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SNAP Violation Lawyers

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SNAP Violation Lawyers

If you accept EBT payments, at some point you might receive a SNAP violation letter. letter will contain 100’s or 1000’s of transactions which the USDA believe are fraudulent. They are all attached to the letter. You should immediately contact us when this happens for a free consultation. You have to respond in 10 days to the USDA snap violation letter. If you don’t respond in 10 days, the USDA will suspend or terminate your ability to accept EBT benefits. Our SNAP violation attorneys can help you address this.

There is an intense crackdown on SNAP Violations and fraudulent EBT transactions. To help you better understand the consequences of a SNAP violation, you should schedule a risk free consultation with our attorneys today.

Understanding SNAP violations

Each state has a SNAP program. But it’s a nationwide program by the US government. The SNAP program is enforced by the USDA and FNS. If you want to read the exact possible violations, you need to refer to the Code of Federal Regulations about EBT transactions. According to the Code of Federal regulations, the government has the right to disqualify ANY business from participating in EBT permanently. Small retailers are at risk of shutting down due to their dependance on EBT. The USDA makes a point to demonstrate they are actively investigating retailers who commit SNAP violations. You cannot sell things like Glass Bongs, Reclaim Catchers, Beaker Bongs.

FNS Actively Investigates Retailers Compliance

The FNS has a team of 100 analysts and investigators across the USA who focus on ensuring SNAP compliance. It analyzes retailer data and conducts investigations. They also process cases and fine any retailer who is guilty. The FNS also works with state enforcement officers to conduct sting operations in order to prevent trafficking.

The federal government is also actively involved in prosecuting anyone who violates SNAP regulations. For example, in 2012, the FNS investigators reviewed more than 15000 stores, and did 4500 undercover investigations. The results concluded with 1400 stores being disqualified for trafficking. If you need help paying for our legal fees, you can speak to companies who can provide small business financing to help you pay for the legal fees.

If you’ve been charged, speak to us

Only authorized retailers can accept SNAP. Eligible SNAP foods don’t include prepared items, or alcohol and cigarettes. Accepting SNAP for such items is considered food stamp trafficking. There are a lot of violations that take places in the SNAP program. Even one food stamp trafficking offense can lead to your disqualification. You cannot be caught selling red wine or liquor.

Possible SNAP violations

If your store is charged with trafficking food stamps, it means you’re being charged with fraudulently accepting/stealing SNAP benefits.  Stores may be accused of trafficking, and be disqualified, for a number of reasons such as:

  • Accepting SNAP for nonfood items
  • Intentionally using false information on the EBT application
  • Total SNAP redemptions over a particular period of time exceed sale of food
  • Accepting SNAP from someone who isn’t entitled to the benefits
  • Offering store credit in exchange for EBT

The list goes on.

What to do after you’re accused

Speak to our law firm immediately. Having proper legal help can be the difference between staying in business and going out of business. Most retailers fail to get legal help promptly.

Consequences of SNAP Disqualification

American society has collectively determined that everyone who lives here should be able to get enough to eat each day. The process of making sure Americans are fed is done by many state and nationally funded programs. The single largest program that works to ensure American families do not go hungry is known as SNAP. This is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The goal of the program is to allow those who are temporarily facing fiscal hurdles to get the food they need from valid sources. Retailers all over the country have the option of working with SNAP. When doing so, it is imperative that the retail store owner and all those who work in the store understand what is required of them. Rules are set down by the federal government and state SNAP offices to make sure that the funds allotted to users are being used as intended at all times.

Working With SNAP

Working with officials and recipients who use SNAP is a wonderful chance for retailers to provide a public service. Retailers are allowed to make a profit when they sell items to recipients. Given that millions of people in the United States will use SNAP at some point in life, the program can mean the difference between a full belly and facing hunger in a land of plenty. SNAP lets any person walk into the retailer and pay for the things they need to feed themselves and their family members. Retailers who accept SNAP payments agree to abide by the rules that have been set up to prevent fraud. Fraud can take many different forms. The perpetration of fraud can happen by the retailer or those who work for them. All store owners and managers are responsible for enforcing the laws that govern the use of SNAP payments.

If the rules are not followed, the fraud involved may be discovered by outside investigators. A retailer may be asked to show their books to inspectors. They are looking to see that all such requirements that govern this program are being observed by the retailer and all of their clients. This means that the retailer is only allowing certain items to be purchased such as food instead of tobacco. It also means that the retailer is closely monitored how SNAP is used. The recipient is only allowed to use the funds to buy food. They are not allowed to use the card in exchange for cash to buy something else. Retailers and their employees are not allowed to exchange money for the cards and then use those cards on their own. Such violations are considered grounds for SNAP suspension or even the possibility of ultimate disqualification.

The Consequences of SNAP Disqualification

Permanent disbarment from the program is actually quite rare. Officials want to work with retailers directly. They want locals to have the ability to shop for the food they need and are entitled to by law in a convenient location. At the same time, officials need to make sure that all use of these funds are used as intended. The goal of the program is to ensure that money raised from taxpayers is used via the rules that were set up in advance by Congress. They want to feed families and prevent hunger. When officials discover evidence of fraud, their goal is to ensure this does not happen again. With this in mind, the officials take every effort to work with retailers. They want retailers to serve the public as the program intends. They also want users to know what is allowed and what is forbidden.

