SNAP Trafficking: What You Need to Know

The Crime of Trafficking in SNAP Benefits

SNAP Benefits Trafficking stands as the most formidable crime an EBT retailer can face consequences for. Still, it’s the most recurrent SNAP violation charged by the USDA.  Being accused of trafficking in SNAP benefits at your store can mean rigid and rapid sanctions against you, with a substantial probability you may face criminal charges.  Be forewarned: trafficking allegations are far more than simply claims that you or employees of your grocery store improperly processed an EBT card from one of your customers.

The crime of trafficking can be described as any use of SNAP benefits in an illegal or unauthorized exchange.  These crimes come in many different shades and the USDA’s definition covers six different varieties of practices that qualify as trafficking:

  • The Purchase/Sale/Theft an EBT card or a card account and/or PIN number for money or other things of value;
  • Trading in explosives, drugs, ammunition, or guns using  SNAP funds or EBT cards;
  • Purchasing products with a bottle refund, discarding the contents and exchanging the bottles for refund;
  • Making legitimate purchases with an EBT card and reselling said items for cash;
  • SNAP participants who buy food with their EBT card and then trade it for cash or credit at a participating SNAP retailer grocery store are engaging in trafficking.
  • Giving “cash back” on EBT transactions, without regard to whether or not the liquor store owner or any of the managers or staff members extract financial gain from the disbursal.

Understanding Whether You Are Being Charged with Trafficking

Three ways that proprietors of participating stores can get notified of a trafficking charge.  All three include the formality of a charge letter.  This “Charge Letter” is sent out to the store address via UPS overnight from the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS). It explains in detail the specific allegations that the USDA is charging against your store.  The most frequently occurring SNAP trafficking charge is known as an “EBT” case.  EBT is short for Electronic Benefit Transfer.  This type of trafficking matter is a data analysis case.  Here’s what the Charge Letter looks like:

SNAP Trafficking Charge Letter

Your charge letter lists the transaction pattern categories that gave the USDA pause and guided them to their finding of a SNAP trafficking violation.  Several Exhibits with groups of transactions listed on them are customarily attached to the letter.  Department of Agriculture officials have been known  to testify in a multitude of cases that they said they were off the belief that the defendants were dispensing “cash back” in EBT transactions and thereby guilty of trafficking. Our lawyers can explain to you all you will need to know about handling an EBT SNAP trafficking charge letter.  Anyway, your greatest chances of overcoming these charges in such matters almost always involves attorneys stepping in to defend  you.

The next class of trafficking charge letter comes from the Retailer Investigations Branch, or RIB.  Such a letter comes as a result of an undercover agent from the USDA having shopped in your store undercover as a secret shopper.  This kind of letter usually has an affidavit attached to it that looks like this:

Undercover agent affidavit

Secret shopper cases have a higher tendency to be focused in the tiny details, such as if you are caught selling liquor, than the EBT cases.  In the absence of a specialized lawyer, you have low probability of presenting a strong defense that will succeed.  Our lawyers are available for a free consultation, so if a letter with an undercover agent affidavit shows up one day in the mail, get on the phone or email us as expeditiously as you can.

The last of the charge letters will show up at the completion of an Office of Inspector General investigation.  OIG conducts undercover investigations, too, but they usually conduct this particular kind of investigation for the purposes of bringing criminal charges.   Here’s an example of an OIG letter:

OIG charge letter

When you receive any one of these three kinds of charge letters, it means a criminal investigation will ensue, even though they don’t always result in criminal charges against the business or it’s proprietor.  We firmly recommend that you do not attempt to do battle in such matters on your own accord – again, you can get a risk-free consultation in which we assist grocery store owners in avoiding common mishaps and pitfalls.

You Got Charged with SNAP Trafficking – What Next?

Undergoing a SNAP trafficking case is a tough situation.  Because of  the major impact they can have on your business, it is imperative that you defend yourself against any trafficking charges brought by the USDA.  You can access our SNAP Violation Guidebook in which you can learn how trafficking cases go and what you can expect when you hire us to represent you.

The early stages are often the most crucial part of the entire process.  Having said that, below is a quick guide to give you an understanding of what your attorney is going to need from you to proceed:

  1. The transaction receipts that display the items that were sold in the relevant transactions.
  2. Inventory records, including all invoices and receipts for the food your store has purchased.
  3. Business tax records (like sales tax and 1040’s) often come in handy.
  4. Profit and loss statements can also help.

In conclusion, we have emphasized above that you should definitely get an attorney involved in such cases.  This firm has a long and impressive track record and is known for being highly knowledgeable as a SNAP Trafficking specialist.  The largest repository of expertise on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program exists at our law firm.  USDA officials know our lawyers well.  What firm you decide to work with on your trafficking matter will indeed make a difference in the results of your case. Do yourself a favor.  Don’t settle for a delay and stall play: strategize the case to triumph in the case.

Schedule your free consultation today

Judicial Appeal of a SNAP Disqualification

Judicial Appeal of a SNAP Disqualification

Filing a Judicial Appeal when you have been disqualified from the USDA SNAP program is your last line of defense after your EBT machine gets shut off.  To arrive at this stage, you will have already had your SNAP Violation Letter and gone through the administrative appeal process with the Department’s Division of Administrative Review.  Nonetheless, this may be your most hopeful opportunity to mitigate the damage that has already been caused to your store, and to revive your EBT business again.

 

Why Work With Us to Litigate Your USDA SNAP Case?

We have seen in our experience that numerous store proprietors choose to have local attorneys deal with their USDA SNAP Violation issues.  Though local attorneys want to help them in earnest, the USDA SNAP administrative program is a highly specialized, distinct and convoluted area of the law.  Lawyers who lack experience in this area may make mistakes in SNAP cases without having any idea how they steered their client wrong, and without you ever becoming aware.

 

Our legal team at BLG has worked arduously since the United States Congress reauthorized the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in 2014 to get this new legislation under our belts so we can represent your needs with expertise.  The staff of attorneys here have dealt with many federal appeals of USDA SNAP disqualifications and are well acquainted with the positions and strategies regularly employed by the USDA in court.  Furthermore, our retailers benefit from our breadth of experience in anticipating the Department’s tactics and arguments, and figuring out early where the USDA’s case against them is the weakest. For example, if you sell dab rigs, or sell liquor from your liquor store, you could be accused of SNAP Fraud. 

