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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.
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