have a court review the government’s verdict to end your participation in the SNAP program as a retailer. 7 U.S. Code § 2023 (a)(13) provides you the right to a judicial review of an administrative action caused by an alleged SNAP violation. This is a good idea if you sold things you’re allowed to sell, such as Indian spices.

When can I get a Judicial Review?

After an administrative review, you can file for a Judicial Review. It is up to you as the proprietor to decide whether to file a judicial action. If you do, you only have thirty days to get the court action in  after the administrative reviewer hands down their decision. If it so happens that the business owner doesn’t get this court action in on time, they lose their right to bring a case.

How do I go about filing a Judicial Review?

The first step is to file a case in the appropriate U.S. District Court. Whoever desires to refute the administrative decision must be the individual who files the case in the court, naming the opposing party as the United States of America. Representatives for the USA (the defendant) need to receive service in accordance with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for the U.S. District Courts.

What is the Judicial Review procedure like?

A judicial appeal functions similarly to other court cases. It is also commonly referred to as a “de novo” hearing. In a de novo hearing, the judge hands down a decision from scratch without examining the details of what happened during the administrative review. This makes it absolutely imperative that you do thorough and in-depth preparation for your case, complete with admissible evidence. You are going to have to gather evidence to be presented in court under the Federal Rules of Evidence.

You may be allowed a period for discovery by the district court. It has that name because during this period, you are allowed to discover any witnesses that the government may call at trial. Furthermore, you may be afforded the opportunity to depose the government’s witnesses so that you can determine in advance what they are going to say. This can assist you greatly in preparing for effective questioning in the courtroom.

For the most part, the opposing parties are granted the opportunity to file court motions in advance of the trial. Filings might contain documents that ask the court to permit or refuse to allow certain evidence at the hearing. You may be obligated to respond to a motion from the government’s lawyers asking them to dismiss the case. Either side has the ability to ask the court to award summary disposition. A summary disposition can be awarded when the parties mutually come to the conclusion that enough facts are present to support the court in coming to a decision without hearing anything more.

The pretrial period can also include settlement negotiations. A well-versed lawyer can be an asset in discussions with the government’s counsel to figure out if you can connect somewhere on middle ground. You may indeed arrive successfully at an agreement that provides for the dismissal of the case and gives you a chance to get back to work.

In the event that no resolution is reached, the case proceeds to trial. You might be called upon to testify in court. The judge will hear all of the evidence and then render a verdict. You have no right to a jury trial for a SNAP judicial appeal. The judge is the sole individual presiding over the case and he or she has the final say.

What is going on while I am waiting?

Grocery store owners often wonder if the reviewer’s decision gets submitted while you await your trial date. If you do not want the reviewer’s decision to go into effect, you will need to be certain to ask the court to issue a stay. For a judge to grant you a stay, you need to be able to show the court that you’re likely to win your case based upon the merits of your position. The burden is also on you to demonstrate that irreparable damage is likely to result if the administrative verdict goes into effect before the court can hear the case and make a decision.

Does the government pay me back losses?

If it so happens that the court denies you an administrative stay, you could still win your case and wind up with a favorable verdict. Unfortunately, regardless of whether that happens or not, you are not due any compensation from the government for the sales you lost while the administrative decision was in effect. This is important to think about as you decide whether to negotiate an agreement with the opposition before the case goes to trial.

What results can I expect?

At times, the court will exercise the option to uphold the reviewer’s decision.  Other times, they decide to vacate it. There is another course of action they could take. It is vital that you clearly communicate to the court exactly what you’re asking of them when you bring your case.

What if the outcome is not in my favor?

Grocers who are displeased with a decision of the U.S. District Courts have the right to appeal the district court’s verdict to the U.S. Circuit Court. In an appeal, the circuit court judges look over the record from the district court. In fact, you could take your case all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court if you don’t get satisfaction in the lower courts. While it’s highly irregular for a case to reach so far, our experienced legal counsel can assist you in making the best possible choices.

What can a SNAP lawyer do for me?

The  SNAP violation judicial appeals attorneys at our firm have a wealth of education and experience that can be an asset to you in preparing and bringing an airtight case and filing it properly. No matter what point you are at in the process, we provide highly professional legal services that successfully fight for you to the fullest extent of the law. We work very hard to review the facts and the law and put together your case.