 

Fewer than a small number of law firms in the United States are as skilled as we are in handling USDA SNAP regulatory law, and of those (whose information is readily available) our lawyers have by far the most experience and place the most focus on retailer representation.

 

What Exactly is a USDA SNAP Judicial Appeal?

A USDA SNAP Judicial Appeal is a lawsuit that you can file on behalf of your retail store against the United States Department of Agriculture under 7 CFR §279 and 7 USC §2023 to appeal the Final Determination of the Administrative Review Division that your business must be permanently disqualified from SNAP (most often on trafficking charges).  Judicial Appeals work just like regular civil litigation, just with the additional complication of having the United States of American as the defendant.

 

These kinds of lawsuits have three phases:

 

  1. Pleading Phase:  In this phase, we file our complaint in the district court against the United States in the State in which your grocery store does business. When  The United States responds to our allegations after sixty days with an Answer or a Motion to Dismiss (depending upon the details of our case).  Customarily, this part of the litigation can take as much as eighty days to complete, allowing time for service of process and normal procedural delays.
  2. Discovery/Motion Phase:  We round up all of the evidence that is relevant to your case and assemble the motions that we will use to get the case moving along or potentially even get it resolved faster.  The motions we use most frequently include 
    1. a Motion to Abate Disqualification – an effort to reverse your suspension during the period the litigation progresses and 
    2. a Motion for Summary Judgment – in which we request that the Court consider the undisputed evidence and enter an order in our favor based on the pleadings (also an effort to conclude the case quicker).
  3. Trial Phase: This phase of the litigation is the culmination of all of the work you have done since the day you received the SNAP Violation letter in the mail months before.  Even though the trial is only before a judge (there is no jury allowed for these trials under the regulations or the United States Code), the judge may hear the case in the same manner and procedure in which all normal trials occur.  The details of your business and the allegations charged by the USDA are considered by the judge to help them arrive at a determination as to whether or not he or she agrees with the USDA that you violated the SNAP regulations at your store.

 

After the USDA SNAP Judicial Appeal

If it so happens that the judicial appeal delivers us an unfavorable decision, a grocer can appeal that decision to the circuit court of appeals where appellate judges will be able to review the evidence, the decision entered by the judge and the process through which your EBT retailer status has been revoked.  In the event that the circuit court of appeals does not agree with the store’s position, or if the appellate court decides to uphold the entire disqualification or suspension, then the United States Supreme Court can have final say.

 

The majority of cases never make it even as far as the circuit court of appeals.  Nevertheless, our office aims to thoroughly advise you of your options throughout our representation in a meaningful and complete way.

 

How to Retain Us for your SNAP Judicial Appeal

Act fast before your rights run out!  There may be only a matter of days before your appeal deadline expires, so don’t delay in contacting us to set up a consultation at your earliest convenience.

Permanent SNAP Disqualification Reversal

Permanent SNAP Disqualification Reversal

One of the largest public programs in the country is the SNAP program, and multitudes of families nationwide depend on it to survive. This program gives families with low incomes help so they can eat. It is by no means glamorous, but it’s extremely practical. In the absense of proper nutrition, human lives are altered forever. When the head of a family is unable to make ends meet from month to month and frequently comes up short on money to feed their families, the United States Department of Agriculture offers them the opportunity to apply for SNAP benefits to shop at local grocery stores for the additional food supplies their family needs.

The legislation regarding SNAP benefits is extremely rigid. The individual edicts are far too many to list, but they are indeed very strict and ignoring any of them puts business owners at risk of severe consequences. What can and cannot be sold to people using SNAP benefits, how much people receive monthly, and what recipients can and cannot buy using their EBT cards is all regulated by the federal government . They ensure that the owners of supermarkets and grocery stores are equipped with copious information about the use of SNAP benefits, and they are obligated by law to strictly adhere to every term.

Selling SNAP benefits for cash is expressly forbidden by law, and recipients are not permitted to purchase alcohol as well as a number of other items using their EBT cards. Anyone who is caught selling unauthorized products  exchanging SNAP benefits for cash, the proprietor faces a long list of fines, penalties, and even possibly the loss of their license to accept SNAP benefits.

What effect does losing SNAP benefits have on a business?

Maybe the idea of losing the ability to accept SNAP benefits as a payment method sounds like a minor setback, but it’s enough to destroy a grocery business. When people are able to use their SNAP benefits in your store, your revenue escalates. Millions of people living in America are unable to afford the amount of food they need each month and they need and access federal assistance putting food on the table. Holders of EBT cards restrict their shopping places capable of accepting their benefits.

If your store is no longer able to accept SNAP cards, you will lose business. Indeed it can be a large volume of business, and your shop sales will likely suffer a huge blow as a result. Losing SNAP acceptance is never beneficial to a grocer, which is why it is important to understand the ways in which  an attorney can be of service to you if your business was permanently disqualified from accepting SNAP benefits.

The SNAP Charge Letter

In the event that the USDA  suspects you or your employees of performing any illegal involving SNAP benefits at your store, you will receive a letter. It can be an infraction as minimal as allowing someone to purchase a single beer with their SNAP card. Something like this might not even be something you realized took place when a new staff member was working or at times when there was so much on the conveyor belt it simply slipped past you unnoticed.

Accidents happen all the time, and none of us is perfect. Nonetheless, your business might suffer from any mishaps, even unintentional ones. If you are found guilty of any improper conduct, such as selling liquor or don julio 1942 – connected with your SNAP, you’ll receive a letter. In some cases, this letter provides you a chance to pay a fine rather than lose your ability to accept SNAP.  This may be a substantial amount, but it is probably much less than your losses from saying goodbye to all your repeat SNAP customers.

