25 Apr 20

SNAP Disqualification Defense

| by

Last Updated on: 9th August 2023, 01:39 am

SNAP & EBT Violations

The USDA Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) oversees the through the Food & Nutrition Service (FNS).  This FNS division is responsible for retailer licensing and snap Violation enforcement.  EBT Violation charges are brought against grocery store owners by FNS in a letter delivered by UPS in overnight mail.  If such a letter arrives at your store, you have ten (10) days from the date UPS delivered the letter to respond.  Failure to respond could result in your store being permanently disqualified.

Every food stamp fraud letter dispatched by FNS includes allegations of different categories of snap Violations.  These include:

  1. sale of forbidden products; 
  2. trafficking in snap benefits; 
  3. payment of credit with EBT benefits; and 
  4. reciprocal disqualifications from WIC.  

Charge letters from the FNS usually state that FNS “has compiled evidence that your firm has violated the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) regulations.”  You can find the snap violation regulations here.

90% of Unrepresented Stores are Disqualified.

SNAP Violation: Trafficking in Benefits

The most grievous of the violations that can be alleged in a snap charge letter is trafficking.  Loosely defined, trafficking refers an exchange of cash for EBT benefits. This may be in the form of cash back on a snap purchase or the sale or purchase of an EBT card. Not long ago, fraud investigations for trafficking began focusing on retailer purchases of inventory which was initially bought using benefits.  This counts as trafficking and invariably results in a permanent disqualification.

Trafficking charges are brought in the presence of f two different types of evidence: 

  1. transaction pattern/categories or
  2. eye witness affidavits.  

snap violation charges are frequently based upon a statistical analysis.  The language in every  USDA letter is reads:

  “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.”  Each letter comes with a set of attachments listing all the transactions for each category.  These categories include:

snap Violation Charge: 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.”  This category covers transactions occurring from multiple households over a limited amount of time.  Basically, the USDA may think that this indicates that a snap violation has occurred because there is no explanation as to how your store conducts transactions so quickly.

snap Violation Charge: 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.”  When they see this, the USDA may think that a snap violation took place because of the frequency of purchases from the same household.  In general, the Department holds the belief that it is unusual for a head of household to make repeat visits to small stores in a short space of time.

snap Violation Charge: Repeated Dollar Values

Formerly known as “same-cent transactions” this category of transaction has 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.”  Judging from the amounts of your transactions, the USDA is led to believe that your store has committed a snap violation.  Contrariwise, such transaction patterns usually turn out just to be an indication of how your store operates its business, but the USDA wouldn’t know this.

snap Violation Charge: 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, formerly referred to as “excessively large transactions,” contains a list of transactions that are flagged as being unusually large in size.  Ironically, this list can include purchases for as little as $25 or $30.

snap Violation Charge: 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 category of transactions evaluates what portion of a participant’s total benefits are spent at your store, and it flags when a card balance is depleted to $0.00 in their transactions at your store.

snap Violation Charge: Manual Transactions

This category, which is presently uncommon in snap violation cases, involves a selection of transactions that have taken place where the EBT card number was manually entered rather than swiped.  This leads the USDA’s to believe 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 was possibly a snap violation.

How to Handle a snap Violation Letter

snap Violation cases are severe.  While the letter may appear to be casual enough, the USDA’s intention is to disqualify your store.  You could get a term disqualification, or in some circumstances, a permanent disqualification.  You can contact the program specialist (before you do, please read our Guide on What Not to Say to the USDA) and find out what information they need, but they will request you that you “submit any information that you think might help explain those transaction patterns.”  The thing the specialist neglects to tell you is that there is a very specific set of documents and responses that they’re looking for, and if you don’t furnish those, then you will lose your case. You cannot be selling items like Glass Bongs, Red Wine, Tequila, Liquor.

We have years of professional snap violation defense experience that gives us an edge over other attorneys.  We have carried out dozens of depositions of USDA officials, section chiefs, program specialists and investigators. Therefore, we can tailor your cases to meet the questions the Department has about your store.  We can sort through the information to help you decide what is helpful, what may be harmful, and how to present the strongest possible case for your store.  Our snap violation defense process is second to none, and we are well pleased to be thought of as an industry leader in cases ranging from Administrative actions to matters before the United States Supreme Court.