From day one, we will thoroughly review the current status of the case. If you are beyond the point of administrative review, we will then figure out what worked in your favor and what was unsuccessful.  We can figure out how to handle things differently to win better results in the U.S. District Court. To prepare for trial, we painstakingly build your case with our focus on the Rules of Evidence. We are diligent about gathering admissible evidence that effectively presents your side of the story.

Your family and dependents are counting on you. Your customers and your community are also interested in seeing you succeed. We make it our business to stand by your side until you get a resolution to your case and so you can get back to business as fast as possible. Our role is as your partner and advocate. The training and experience our lawyers have under their belts are there for you, to help move your case in the right direction and push towards a positive result. If you’re a grocery store proprietor who has been accused of a SNAP violation, please get in touch with us today.

Lawyers For SNAP & EBT Appeals

Legal Counsel for SNAP & EBT Appeals

Has your store been suspended or permanently barred from accepting SNAP/EBT cards?  Our attorneys specialize in arguing for proprietors of grocery stores who want to overturn an application denial, or reverse an EBT suspension or EBT disqualification and need to put in an EBT Appeal.  That said, the moment a letter arrives from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) saying that your application was denied, putting your business on a suspension from accepting EBT payments, or totally disqualifying your business from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), you are given just a few days to put your EBT appeal in.

 

SNAP/EBT Appeal Matters

Not every initial suspension, disqualification or application denial is eligible for an appeal.  Regardless of that fact, there are numerous circumstances under which an appeal is indeed meritted and can be had through the USDA Administrative Review Branch as follows:

 

Your EBT Retailer Application is Denied:  In the event that you have applied for your grocery store to become a SNAP or EBT retailer and the United States Department of Agriculture, Food & Nutrition Service (FNS) returned a denial of your application, applying for an appeal of that determination is often in your best interest.  The USDA has multiple different reasons for denying a license application, but they improperly deny application from time to time on the basis of the past suspension of a family member, incorrect categorization of your business as an “ineligible firm”, or their perception of a lack of “business integrity and reputation”.  Should your store’s application be denied for any of the above reasons, then a SNAP or EBT Appeal is a route you can consider.  Reach out to us today to learn more.

 

You Get Suspended for Six or More Months:  If your store has been suspended or disqualified for a SNAP Violation, and if that suspension is for six months or longer, please allow us to  explore the details of your case in the short term before the suspension becomes fixed!  Potential losses of revenue that befall most SNAP licensed businesses in the event of an EBT suspension can be badly damaging.  A lengthy suspension may mean the end of your business.  In this case, you have little choice but to appeal the decision.  Get in touch with us today to get more information.

 

You Are Permanent Disqualification:  Worst case scenario is when the USDA hands you a disqualification, which is unfortunately the most over-utilized option that the Food and Nutrition Service resorts to in the majority of the SNAP Violation letters they send out. Permanent disqualification translates to the fact that you personally, as the SNAP Applicant, will never again be permitted to own or operate a store, in any state, in which an EBT machine is in use.  A permanent disqualification cannot be reversed unless you promptly appeal the decision.  You should call our offices right away when you receive any letter containing allegations that you, your employees or your business engaged in SNAP trafficking, or otherwise threatening to  permanently  disqualify your store.  

 

Levying of Civil Money Penalties:  Have you been permanently disqualified and forsced to subsequently sell your store or close your business?  If so, the USDA may add insult to injury by sending you a letter levying a maximum fine of $59,000 just for selling your business.  They give you  ten (10) days from the day you receive a letter from the Department indicating that they are seeking to impose the fine against you to file an appeal to their decision.  Not appealing in a timely fashion leaves you open to the reality that the Department will charge the fine against you and may track you down for every cent of it.

 

SNAP Violation Letter: Here is The Appeal Process 

For the most part, your right to a SNAP or EBT Appeal is governed by 7 CFR §279 and 7 USC §2023. This legislation lays out two separate appeals: an Administrative Appeal (which comes first) and a Judicial Appeal (which comes subsequent to the Administrative).  When filing an Administrative Appeal, you need to get that lodged within ten (10) days of the arrival of the letter from the USDA, otherwise you effectively waive your rights.  When your notice of appeal is sent to the Department, we will wait to receive a case number back from the Administrative Review Division for your case.  On receiving your case  number, we then bring together all of the information that we will need and distill it all into a full appellate brief, which can be lengthy at a whopping twenty or more pages in length, depending upon the details of your matter.