If you don’t have the money to pay the fine or you fail to respond to the letter and it’s demand for a fine payment inside 10 (ten) days, your store loses its license to accept SNAP payments. Under some circumstances, the suspension is temporary, but other times, it’s a permanent disqualification.  This depends on how many occurrences have happened before and how severe the issue at hand is in comparison to the law.

Grocery store proprietors do have the opportunity to respond to claims if they did something wrong, but interestingly, the USDA doesn’t always favor the stores in the disputes they receive. They sometimes rely too heavily on the evidence against the business no matter how vague or outdated it is. They may even ignore or misplace your letter. Any number of issues can arise with a dispute, and a retailer could find out their SNAP machine ceases to function one day when they are checking customers out.

Disputing a Permanent Disqualification

It’s far from simple to dispute a claim, even when the evidence against your business is faulty. It’s arduous, it’s time-consuming, and the legislation surrounding SNAP benefits is convoluted and nearly impossible to comprehend. The best practice is to hire an attorney to handle things for you. An attorney with much experience dealing with SNAP issues can help you dispute a permanent disqualification.  You can indeed get the permanency removed and your SNAP acceptance reinstated.

Even wiser is to hire an experienced attorney from the outset. Upon receiving a SNAP charge letter in the mail, contact an attorney. They have the most effective tools, the knowledge, and the legal expertise to assist you in making certain that the paperwork you receive is accurate, that the response is handled properly and thoroughly, and that you never reach the stage where you are permanently disqualified. Even with the possibility of winning a reversal with the right evidence and proper paperwork, the weeks you spend being unable to accept payment from such a large number of your regular customers can ruin a small business.

No grocer who has SNAP acceptance can afford to lose it. It’s too much a part of their business model, and it’s how a great many of their customers shop. A SNAP recipient who suddenly realize that they can no longer shop at your store will simply find a new store. Usually, they don’t check back every few days to see if your store is back up and running and able to accept benefits again, either. They will become accustomed to shopping where they’ve moved and you will not be able to get back that business even when your benefits are reinstated.

The USDA cracks down hard on business owners whom they believe are misusing or misappropriating SNAP funds in their stores. Ignoring a letter of this nature or even attempting to handle it on your own is very unwise. Reach out to an experienced attorney to help you reverse the decision to permanently disqualify you from taking SNAP payments in your store. It can mean the survival of your business.

Application For Retailer SNAP License and EBT Machine

Application For a Grocery Store SNAP License and EBT Machine

Opening a new retail food store?  Seeking a new customer base and want to now use an EBT Machine?  Our lawyers can help!  We can assist you with an EBT application for business retail food stores.  The attorneys and staff at our firm have much experience with business EBT and SNAP applications and are well versed in the ins and outs and some of the common missteps that can happen when applying.  Furthermore, our speedy and responsive service can help to field any questions or concerns the United States Department of Agriculture may have about your application.

Applying for a Retailer SNAP License

There is an online system through which one can submit a Retailer SNAP Application. The application must be accompanied by a certain required information regarding the proprietor’s personal history, the history of the business (including a financial history of the operation), and details of how the business is managed in general.  In some cases, the USDA will require a store owner to supplement the EBT application for business licensure, and have the applicant furnish information and documents to show that he or she is the actual individual who will be running and operating the store.  A few other categories of documents that the Department may request before authorizing your EBT machine include: your personal tax returns, your business licenses, your lottery and liquor licenses, your bank records and a personal affidavit.

SNAP attorneys from our team will work to make certain that the Department receives all the information it demands from you, while making sure that you avoid costly errors that could end up in a denial of your EBT application.

Experts in EBT Applications and the USDA

Our office deals with USDA matters daily, including some cases of improper denial of EBT applications for business retailers under 7 CFR §278.1.  This experience gives us an advantage when it comes to preparing your application and knowing in advance what additional information that the USDA will likely require you to produce to ensure your application proceeds smoothly.  If you’re intrested in applying for an EBT machine, give us a call today to learn more.

SNAP Defense for Grocery Store Owners

SNAP Defense for Grocery Store Owners

In response to a report that was tabled in 2013, which highlighted escalating violations in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the United States Congress was forced to take draconian measures . The United States Department of Agriculture, with the full support of Federal Codes, has closed and disqualified hundreds of grocery stores that were found to be in violation one way or another. Getting disqualified from SNAP can result in mammoth losses to a store’s revenue. If you received a letter saying that SNAP charges have been brought against your store, you need to move quickly.

SNAP, like other government programs, is regulated and subject to certain federal codes. In the role of a shop owner, you may not have the requisite legal expertise to defend yourself against a SNAP violation. Also, there is a very short, strict time limit in which the USDA expects you to respond. Failure to comply can result in negative and far reaching consequences.

Upon receipt of a charge letter with the SNAP allegation, one of the first things you might contemplate is whether you should enlist the services of a violation attorney. Some may underestimate this charge or not handle it with the seriousness it deserves. Nonetheless, suffering major losses caused by a violation can be avoided in most circumstances. There are a number of compelling reasons why retaining a violations attorney is a smart move.

The USDA assertively combats SNAP fraud and violations

One mission of the USDA is to protect the interests of American taxpayers. As such, SNAP violations are handled with utmost gravity. The federal government has even established measures to track SNAP purchases. This assists them in identifying all suspicious transactions and launching investigations where necessary. The USDA also works in tandem with other state agencies to make certain that the violators are charged.

USDA uses cutting edge technology to pursue violators

The USDA consistently invests in the most updated technologies to ensure that their food program is not misused. One key technology is the use of electronic “audit trail” to pinpoint and follow any suspicious activity. The Anti-Fraud Locator is another tool employed in monitoring of  Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) systems. Grocery stores behaving in a suspicious manner can easily be spotted and heavily fined. Serious violations can end up in a temporary, or in some cases, permanent disqualification.

