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:
- Do you have a SNAP compliance policy in place in your store?
- Can you prove that such policy was in effect before it was violated?
- 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?
- 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.