 

The next step is to submit your appellate brief to the Administrative Review Division.  When they  receive the brief there, an Administrative Review Officer will examine all the information that came from the Food and Nutrition Service and the documents that we furnished from our office, and they check those against the existing case law and regulatory legislation that we also sent in.  They use all of this to come to a Final Agency Determination.  This final determination can take weeks, sometimes months, depending on the depth and breadth of the situation, to recieve back from the FNS.  Nevertheless, there are measures we can take to push your appeal through faster to help keep the damage to your business minimal.  Upon completion of the Final Agency Determination, the report comes back to our office and the Food and Nutrition Service also gets a copy.

 

Handling a SNAP or EBT Appeal

As you can see, the SNAP appellate process is not so simple, and the Administrative Review Division takes no mercy on and lends no lenience to business owners who are not represented by qualified lawyers.  In actuality, the appeals process can be rather protracted and tricky in light of the fact that there are very few opportunities to dispute evidence and reasoning that the Food and Nutrition Service lodged against a store.  We most certainly suggest that even if you replied to your SNAP Violation Letter without any help, it is nonetheless in your best interests to retain counsel to handle your EBT appeal.

Violations Involving SNAP and EBT Card

Violations Involving SNAP and EBT Card

The agency that oversees the USDA Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the Food & Nutrition Service (FNS).  The FNS handles all matters regarding retailer licensing and SNAP violation enforcement.  At times, EBT Violation charges come in against Indian grocery store proprietors by the FNS in a letter.  They send all their violation and decision letters by UPS overnight mail.  In the event that you receive such a letter at your store, you have a mere ten (10) days from the date of delivery to respond to the letter.  If you fail to respond, this could result in a permanent disqualification for your business and the loss of an important income stream.

All food stamp fraud letters that are sent out by FNS will detail allegations of various categories of SNAP violations.  These include:

  1. Trafficking in SNAP benefits; 
  2. Selling  forbidden products; 
  3. Using EBT benefits to pay credit; and 
  4. Reciprocal disqualifications from WIC.  

A charge letter from the FNS usually contains language saying that FNS “has compiled evidence that your firm has violated the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) regulations.”  You can see more about the SNAP violation regulations here.

Fact: 90% of Unrepresented Stores get Disqualified.

Trafficking in Benefits: a Major SNAP Violation

Topping the list of worst  SNAP violations that can come in a SNAP charge letter is benefits trafficking.  A blanket definition of trafficking is an exchange of cash for EBT benefits. This could be executed in various modes, including the sale or purchase of an EBT card or disbursing cash back on a SNAP purchase. Relatively recently, fraud investigations for trafficking started to cast a spotlight on retailer purchases of inventory that was purchased first using benefits.  This falls under the category of trafficking and routinely gets retailers permanently disqualified.

Trafficking charges can be brought in the discovery of two different versions of documented proof: 

  1. Transaction pattern/categories or
  2. Affidavits of eye witnesses.  

Frequently, SNAP violation charges are based upon a statistical analysis.  Generally, the language in USDA letters is as follows:

  “Analysis of the records reveal Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) transactions that establish clear and repetitive patterns of unusual, irregular, and inexplicable activity for your type of firm.”  The letter arrives with a set of attachments listing all the transactions in each category.  The categories include:

Multiple Transactions in a Short Time

“In a series of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program EBT transactions, multiple purchase transactions were made within a set time period.”  In this category is any grouping of transactions occurring from multiple households over a limited amount of time that can raise suspicion.  In short, the USDA may believe that this is a red flag that a SNAP violation has occurred as there is no good reason for why your store conducts transactions so rapidly.

Multiple Transactions from the Same Household

“In a series of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) EBT transactions, multiple transactions were made from the accounts of individual SNAP households within a set time period.”  For the USDA, seeing this leads them to the conclusion that a SNAP violation took place due to the frequency of purchases from the same household.  Mostly, the USDA is of the belief that it is abnormal for a head of household to repeatedly shop in a small grocery store in a short space of time.

Repeated Dollar Values

What used to be known as “same-cent transactions”, transactions in this category have been recently revised.  “In a series of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) EBT transactions, there were a large number of transactions in repeated dollar values.”  When they evaluate the amounts of your transactions, the USDA can come to perceive that you or someone working at your store has committed a SNAP violation.  The fact is that such transaction patterns often end up simply being an indication of how your store operates its business, but the USDA would never know this first hand.