USDA brings SNAP Violation investigators on staff

At the USDA, there exists a wing dedicated to SNAP fraud. The department has more than 100 investigators and analysts stationed in various regions around the country. This team’s job is to analyze data to check for suspicious activities. They also conduct undercover investigations in cooperation with the police and detectives. The team is also responsible for prosecuting cases and levying fines and disqualifications for retailers who are found guilty of violations. The Department consults regularly with law enforcement authorities and fraud experts

The federal government takes strict action against violators

Retailers and store owners discovered to be abusing federal programs stand to face steep penalties. In 2012 for example, the Department deployed more than 100 investigators to survey and monitor over 15,000 stores. In the course of these investigations, around 1,400 stores suffered permanent disqualification. The lion’s share of these retailers were charged with trafficking. About 70 of the 1,400 stores were penalized for other violations including illegal sales. More serious violators served time in prison.

To keep yourself and your business on the right side of the law and to avoid lofty fines, you must be aware of what constitutes a SNAP violation.

An Explanation of SNAP Violations

Here are some activities that can draw SNAP violation charges:

  • SNAP benefits trafficking. The word trafficking is a broad term used to refer to fraudulently accepting or stealing benefits.
  • The owners knowingly and intentionally provided false information on the store’s application form or in an attempt to gain EBT benefits.
  • If a shopkeeper or cashier accepts benefits or exchanges non-food items such as tobacco, alcohol and other unqualified products to gain SNAP benefits.
  • Coupon redemptions for a particular store exceed the food sales during the same period.
  • Knowingly accepting benefits from unauthorized persons. SNAP benefits should only be used by legally entitled card holders.
  • If a store maintains a credit tab in exchange for EBT benefits.

To effectively present a defense against any of these violations, you need legal consultation. By yourself, you may make critical errors that can damage your case. In the first place, you need to remember that any conversations you have with the USDA are recorded. That said, any admissions of guilt can and will be against you. Often, store owners try to negotiate with the USDA for SNAP violations. The state department is not in the habit of negotiating with violators. You can be certain that once they dispatch a violation charge letter to you, their intention is to fine you or disqualify your business from the program.

Another pitfall is to openly admit wrongdoing before consulting with a violation attorney. It is important to remember that regardless of whether the USDA had detected something is amiss in your store’s transactions, you are not automatically guilty of a violation. It is prudent to review all your own records and enlist the services of an attorney. It would be damaging to you and your business if you acknowledge an inaccurate charge.

It is also a bad idea to immediately accuse your employees of wrongdoing and report the same to the USDA officials. As the owner, you will still be held accountable for any violations perpetrated on your premises and under the name of your business. Before you leap to conclusions and begin finger pointing, carry out an internal investigation with the assistance of legal counsel.

Overall, the best way to  defend against a SNAP violation charge is to simply comply. Creating and implementing a written policy document that outlines clear guidelines on how SNAP transactions should be dealt with is a wise way to do this. Your employees also must be well trained on what to do and what not to do when completing SNAP transactions. Software that can help you keep track of these special transactions is also a wise and advisable investment. A Civil Penalty Fine can badly cripple the operations of your business. It could be even worse if you end up a temporary or permanent disqualification. Do yourself and your business a favor by hiring a violations attorney. Their expertise and experience can serve you in preparing a solid defense that could help you avoid expensive USDA penalties.

Non-Insured Crop Disaster (NAP) Claims

Non-Insured Crop Disaster (NAP) Claims

In the event that your claim for benefits has been denied, our Noninsured Crop Disaster Attorneys can assist you in getting some relief.  The Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP) is a program established to furnish financial assistance to farmers and providers who grow non-insurable crops.   In cases of natural disaster that results in a lower yield or crop losses, or inhibits the planting of crops, you may be eligible for financial assistance.  This program is in place to cover farmers when they suffer crop losses that would threaten their ability to continue to run their farms.

The Agriculture and Crop Attorneys on our team represent producers, farmers, and sharecroppers in filing for coverage, filing claims for crop loss, and appealing claim denials.  Our NAP appeals attorneys collaborate with your farm or production facility to supply thorough and detailed legal representation.  We specialize in working with and also against the USDA for years to protect our clients’ business and livelihood.  Employ our experience and expertise for your claims today.

 

Crops That Are Covered by the NAP

Not  every type of crop is covered by the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program, nor is every type of entity.  Financial relief to producers can be disbursed to landowners, sharecroppers or tenants who share in the risk of producing an “eligible crop.”  Eligible crops are crops that are commercially produced agricultural commodities for that are ineligible for standard crop insurance.  Crops that are eligible for the non-insured crop disaster assistance program (NAP) fit any of the the descriptions below:

 

Crops Grown for Food

This category includes a selection of food items, including grains, fruits and vegetables that are grown for human consumption. These crops must not be insurable.

 

Crops for Livestock

This group encompasses grain and forage crops, including native forage, which are intended for animal consumption.  These crops must also not be insurable.

 

Crops Grown for Fiber

This category is for crops like cotton and flax, but it excludes trees.

 

Controlled Environment

This section includes crops that are grown in a controlled environment, like floriculture and mushrooms.  These crops must not be insurable either.

 

Specialty Crops

This group is for crops like honey and maple sap.  If they can be covered by crop insurance, they will not be eligible.

 

Sea Plant Crops

This category consists of crops that are grown in water, such as sea oats and sea grass.  These crops must not be insurable to qualify.

 

Industrial Crops

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

 

Value Loss Crops

This category includes things such as Christmas trees, aquaculture, ornamental nursery, ginseng and turf-grass sod.

 

Claims for Non-insured Crops: What Defines a Natural Disaster

Any natural disaster that is the basis of a claim because it caused the loss of agricultural crops must take place during the coverage period, before or during harvest, and must directly affect the eligible crop.  The coverage period can vary in relation to the type of crop.  Here are the Eligible Natural Disasters as defined by the NAP:

 

Damaging Weather

Damaging weather can be frost and freezes, droughts, hail, excessive moisture, excessive wind or hurricanes.

 

Adverse Natural Occurrences

Among the disasters in this category are floods, earthquakes, and in some cases, fires.

 

Adverse Climate Conditions

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

 

Noninsured Crop Coverage Periods

Annual Crops Coverage Period

In general, 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 made and the applicable service fees have been remitted; or

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

 

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

 

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

 

Perennial Crop Coverage Periods

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

 

  • 10 (ten) months from the application closing date;
  • The date on which the harvest is done;
  • 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.

