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Responding to Allegations of SNAP Trafficking

Responding to Allegations of SNAP Trafficking

Being accused of SNAP trafficking can be scary. You may have received a letter from the USDA alleging your store engaged in suspicious transactions. Don’t panic – with the right approach, you can successfully respond to these allegations.

First, it’s important to understand what SNAP trafficking is. Essentially, it involves exchanging SNAP benefits for cash instead of food. This is illegal under federal law[1]. There are a few common trafficking schemes:

  • A retailer allows a customer to “purchase” items on their EBT card that the customer doesn’t actually receive, and gives them cash instead.
  • A retailer inflates the amount rung up on the EBT transaction and gives the extra balance in cash to the customer.
  • A retailer allows customers to purchase ineligible items like alcohol or cigarettes with their SNAP benefits.

While trafficking is illegal, there are also situations where innocent mistakes can look suspicious to investigators. That’s why it’s crucial to respond to any allegations and explain your side of the story.

Understanding the Allegations

The first step is to carefully review the letter from the USDA identifying the transactions they flagged as potential trafficking. Look at the dates, times, and dollar amounts of each transaction. Try to remember if you were working during those times. Also look at the total dollar amount they allege was trafficked – this gives you a sense of the scope of their investigation.

The letter should also explain why the transactions seemed suspicious. Common red flags include:[2]

  • Transactions that occur very quickly, one right after the other
  • Multiple transactions around the same time from the same household
  • Transactions for even dollar amounts like $20, $50, $100
  • High average dollar amounts per transaction

Understanding their reasoning helps you formulate an effective response.

Responding to the Allegations

Your response must be submitted within 10 days, so you need to act quickly. Here are some tips for drafting your response letter:[3]

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  • Explain your store’s operations – How do customers pay for items (self-checkout, cashier, etc)? Describe your checkout process. This helps explain how transactions occur.
  • Account for your inventory – Show you stock enough food items to justify large transactions. Provide invoices and photographs documenting your inventory.
  • Justify any fast transactions – If you have express checkout lanes, explain how those work. Account for any other ways customers can checkout quickly.
  • Provide innocent explanations – For example, a household shopping for multiple families may make large, quick purchases. A forgetful customer may make repeated small transactions. Provide plausible explanations.
  • Describe your EBT/SNAP policies – Do you provide training on proper EBT use? Explain steps taken to prevent misuse.
  • Note any extenuating circumstances – Issues like equipment malfunctions, staff shortages, or customer complaints can help explain unusual transactions.

Along with explaining the flagged transactions, provide as much documentation as possible. This includes:[4]

  • Sales records and receipts
  • Inventory invoices and photographs
  • EBT/SNAP training materials
  • Employee records like schedules and payroll
  • Information on checkout systems and equipment

Comprehensive documentation makes your response much more convincing. The USDA relies heavily on the evidence you provide, so the more you can furnish, the better.

Avoiding Common Mistakes

It’s important to avoid certain mistakes when drafting your trafficking response letter:

  • Don’t admit fault or implicate yourself in any way.
  • Don’t speculate about what might have happened – stick to facts.
  • Don’t accuse USDA investigators of misconduct.
  • Don’t provide inadequate explanations or insufficient evidence.
  • Don’t miss the 10-day deadline for responding.

Any admission or unsubstantiated claim could seriously undermine your case. Focus on sound explanations and documentation.

Seeking Legal Assistance

Contesting SNAP trafficking allegations can be complex. Consider consulting a lawyer experienced in SNAP cases for guidance responding to the charges. They can help craft a persuasive response, gather evidence, and negotiate with the USDA on your behalf. Though it costs money, a lawyer’s expertise significantly improves your odds of avoiding penalties.

Potential Consequences

If the USDA determines trafficking did occur after reviewing your response, your store could face:[5]

  • Fines – Up to $100,000 per violation
  • Disqualification – Banned from SNAP participation, typically 1 to 5 years
  • Civil penalties – Up to $11,000 per violation
  • Criminal prosecution – Jail time in most trafficking cases

These penalties can devastate a retail business. That’s why developing an effective response is so critical if you hope to avoid sanctions.

Preventing Future Violations

If your store is allowed to continue participating in SNAP after responding to trafficking allegations, take steps to prevent future violations. Some best practices include:[6]

  • Implement strict checkout procedures like scanning all items.
  • Train employees on proper EBT/SNAP handling.
  • Post signage about allowed EBT purchases.
  • Monitor transactions for unusual patterns.
  • Perform regular inventory audits.
  • Maintain secure storage of EBT equipment.

Following SNAP rules diligently makes your store much less prone to future allegations. It also shows the USDA you take compliance seriously.

In Summary

Here are some key takeaways when dealing with SNAP trafficking allegations:

  • Carefully review the transactions the USDA flagged as suspicious.
  • Draft a detailed response explaining your store’s operations.
  • Provide as much supporting documentation as possible.
  • Avoid implicating yourself or making unsubstantiated claims.
  • Consult a lawyer for guidance responding to allegations.
  • If allowed to remain in SNAP, implement safeguards against future violations.

While being accused of trafficking can be unnerving, you can successfully respond to allegations with a thoughtful approach. Focus on sound explanations backed by evidence, and avoid common mistakes. With effort and care, your store can prevail and continue serving your community.

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