Don’t delay.  The later you wait to contact a professional, the more difficult it is to prevail in your case.  We offer free consultations every day of the week (including weekends).  To get more information, fill out the form below or call us on our toll free number.

SNAP Disqualification Defense

Feeding people is what grocery stores do. A grocery store manager needs to be on top of the many ways that their customers can choose to pay for food. One of the most important of all ways that people pay their grocery bills is via what is known as SNAP. This is a federal program designed to provide enough money so all Americans can feed themselves. If you own a grocery store, you’ll need to be aware of what this program means if you’re going to participate in the process of accepting SNAP payments. SNAP payments are of great use to many grocery owners. They ensure that the population they serve does not go hungry. At the same time, SNAP payments also come with many regulations. If you own a grocery store and accept SNAP payments, you need to know what laws and procedures you must follow to avoid being disqualified from the program.

Reasons For Disqualification

There are many reasons why a grocery store owner might be facing the prospect of being disqualified from this program. For example, a store owner might have allowed food stamps to be misused in the past. A store owner with a minor problem in the past such as allowing a recipient to purchase paper products may face increased penalties if they have an additional problem with food stamp use again in their store. The store owner can also be held liable if other issues related to food stamp misuse happen in their store. For example, if an employee agrees to accept food stamps in return for cash, the store owner will be facing penalties. This can happen even if the store owner was not there at the time. It can also happen if the store owner stated this was not acceptable and fired the offending store employee.

A store owner may also be facing issues of disqualification if they have engaged in other kinds of actions regarding food stamp use. For example, if the store owner sold tobacco to someone under the age of purchase in exchange for food stamps, this can result in varied types of penalties. The same is true of the store owner sold alcohol or firearms to a young person and accepted food stamps as payment. Such laws are very strict. A store owner must know all about the rules and regulations that govern food stamp use before they agree to be part of this program. They also must agree to engage in efforts to educate their employees about proper food stamp use before the store employee sets foot on the job. The store owner must also agree to allow employees access to all necessary rules about SNAP payments while they are on the job and serving the public.

A Letter

Officials charged with administering the food stamp program check on store owners. They may come by the store with food stamps to make sure the food stamps are being used as required under law. Federal government officials may also be tipped off that food stamps are not being used as intended by other factors. For example, an employee could report they are being coerced into accepting payments for items not covered under the rules. A customer may complain that someone else at the store was allowed to use food stamps to buy things they know are not covered. All of these actions can lead the federal government to open up an investigation. This investigation may check how many items were purchased at the store using food stamps. Federal officials want to see that the count matches up with the reported food stamp use being reported to the federal government.

If you get a letter from the government, keep in mind it is vitally important to respond to it. The letter indicates that government officials believe your store is not adhering the requirements of the program. The letter is a courtesy. Further action is in the works. The letter sets up a timeline. You only have ten days in which to respond to this letter and the allegations it contains. If you do not, your store will be penalized and you will not be appeal to the verdict. That is why it is crucial to work with an experienced lawyer as soon as you get a letter of this kind.

Creating a Defense

After you get a letter indicating the government is going to penalize you, it is crucial to know what kind of penalties they have in mind. A minor issue may result in your store being unable to accept food stamps for up to three months. A more serious issue can lead to your store being unable to accept food stamps for up to five years. In that case, the government may also seek to disqualify you from the program completely. This is why you’ll want to know the scope of the penalties if they are not already listed.

The prospect of a permanent disqualification is very serious. Any store owner who cannot accept food stamps as payment will find many clients can no longer patronize their store. Fighting such charges can be done. A verdict of disqualification is not necessarily the end verdict. A lawyer can come up with many types of defenses. For example, they can ask the federal government to examine the store’s grocery bills more completely and check to see if the error was made by the government rather than the store owner. There are lots of other types of ways to avoid being removed from the SNAP payment program. A good lawyer can be there to speak on your behalf and for your innate legal rights.