Large Transactions

“In a series of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) EBT transactions, your store conducted EBT transactions that are large based on the observed store characteristics and recorded food stock.”  This category, previously classed as “excessively large transactions,” comprises a list of transactions that get flagged because they are uncharacteristically  high dollar amounts.  Absurdly, this group can include purchases that were flagged for as low as $30 or less.

Depletion of Household Benefits

“In a series of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) EBT transactions, the bulk of SNAP households’ remaining benefits were depleted within short time frames.”  This set of transactions looks into what percentage of a cardholder’s total benefit funds they spend at your place of business, and when an EBT card balance is zeroed out in their transactions at your store, this raises a flag.

Manual Transactions

In this category, which is at present rather infrequent in SNAP violation cases, lies a selection of transactions that took  place where an EBT card number was manually entered rather than swiped.  This allows the USDA to conclude that if the number was manually entered, then it is possible, if not likely, that the EBT card was not physically present at the time of purchase and that the transaction could potentially have been a SNAP violation.

 

Handling th SNAP Violation Letter

Snap Violation cases are very weighty.  Although the letter you receive may appear to be benign, the USDA’s end game is disqualification of your business.  You could get slapped with a term disqualification, or under some circumstances, a permanent disqualification.  Contacting the program specialist is an option, but before you do so, please refer to our Guide on What Not to Say to the USDA and read it thoroughly.  You can learn from them what information they need, but they will likely in turn ask that you “submit any information that you think might help explain those transaction patterns.”  Do bear in mind that the specialist will neglect to tell you that there is a very specific set of documents and responses that they require from you, and if you don’t hand those in, then you will lose your case.

Our lawyers boast many years of SNAP violation defense cases.  This wealth of experience gives us an edge over other firms.  We have done dozens of depositions of USDA officials, section chiefs, program specialists and investigators. Because of this, we can tailor your cases to meet the questions the Department has about your business.  We can sift through all the information to assist you in deciding what is helpful, what may be detrimental, and how to present the strongest possible case for your licence.  Our SNAP violation defense process is the best in the business. We are very pleased to be considered as an exemplar in matters ranging from administrative actions to cases before the United States Supreme Court.

Hurry!  The longer you delay in getting a professional involved, the more of an uphill climb it is to prevail in your case.  You can get a free consultation any day of the week (including weekends).  To begin the process, fill out the form below or give us a call on our toll free number.

SNAP Permanent Disqualification Reversal

Getting a Permanent SNAP Disqualification Reversed

Among the biggest public programs in the United States is the SNAP program. Millions of families all across the country rely upon it to survive. The goal of the program is to provide low income families supplementary support so they can feed themselves and their children. It cannot be considered luxurious by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s definitely a practical solution for the families who use it. If people cannot access proper nutrition, their lives are negatively affected in a profound way. If the breadwinner in a household finds it impossible to meet all the family’s needs every month and too often has to compromise on the family food budget, the United States Department of Agriculture gives them a chance to apply for SNAP benefits to be used at their local grocery stores and supermarkets to get additional foodstuffs their family may desperately require.

USDA SNAP law is severe and unyielding. The individual tenets are way too numerous to lay out here, but they are certainly quite strict and if you ignore any of them as a business owner, you put your business at risk of heavy sanctions. Items that may and may not be sold to SNAP recipients, the amount families can get monthly, and what products they can and cannot buy using EBT cards is all controlled by the federal government . Their duty is to see to it that the owners of supermarkets and grocery stores have access to the wealth of information about the SNAP program’s do’s and don’ts, and they are mandated by law to strictly obey every item.

Selling SNAP benefits for cash is considered a crime, and people using benefits are not allowed to use them to purchase alcohol, among a number of other items. If a business is caught selling forbidden items, or swapping SNAP benefits for cash, the owner of the business can be slapped with a long list of fines, penalties, and even potentially the loss of their license to accept payments SNAP at their store.

So what if I lose the right to accept SNAP benefits at my store?

Perhaps the idea of losing your license to accept SNAP benefits as a payment method may initially come across as a minor setback, but for most, that loss is enough to close down a grocery business. When families are able to bring their EBT cards to shop in your store, your income rises. There are millions of adults and children who have difficulty affording the food they need every month and they have to have help from the government to put food on their tables. Users of EBT cards customarily give preferential treatment in their shopping to places that are able to accept their card.