Perennial forage crops, controlled environment crops, specialty crops and value loss crops have different coverage periods.  To find out what the coverage periods are for these categories of crops, contact your local Farm Services Agency office.

 

Our Agriculture Attorneys Can Help Your Farm:

 

Assisting you in Applying for Coverage

The Non-insured Crop Disaster Claims attorneys on our team can handle coverage applications for producers for a small fee.  We are capable of advising and assisting you to figure out the coverage types, premium fees, and deadlines.  We can also assist you in determining whether or not you are eligible 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 inflexible.  That said, you should contact your FSA state committee to find out what the application closing date is for your category of crop.  Remember that various crops have different application closing dates. We can answer many of your questions about whether or not your crop qualifies or how to apply for coverage.  Call our agriculture attorneys today.

 

Filing NAP Claims

Financial assistance to producers is available through a unique claims process. Our lawyers can file your NAP claim with the Farm Service Agency and prepare the documentation that you need to succeed in your claim.  Nevertheless, filing a non-insured crop disaster assistance program claim is a time sensitive matter.  Your claim needs to be filed with your local FSA office within 15 (fifteen) calendar days of the earliest of the following events:

 

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

 

Those farmers that produce hand-harvested crops and a variety of perishable crops must make their claims within 72 hours of the date a loss becomes apparent.  Crops that are subject to this 72-hour rule are listed in the NAP Basic Provisions.  Contact our offices immediately after you realize a loss may occur so that we can begin the claim process for you in a timely fashion.

 

Noninsured Crop Disaster Claim Appeals

Actually, the USDA often denies NAP claims by producers and farmers.  In these cases, 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 reverse a NAP claim denial, and under some circumstances, even get your attorney’s fees and costs reimbursed by the USDA.  Such cases are highly time sensitive, so as soon as you are issued a claim denial, contact our offices.

SNAP Violation Civil Money Penalties

Civil Money Penalties for SNAP Violations

In many areas of the United States the cost of living is high, and millions of families struggle to make ends meet each day. Often, they cannot afford to put food on the table and care for their families in spite of the fact that they have one or two adults in the household working full-time or receiving disability benefits for their families. It’s a palpable challenge that millions of Americans face each day, although few individuals are willing to discuss their financial difficulties with people they know. SNAP is a program established and implemented by the U.S. government to provide nutrition assistance to families who deal with the difficulty of providing proper nutrition to their families.

The SNAP program is the largest of the plans the nation has implemented to assist in feeding the hungry and supplying supplemental nutrition to children and families in lower socioeconomic strata. The goal is to provide adults who do work but simply have a difficult time making ends meet a chance to alleviate the concern of nourishment for their families so no one goes hungry. Nonetheless, it’s all too frequent that both stores who accept SNAP and families who receive the benefit to have lied on their applications to receive more money and benefits from the program. If you are the proprietor of a grocery store who accepts SNAP benefits and you receive a SNAP Civil Money Penalty letter in the mail, it’s best that you pay attention and take this very seriously.

About the Civil Money Penalty

Basically, the SNAP civil money penalty is a charge letter outlining alleged violations and the attached penalties a business has been charged for conducting improper practices and profiting unscrupulously from the acceptance of SNAP benefits. If and when a letter like this arrives in the mail to the proprietor of any business, it indicates a very serious situation and it means that you should enlist the help of a good attorney immediately. Profiting from SNAP benefits is indeed classified as a criminal offense, and you can be heavily fined and sanctioned for this crime.

In essence, in the event that the United States Department of Agriculture believes that your store is profiting or benefitting in any way from the improper use of SNAP benefits that your customers spend in your store, they send you a letter with two options. Option one is to respond to the letter inside the 10 (ten) day window you are granted to pay a penalty and keep your store’s SNAP benefits.  In option two, you can ignore the letter and have your store’s ability to accept SNAP payments revoked.

Again, you have 10 (ten) days to respond to this letter and there is no option to apply for an extension. This is an extremely rigid procedure with no exceptions. The USDA demands your answer as to whether you’re going to pay the fine in an effort to keep your license to accept SNAP benefits or not.

Why trouble yourself with a civil money penalty?

Some grocery store owners question the wisdom of paying a fine for this rather than simply accept a suspension of their SNAP acceptance abilities. The answer is pretty simple. In America, millions of dollars are spent annually on EBT cards for the use of SNAP benefits. If your store loses the ability to accept SNAP benefits from your customers, you lose customers. There are millions of people who are incapabable of paying for their groceries with their own cash, and your inability to accept their EBT cards for food means you’re not getting their frequent business anymore.

The financial ramifications of having your licenses to accept SNAP benefits suspended are far more costly for most businesses than paying a fine. That said, you may not be equipped to handle the letter, to submit your payment of the fine, or even aware of what you should do when a letter arrives in the mail. This is especially true if you aren’t fully aware of the reason why you’re receiving the letter in the first place. For these reasons, getting yourself a criminal attorney cannot wait another day.

Ways an Attorney Can Assist

The troubled waters of SNAP civil money penalties are far from simple for the average individual to navigate. Including the sheer number of requirements, stipulations, and rules associated with this, there are far too many minute details for an untrained person to comprehend in 10 days or less without legal insight.

Some questions you will need to consider: 

  1. Do you have a SNAP compliance policy in place in your store? 
  2. Can you prove that such policy was in effect before it was violated? 
  3. Does there exist a training program in your store for employees to learn about SNAP benefits as well as a written training guide for all your staff members? 
  4. Did you yourself, your store or any of your staff or managers directly profit from the misuse of SNAP benefits in any way?

You must have acceptable answers to all of these questions in order to even qualify for a civil money penalty in the first place. Indeed, there are dozens more questions, and each one is more complex than the one before. Experienced SNAP attorneys can assist you in sorting through the mountain of documents, the application for the penalty, and the issuance of the notice you’ve received. Ten business days is not nearly enough time to deal with this kind of situation successfully without the help of a lawyer, and mishandling the application and/or paperwork can actually end up in denial of a civil money penalty.