The day your grocery store ceases to accept SNAP cards, you will miss out on all that business. It can certainly be a large proportion of your business, and your sales receipts will likely take a big hit as a result. Losing SNAP at your store is never a good thing for a to a grocer to go through, which is why it is paramount that you understand the why an attorney who specializes in this area of the law can be a great help to you if your business ever got permanently disqualified from the SNAP program.

Receiving a SNAP Charge Letter

In the event that the USDA  suspects you or any of your staff of transacting any illegal activity involving EBT cards at your place of business, you will receive a letter from them. It could be something as miniscule as selling a customer one single beer that they pay for with their SNAP card. A thing like this may not even land on your radar when, for example, you have a new employee and they were the one on duty at the time or in moments when there were so many items on the checkout counter it just got by you unnoticed.

Mishaps are common, and nobody is perfect. Nevertheless, you and your business could suffer greatly from such mishaps, even those that were honest mistakes. In the event that you are deemed guilty of any illegal transactions involving  your SNAP license, you’ll get a letter in the mail. There are times when, in this letter, you are provided a chance to pay a fine instead of having to forfeit your privilege of accepting SNAP benefits.  The fine may be a large dollar amount, but it usually still weighs in lower than the potential losses you could face in the absence of your loyal SNAP customers.

If you are financially unable to pay the fine or you neglect to reply to the letter and it’s demand for a fine payment within their 10 (ten) day window, then your store will lose its ability to accept SNAP payments. In certain scenarios, suspension is temporary, but in others, the disqualification is permanent.  How many occurrences have happened prior to this one and how serious the problem at hand is in comparison to the legislation makes a difference in the final determination.

Store owners do have a chance to reply to the USDA with regards to their claims if something went wrong at their store, but fascinatingly, the USDA oftentimes does not favor the grocery store in the disputes they field. They can depend far too much on the evidence against the store irrespective of how unclear or outdated it is. Sometimes they go so far as to ignore or misplace your letter. A multitude of issues can arise with your dispute, and a retailer could discover that their SNAP machine suddenly isn’t working one day in the midst of transacting business with their customers.

Disputing a Permanent Disqualification

Disputing a claim is far from simple , even in cases where the evidence against you is questionable. It’s tedious, the process is convoluted, and the numerous laws regarding SNAP benefits are a legal quagmire that can be nearly impossible for the average person to wrap their head around. The wise move is to hire a lawyer to handle it on your behalf. If your lawyer can say they have a lot of experience in SNAP matters, then they can be of much assistance in your dispute against a permanent disqualification.  It most certainly is possible to have the  permanency removed and your SNAP acceptance restored.

Even smarter is to bring an experienced attorney into play from the very beginning. The day you receive a SNAP charge letter in the mail, call a law firm to get a consultation. Lawyers come equipped with the most effective tools, the know-how, and the legal insight to serve you by ensuring that the documents you got are accurate, that your response to the USDA is executed correctly and completely, and that you never end up at a point where you get stuck with permanent disqualification. Even though you face the strong possibility of scoring a reversal with the right documentation to prove your case and all the correct paperwork, the weeks that go buy with your store being barred from accept payments from such a big segment of your regular customer base can be ruinous for a small grocery store.

No business owner who has SNAP acceptance can afford to have it taken away. For most, it is way too much a key component of their business success because it’s how a large percentage of their clients pay for goods. When a SNAP recipient suddenly realizes that they can’t use their card at your store anymore, they will be forced to find another store to go to. The sad thing is that although you wish they were so loyal, they are not going to check in with you every few days to see if the situation has changed and you are able to accept EBT cards again. Instead, they will get comfortable shopping at their new retailer and you getting back that business is nearly impossible even when your privilege does get restored.

The USDA comes down with a vengeance on proprietors whom they perceive to be misusing or misappropriating SNAP benefits in their stores. If you were to ignore a letter containing such an allegation or even attempting to handle it without the help of someone knowledgeable is a foolish choice. Call in an experienced lawyer who can help you turn the decision to permanently disqualify you from taking SNAP benefits in your store around in your favor. It can literally signify salvation for your store.

How You Should Handle a SNAP Violation Letter

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:

  1. The SNAP benefits on an EBT card are not supposed to be for general use and spending, and 
  2. 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.