Reluctance to remit a civil money penalty to the USDA is common, which does make sense. Under such circumstances, however, the penalty is the least expensive way to dispense with an issue of this magnitude. The misuse of SNAP benefits is a severe crime in the eyes of the government, and losing your ability to accept SNAP benefits in your store can cause your business finances to suffer greatly. This can rapidly become unaffordable.

Your store is an important source of income for your family and the families of those who work for you, which means you cannot afford to have your ability to accept any frequently used method of payment taken away. It’s time for you to enlist legal counsel to come to your aid in this situation when a Civil Money Penalty letter arrives in the mail. Bear in mind that you have only 10 (ten) days to get through the process, which is nearly impossible when you don’t understand what’s being asked of you and what’s required.

An experienced SNAP attorney can serve you by possibly helping you lower the penalty amount, keep your privilege to accept SNAP benefits in tact, and give you the ability to continue to work and make money. Just a short suspension could cost your store thousands of dollars, and the effects of that short suspension can last much longer if customers decide to shop elsewhere after realizing you can no longer accept their payments. It isn’t worth the future financial peril of not hiring an experienced attorney to handle the legal ramifications of this notice.

Protecting Against SNAP Violations

Protecting Against SNAP Violations

Many food retailers accept payments from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs (SNAP), formerly known as Food Stamps.  Just being a participant in this program puts proprietors at risk of getting caught up in non-compliance and losing the eligibility to accept SNAP payments from customers. The SNAP program was established to provide support for needy households in the United States. Families who qualify receive an Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card in the name of a household member that they can use to purchase food and food products at stores that participate in the program.

Retail grocery stores that accept SNAP benefits are subject to routine inspections conducted by undercover United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspectors. Any store that is discovered to be in violation of SNAP regulations run the risk of disqualification from participating in the program, monetary civil fines, or in some cases, the managers and/or owner could get slapped with criminal charges.

Categories of SNAP Violations

In the course of an inspection, USDA inspectors keep an eye out for a multitude of practices that are classed as SNAP violations. The most common one is trafficking, which can include such fraudulent acts as exchanging SNAP funds for currency or accepting payment for which no goods were sold. Legislation forbids retailers from accepting SNAP benefits from cash. Also, SNAP fraud can take place when an individual gives false information on their application to receive benefits or get more benefits than they are entitled to. Retailer grocery store owners who, after being disqualified in the past, knowingly falsify information on their application to re-enter into the program are also in violation of SNAP rules.

Other noncompliance issues include selling unauthorized products and failure to fulfill certain SNAP requirements. In the event that an investigator discovers a violation, the retailer will receive a charge letter outlining the food nutrition service (FNS) in charge of SNAP regulations. A SNAP charge letter lays out a detailed analysis of the violations, including such information as  where and how it occurred. This letter also dictates the prescribed sanctions for the alleged infractions. The ball is now in the store owner’s court to respond to and defend themselves against the charges detailed in the letter.

Legal Implications of SNAP Violations

Indeed, the U.S. government is zealous about combatting SNAP fraud and moves aggressively against retailer store owners who misuse the program. Businesses that sell unauthorized products could be disqualified from the program for six months. That said, if you rack up multiple violations after numerous prior warnings, you could be permanently disqualified from accepting SNAP payments at your store.

The federal government views SNAP trafficking as a grave offense. If they find evidence that you or your employees have engaged in the act of exchanging SNAP benefit funds for cash, this could result in permanent disqualification from the program. The FNS does not take into account whether it was the first infraction or how small an amount of money was involved in the fraud. Permanent disqualification can heavily impact some businesses, costing them to lose hundreds or thousands of dollars per day in revenue.

One of the unfortunate situations that retailers face when they participate in SNAP is that charges can be brought against them even if the violating offenses were perpetrated by the employees or management. It is the store owner who is forced to face charges and suffer punishment even if they were not aware of the actions. For this reason, it is crucial for every participating grocery store owner to take measures to prevent SNAP violations from occurring on their premises.

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 Your Employees

Your staff should be sensitized about the SNAP benefit program and the transactions and acts that are classed as violations against the applicable laws. Wise business owners implement a written training program to help their staff to prepare for the different situations that they may encounter and how to handle them. The program should be thorough and interactive so that employees can ask questions and lock in the information. Create an environment that encourages workers to openly consult with their management when they are faced with an unfamilar circumstance or don’t know how to handle particular SNAP transactions.

  • Establish Formal Guidelines

Store workers have the tendency to ignore or even forget instructions that are presented informally. When it comes to handling SNAP benefits, the best practice is to create formal, written guidelines and impress upon every worker the importance of adhering to them. To implement this, you can include the guidelines in their employment contract. Detail the categories products that qualify for SNAP program, actions that should never be taken, and the implications of violating SNAP laws within the company. As soon as an employee signs the agreement, and they are made aware of the gravity of these rules, it will be easier for them to recognize and refrain from acts that could be classed as SNAP fraud.

  • Track Your Transactions

The methods you use in your business to track general transactions and specifically SNAP sales can help you pinpoint and curb violations long before inspectors show up from the USDA. Employ a point of sale system that utilizes the latest technological features and can identify all the transactions and the items purchased. The POS system should also be capable of flagging items that don’t qualify for EBT purchase. With such a system in place, retailers can troubleshoot problems effectively and verify that their business remains in compliance with SNAP regulations.

Replying to a SNAP Charge Letter

Proprietors can take all these wise precautions to protect their business, but they may nevertheless find themselves facing SNAP violation charges after a USDA inspection. In such a case, the company usually has 10 (ten) days to respond to the charges, after which the sanctions outlined in the letter will come into effect. If the store owner responds to the accusations in time, the USDA may issue a second letter in the event that they want to maintain that the violations indeed occurred. The second letter outlines the decision to disqualify or suspend the business from the program.

The best approach is for retailers to consult with legal counsel immediately after receiving an initial violation letter. An attorney can take over the administrative appeal process, compile evidence (where necessary), and assume responsibility for all communications with the USDA. If the USDA insists on moving forward with the charges in the second letter, the attorney can then file a judicial appeal so that a judge can try the case. Enlisting the services of an experienced lawyer places the company in a more enviable position to disapprove the charges against it.

It is the federal government’s desire to diligently  safeguard the SNAP program and ensure that it is providing vital assistance to families in America who need it most. In fact, incidences of trafficking have dramatically declined over the last twenty years because companies that violate its laws have been penalized with rather severe sanctions. It is crucial for every retailer to take the prescribed measures to safeguard their business against the legal implications of violating SNAP regulations. Additionally, if after such measures are taken, the retailer gets charged nonetheless in the wake of a USDA investigation, they should seek legal counsel right away.

SNAP Violation Lawyers

At the Spodek Law Group, we handle SNAP violation cases nationwide. We help our clients with virtually EVERYTHING, ranging from SNAP compliance, to SNAP judicial appeals, in addition to SNAP suspension, and disqualification. We take action on your behalf to help you save your business, and prevent it from losing permanent EBT transactions.

Work with our SNAP violation attorneys to help you build a strong defense

SNAP is a replacement for the Food Stamp program. It was introduced in the 1990’s. Participants in this program are given a set amount of benefits each month for purchasing food items. Eligible individuals can use an EBT card, which can only be used for food. Specific rules govern how EBT cards can be used in stores. Any violation of these rules by a grocery store, convenience store, etc, can be perceived as food stamp fraud.

EBT Card Use

EBT cards look similar to traditional debit cards, but there are some differences

  • SNAP benefits on EBT cards can’t be used for general items
  • SNAP benefits cannot be used for cash-back

Eligible EBT families can get up to $632 for a family of four. Individuals can get $189 worth of benefits per month. These amounts depend on the household income, # of household members, and a few other circumstances.

SNAP Violation Letters

The US government has rules in place that govern the use of EBT cards. Enforcement is carried out by the FNS, which is a division of the USDA. In most cases, food retailers adhere to these guidelines without any issues. Sometimes, however, a store might be found to have committed food stamp fraud. The FNS will send a SNAP violation letter in situations like this. If your store gets one of these food stamp investigation letters, you only have 10 days to respond. If you fail to respond in this time period, the eligibility of your store to accept EBT could be suspended or terminated. It’s critical you reach out to a SNAP violation attorney immediately if you get a SNAP violation letter. One of our lawyers can contact FNS on your behalf, and protect your ability to get SNAP funds. Often, retailers may not be aware they violated SNAP rules. Sometimes, this happens when employees are violating the laws without telling their employers. SNAP is a federal program, which is implemented by each state.

Who is responsible for investigating SNAP fraud?

If you get a SNAP fraud letter, it means an investigation already happened. It also means you have a chance to respond, and take part, in the investigation. Your primary contact in this investigation will be the FNS, as part of the USDA. The investigation by the FNS began with a complaint, or a review of your records due to an inconsistency. Food stamp fraud lawyers can help you through an investigation if you get a SNAP charge letter.

What are examples of SNAP fraud?

If your store gets a SNAP violation letter, it might be due to one or more of the reasons below.

Trafficking is where transactions are fraudulently accepted. Trafficking can happen in one of several ways. Sometimes it can be intentional, or unintentional.

Accepting unqualified purchases: Only qualified purchases through an EBT card are allowed. That means food, and non-alcoholic drinks, which are consumed at home after being purchased. Examples of unqualified purchases include medicine, vitamins, tobacco, alcohol, etc.

False SNAP application: The violation means you submitted false information on your store’s EBT benefits application.

Inaccurate Coupon Accounting: This happens when a coupon is redeemed for higher in dollar value than the dollar value of the food sold.

Maintaining a “tab” for EBT benefits: This is a type of SNAP Violation when the store returns maintains a tab for a customer, in exchange for using the EBT cards.

What are the penalties of SNAP fraud?

The USDA has the ability to enforce many food stamp penalties. This can include but is not limited to:

  • Civil fine
  • EBT terminal suspension
  • Permanent disqualification

The penalties can be serious, and can impact your ability to remain in business. Getting a civil fine from USDA can cost your business 10’s of thousands of dollars. The fine can be negotiated with the FNS. It’s good to work with a SNAP violation attorney who can guide you. When you have a temporary suspension of your EBT transactions access, it can have a huge impact on your revenue. Permanent disqualification can mean if you are a convenience store – your business might be over. In rare cases, criminal charges are possible for a SNAP violation.

Civil Monetary Penalty

The USDA is allowed to enforce a civil penalty against any store that is convicted of trafficking. The degree of the fine will depend on the number of offenses, volume of transactions, and the gravity of the allegations. If your retail store has a compliance program in place, the USDA will likely give you a civil penalty — otherwise, you might face suspended access, or permanent disqualification.

faulty clothing can result in serious injuries

It’s tough to imagine, but faulty clothing can result in serious injuries, and even possible death to kids. Most defective garments cases are connected to one of two problems, either the clothes was manufactured in a means which can lead to the injury, or it is made from material that could catch fire and burn.

There are lots of government and nongovernment child safety groups that are aware of dangers associated with faulty clothing. There are lots of injuries each year due to defective clothing. Manufacturers can be held responsible for damages due to faulty children’s clothing.

Under government acts, compulsory standards are created for the flammability of clothing, plastic film used in clothing, carpets, rugs, children’s sleepwear, and more. In 2004, there were 129 wrongful death fatalities from clothing fires. Additionally, nearly 4000 non-fatal injuries were treated in hospital emergency rooms from 2003-2005. 25% were severe enough to require hospital admission. It is virtually impossible for each piece of clothing from the USA to be scrutinized, though there are numerous cases of clothing being recalled from the authorities.

Another significant issue is that clothing may lead to strangulation. Many kids like to wear hooded sweatshirts. Recently a child was strangled to death when the his hoodie got caught on peak of a playground slide. Since 1985 there have been 17 kid deaths and 42 non serious injuries. Recent US clothing standards prohibit the use of drawstrings in children’s clothing. Many foreign clothes manufacturers continue to create and import garments with hazardous drawstrings in sweatshirts and pants even though they are in danger of facing civil penalties. By way of instance, 300000 units were fabricated by Hill Sportswear Inc and remembered. Many retail outlets have registered to report sales of these goods. Following the omission was discovered, they had been made to cover a severe fine.