 

SNAP Civil Money Penalties Lawyer

ATTORNEYS WIN CRIMINAL CASES

OPT FOR TRUSTED, HIGHLY RESPECTED NYC CRIMINAL ATTORNEYS TO BE ON YOUR SIDE, LAWYERS WHO ARE TRULY CONCERNED ABOUT YOU AND YOUR FAMILY’S INTERESTS. OURS IS A FAMILY-ORIENTED GROUP OF LAWYERS WHO ARE PASSIONATE AND COMMITTED TO BEING THERE FOR YOU AND YOUR LOVED ONES WHEN YOU NEED HELP.

You can get slapped with charges for criminal activity at any time, in any situation, regardless of whether they are based on reality or not. Sadly, that is our criminal justice system at work. Oftentimes, individuals who have never committed a crime can find themselves accused in the absence of any evidence. Prosecutors – who are more interested in preserving their reputations than with seeing justice done in an innocent defendant’s favor – have been known to attempt to convince everyday people like you to admit some kind of wrongdoing – even if it is completely fictitious. Trumped up charges can be used to guide you into pleading to fake charges. We totally get it, and we work tirelessly until your name is cleared. Take advantage of our risk-free consultation over the phone or in person.  When you are in your consultation,you can learn from us what good and not so good possibilities exist based on our experience with circumstances similar to yours. Ultimately, our end goal is to deal with you with the utmost  professionalism.  To accomplish that we will  provide you with a realistic expectation of the days and weeks to come. Customarily, the prosecutor will attempt to push you into entering a plea arrangement. With our lawyers standing for you, they can be prevented from taking advantage of you. Our goal is to get every last case dismissed, or get the charges against you significantly plead down. Our focus is on delighting our clients with big wins. We are proud to say that our experience spans more than four decades, and we are well versed in how to win cases. We keep you and your family, at the forefront as we work. We make use of the law to get you the outcomes you need and want.

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USDA SNAP Retailer Reauthorization

Grocery store owners who are currently authorized in the SNAP program are required to undergo a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program SNAP reauthorization every five years. The reason behind this requirement  is to decide on your continued eligibility to receive SNAP payments at your store.  If you fail to get re-authorized, you lose out on your EBT sales.  If you wish to maintain the ability to accept EBT at your store,  get us involved in your upcoming reauthorization. 

With the passage of time, the USDA has revamped the authorization qualifications for the SNAP program. You should never assume that because your store previously qualified that you will easily gain eligibility again.  On the contrary, the USDA has been looking to reduce the count of authorized small business SNAP retailers.  Some ways in which the FNS has worked to achieve this include placing tighter inventory mandates and limiting access to fish and meat vendors. On-site FNS inspectors and field officers often pop up at  stores in search of excuses to deny their reauthorizations.  In the aftermath, the reauthorization procedure is far more tedious than it ever was. Nowadays, to be eligible for reauthorization, your Indian grocery store must measure up to the long list of requirements in so called Criterion A or B:

Criterion A

An eligible grocery store is one that consistently keeps stock of at least 7 (seven) varieties of food items in each of the 4 (four) staple food categories on its shelves.  Included in these 7 (seven) varieties there has to be at least one perishable (fresh, frozen or refrigerated) product. A minimum depth of stock of 3 stocking units is required for each variety.  The 4 (four) staple food categories include:

  • Vegetables/Fruits,
  • Dairy (the trickiest SNAP authorization category),
  • Breads/Cereal, and
  • Meat/Poultry/Fish

 

Criterion B

More than 50% of their total gross retail sales must be in staple foods for a grocer to meet the Criterion B standard.  Heated foods or those that were prepared on-site (no matter what their temperature was at the time of sale) cannot be included in the sales.  Additionally, if more than 50% of a business’s total gross sales are in heated or prepared foods that are not for the purpose of preparation and/or consumption at home, the USDA classifies the business as a restaurant.  This includes food prepared on-site and sold for carryout.

 

A Thorough Guide to the SNAP Reauthorization Process

As the time approaches, you will get a “re-authorization” letter in the mail at your business address. A code provided in the letter will enable you to continue the process on the USDA’s website. The letter will explain to you how to start the application process.  The USDA no longer handles paper applications; everything is web-based. They give you 30 (thirty) days to complete your application.

When you submit your completed application, the USDA will ask you for supporting documentation.  What documentation they request is unique for every business.  These are some documents they often request: 

  • an affidavit stating that the current owners/members/officers of the store are not connected with any previously disqualified SNAP persons and reporting any criminal convictions and/or license revocations; 
  • the store’s bank details and signature card; 
  • copies of all current business licenses; 
  • personal and business tax returns.