If you feel a clothes maker harmed either you, or your kid, then we invite you to talk to us. Our team of attorneys can help you to get justice and be sure that the manufacturer is held accountable. When suing domestic USA makers, it’s much easier to get compensation. Since the producer is in the USA it is possible to sue them at a local court, and go after the assets of the business. If the owners of this firm acted fraudulent and knew about the flaw, then it is possible to pursue civil charges against the owner of the business also.

If you a sense a foreign clothes manufacturer is liable for the damages caused to you, then it is likely to take care of them and other folks who sold their products. In accordance with US law, it is possible to go after everybody in the supply chain, that means people who have been selling the clothes, like retailers, along with the manufacturers themselves. It is possible to hire a lawyer globally who will sue the manufacturer in their own country. You might have grounds to file a lawsuit against the manufacturer, wholesaler, distributor, and much more, depending on the sort of merchandise in question. Product liability claims may also be brought for a manufacturer’s failure to warn of possible risks, as well as failing to correctly manufacturer the product. Sometimes, product liability suits can be filed independently, or as part of a class action if the merchandise injured a high number of people. Filing a joint class action can be appropriate when the damages each plaintiff obtained would be minimal.

Any number of people could be held liable for a defective product injury. By way of example, an injured consumer can get compensation from one or more responsible parties. By way of instance, the clothing manufacturer can be held accountable, the merchant who sold the thing could be held liable, as well as the wholesaler who acted as a middleman between the manufacturer and retailer.

Should I get a business loan to grow my business?

Starting a new business can feel daunting because there’s a lot to consider. Once you get the business going, it will take time, effort and money to grow it. In fact, a common reason why many businesses fail within the first year is because they don’t have the financial resources needed to remain viable. This is when an important question usually arises: Should I get a small business loan to grow my business? While the short answer could be “yes,” there are many considerations. You’ll need to get clear on why you need the money. The information below sheds light on different ways a business loan can support your growth initiatives. Sometimes, if you take too much money, you may need business debt settlement assistance.

Launch a New Product

While there are ways to launch a new product on a budget, it’s often necessary to borrow money if you want to start out with the highest potential for success. For instance, a great launch will include development and execution of a marketing plan, in addition to product development. This requires a sufficient amount of capital, especially given the cost of advertising. It will likely involve website updates, which takes money if you want to get it right.

Improve Cash Flow

If you have been in business for a long period of time and you have not been able to achieve the level of growth expected, you may need to improve your cash flow. Working capital can help you deal with unexpected emergencies that arise, purchase raw materials and ensure your ability to cover operating costs. Sometimes you simply need a quick injection of cash because things are tight. Either way, there are different loan options that can accommodate your needs.

Purchase Equipment

Depending on the nature of your business, there’s a chance that you’ll need to invest in equipment and that requires money. In some instances, buying equipment will increase productivity, which can help you become profitable. This might also include computers and any necessary software. One aspect of business that cannot be ignored is data security and there are software applications that can help you comply with data security regulations. Getting a business loan, and title insurance, is a prudent decision when it’s for the purpose of making a purchase that will advance business objectives and help you comply with the law.

Lease Larger Office Space

If your business requires a brick and mortar location and you need to expand, buying property can be too costly. Instead, it’s often best to lease a larger space. Whether you buy or lease, you’ll need the financial resources to do so. Sometimes leasing requires you to put down a significant deposit and a business loan can help.

In addition to the reasons discussed, sometime a business loan is required to enter new markets. If this is the case, borrowing money might be the best solution to make that happen. The key is to have a clear understanding of why you are getting a loan and how it can help take your business to the next level.

why you need a philadelphia criminal lawyer

Criminal law can be deeply unclear. Even a simple case may have many implications that are not always evident at first glance. Anyone can be arrested at any time. A arrest can lead to long lasting problems. The person who is being arrested needs o find a way to get the outcome they want in the aftermath of the arrest. This is where a Philadelphia criminal lawyer can step in and offer the help people need.

Clearing Your Name

People are wrongly accused all the time. Even an accusation can have serious implications for the person’s life right as well as going forward in time. If the person is later found innocent, an accusation of this kind can still show up when searching for their name. A criminal lawyer will make sure that any evidence that can exonerate the person is presented at every turn. This can help make sure that any future searches for their name are accurate. An effective defense allows the person to present their best face going forward to all who are looking up their name.

Keeping That Job

When the person is accused of something bad, law enforcement officials might decide they need to wait in a secure facility until their case is officially heard. Even a short stay in a facility of this kind can be extremely difficult. The person might not have the vacation time to ask from an employer. A lawyer can be there with them to help reduce this possibility and avoid the problem of being forced into a stay at a prison or a jail. This can help anyone make sure they keep their job even in the face of a criminal trial.

Faster Processing

Many criminal cases can drag out over time. A case may take months or even years to get settled. In the meantime, the accused is left with a life that can be limbo all that time. Getting everyone done quickly is in their best interest. A lawyer can step in to help get this process over as soon as possible. They can submit all necessary material on behalf of the person to the right authorities. A lawyer can also make sure that any necessary court dates are met in order to ensure their case is heard when it is supposed to be heard.

Understanding the Process

Even those with prior experience with criminal law may find the process deeply confusing as it happens right now. Someone who knows the world of criminal law may find it unclear what’s going on from the first time to the ultimate outcome of the case. A lawyer can explain what’s going on in terms they can understand. The lawyer can indicate what might be confusing and how that’s going to impact the resolution of their case. When they know what’s going on in super clear language, this means they can make the best choice for their life.

Getting Paperwork in Order

Criminal case laws require the use of different forms of paperwork. People may need to provide lots of different forms to court officials and make sure they are filled out correctly. A single mistake can have all kinds of negative implications. If it is not filled out in all necessary details, a person may find it themselves facing problems ranging from jail time to a sentence in prison. The lawyer will step in to help make sure this doesn’t happen. The Philadelphia lawyer will be there on their side to get it all done and in correct order.