Often, the first request the USDA sends for documentation will be followed by a request for revenue verification.  The program specialist reviewing your application at the USDA needs to see if you sell more hot/takeout food than you should to qualify for reauthorization.  They might want you to submit  tax filings, invoice records, sales records, and bills of sale.  If your records reveal that the majority of your food sales are heated, your application will be denied.

In the event that your sales meet the USDA criteria, their next step is to evaluate your inventory.  Primarily, the way they get this done is by conducting an inspection of your store conducted by the USDA.  If the survey demonstrates that your store’s inventory misses the mark, they can get the chance to give their inventory records to the USDA for inspection.  Other documents that can help include supplier invoices, grocery receipts and records of food purchases.  These items are good forms of evidence to show the USDA that you ordered and received enough of the required staple foods within 21 days prior to the store visit.

The next step beyond the USDA evaluation of your revenue and inventory is their decision letter.  Receiving a reauthorization marks the end of the process ends.  On the other hand, if you get denied SNAP reauthorization, you have the right to appeal the decision. In some cases, you would be able to re-apply immediately, and under other circumstances you might be required to  wait six months or more.  In the worst case scenario, they can move to permanently reject your application.

What Options do I Have if My SNAP Reauthorization Was Denied?

You Have the Option of a SNAP Retailer License Appeal

Your Decision Letter may state that the USDA has decided to withdraw your store’s license to participate in SNAP.  This letter will arrive as part of a package delivered by UPS.  If you receive such a letter, which is sometimes referred to as a Denial Letter and details the withdrawn status of your reauthorization application, you should:

  • Look through everything and see if the decision is permanent.  If it is, you can think about appealing otherwise you will remain unlicensed without the right to reapply.
  • In the event that your denial is temporary, figure out if your grocery store can hold out over the re-application timeframe.  In cases where SNAP sales account for a small amount of your total sales and the timeframe is six months or less, you will likely make it through.  If SNAP sales in your store make up as much as 50% or more of your total sales, you would be better off filing an administrative review.
  • Round up all of your files and get on the phone with someone at our office to set up your free consultation. Your lawyer can handle all your filing, briefing and communicating with the USDA.  He or she will also explain to you whether an appeal would likely be successful or not.

 

Denial can be the result of a determination by a Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) agent who conducted an onsite inspection that your store failed to meet the stocking requirements listed in Criterion A, or that, after your documents were reviewed, you did not satisfy the Criterion B sales requirements.  If this has happened, you will be unable to apply for SNAP authorization again for a minimum of six months, which can be a big blow to many proprietors.

 

You have only 10 (ten) days from the date the decision letter comes to file your administrative review request.  No need to panic – if you reach out to our firm right away we may be able to work with you on your filing.  Our attorneys can fight your case for you and furnish all the necessary documents and evidence for the win.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q – Does my EBT machine get turned off the moment I get the withdrawal letter?

A – Effective the date of your store’s withdrawal, you are no longer authorized to take EBT card payments.  If you should choose to file for an administrative review of the withdrawal, the USDA will allow you to take SNAP benefit payments at your grocery store while you await the final agency decision.  

Q – How can I resume taking SNAP benefits again if I got a permanent denial?

A – If you do not file an appeal quickly and accurately, you may not ever regain the EBT license you lost.  There have been cases in which our office was able to assist clients in getting back EBT reauthorization after a denial, but each case is different.  The bette way to get your cases assessed by us is to fill out our intake form (below) and get your free consultation to get an idea of what could potentially be done.

Q – My grocery store does not have the point of sale machine for EBT cards. Is reauthorization still a possibility for me?

A – At the time of this writing, this was indeed possible, although that may be different by the time you are reading this. Right now, the USDA is working to launch new regulations in which stores would be required to have computerized point-of-sale machines in place.  Nevertheless, if you are equipped to take debit card payments, your merchant services provider would be your best point of contact for this.

Sign Up for Your Free SNAP Reauthorization Denial Consultation

SNAP retailers can have a free consultation with us on their matters involving SNAP program retailer applications.  Due to the fact that the SNAP retailer requirements have evolved to be so much more tedious, we believe it is best for grocers to work with an attorney to handle their matters.  So many times has the USDA claimed that they never got sufficient documentation from a business owner, or that they could not process an application. These claims are usually untrue, but when a SNAP retailer is unrepresented, one can be victimized and forced to reapply.  For your free legal consultation, fill out the form below.