There are a handful of things that can cause this issue. Retailers who are known to traffic in large amounts of SNAP cards or allow others to do so. The same is true of those who benefit from the funds personally or use them to buy firearms. A retailer who is charged with this issue may be told they can’t use the program. This can happen out of the blue with as little as ten day’s notice. In that case, the retailer is unable to accept any form of SNAP payment. They also cannot own a store where the store has EBT machines on site. Retailers are not allowed to manage the store or to work with employees who are involved in these transactions. This applies in the state where they do business. It also applies in any other state in the union where they might want to set up a business.

No Exceptions

The disqualification cannot be appealed. Once the decision is made, it is final. Those who are not allowed access to this program are also put on a list called the System for Awards Management disqualification list. This list is a serious penalty. If you are found quality of this issue, you will be put on the list automatically. Chances are you won’t be able to get work with companies that do business with the government. It can also impact your ability to get a job anywhere else as well as your overall credit rating. It is likely to show up when a company checks your background for a criminal background examination. This is why it important to hire a lawyer. You need to fight this with an expert. They’ll work with you to do all they can to avoid this problem.

Handling a SNAP Violation Letter

Any grocer who is licensed to accept EBT cards should be vetting SNAP Violation Defense Lawyers. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) dispatches SNAP Violation Letters to retailers anytime they are of the belief that a participant in the  EBT/SNAP program has violated the laws. In this letter, the Department brings formal charges against you on one or more violations of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) legislation.  Accompanying this letter, in some cases, are extra pages on which there can be hundreds, if not thousands, of transactions which they have determined to be evidence of one ore more of multiple categories of SNAP infractions. This proof comes attached to the back of your SNAP Violation Letter.

How you should deal with a SNAP Violation Letter is by reaching out to someone at our offices for your free consultation.  Business owners are granted a slim TEN (10) day window to respond to the charges.  When the window closes before you could send your response to the USDA, the government will most likely move forward with a suspension or full revocation of your ability to accept EBT cards at your store.

To get a thorough understanding of what your SNAP Violation letter is charging you with, it’s critical to get a grasp of what SNAP is and how it operates.

SNAP Program Fundamentals

SNAP is for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The reason this federal government program was implemented is to give its beneficiaries a predetermined value of monthly monetary food benefits.  The benefits can be used by recipients on an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card that resembles and functions very much like a bank debit card. There are, nevertheless, some extremely important differences between the two:

  1. The SNAP benefits on an EBT card are not designated for general spending or usage, and 
  2. They are not designed to include cash-back dispensing.

Paper Food Stamps coupons were replaced by EBT cards as the mode of providing nutrition assistance to benefit recipients.  This change occurred around the turn of the 20th century.  Nowadays, benefits are disbursed by the state in which the SNAP participant lives and placed into the EBT card account.  The program appears as though it is governed uniquely from state to state, but in actuality it is administered on a national level by the United States Government and implemented by the local state governments individually.

SNAP and its associated benefits are administered by both the United States Code (7 U.S.C. Chapter 51) and also by the Code of Federal Regulations (7 C.F.R. §278).  The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food & Nutrition Service (FNS) is the government organization that enforces the laws and generally operates the program.

What is Classified as a SNAP Violation?

SNAP Violation can be charged when a licensed store breaks any of the following rules:

  • Perpetrating SNAP benefits trafficking at your store.  The term “trafficking” is somewhat broad, but basically it refers to fraudulently accepting, or otherwise stealing the benefits;
  • Accepting an EBT card for payment for non-food grocery products, including alcohol, cigarettes, or other products that are ineligible under the program;
  • Store employees accepting SNAP payments from an unauthorized individual that is not legally entitled to use the benefits;
  • The store’s owner, manager or staff knowingly and intentionally providing untrue details on the store’s application for a license in the EBT benefits program;
  • Your total SNAP redemptions for a specified period of time are higher than your food sales over the same period;
  • Your employees at the store running a credit or a tab for a customer in exchange for EBT benefits; and
  • Under some circumstances, if the store has been disqualified from the WIC program, then the USDA may disqualify said store from SNAP also.

Our Defense Strategy for You Against a SNAP Violation Letter

Our repertoire includes numerous types of SNAP Violation Defense cases for, and we have a great deal of experience working in all three segments of a SNAP Violation action that you and your grocery store may be up against:

Phase 1: A Charge Letter Shows Up. This is phase one of an action by the USDA to potentially revoke your store’s EBT privileges.  It can arrive with or without prior warnings having been issued, at any time, any day of the week.  A Charge Letter can include a multitude of accusations, but for the most part,  a Charge Letter points out a pattern of factual allegations with other paperwork attached that offers more details.  Your response to the SNAP Violation Letter needs to be sent within ten (10) days of the date it arrived at your door.  Upon retaining one of our attorneys, our office assumes the responsibility for all communications with the USDA, for rounding up all relevant evidence (as needed), and then for drafting and dispatching of a full and proper response to the USDA.

Phase 2: Administrative Appeal. Upon an audit of your store’s response to the SNAP Violation Letter, the USDA may continue to insist that a violation has indeed taken place.  If that is so, then the Department will send out a second letter which explains its decision to suspend or disqualify the store on the basis of the allegations put forth in the first letter.  As with the previous letter, you have a mere 10 (ten) days to appeal this decision.  Failure to respond to the letter can result in the store getting stuck with the decision of the USDA’s to suspend or disqualify the store from taking EBT cards.  When you hire the best, our office will file the required paperwork with the USDA to put their Administrative Review Agency on notice that we are preparing to submit an appeal to the decision.  In the meantime, we will put together all information and additional pieces of evidence on your behalf that will give your appeal more substance, and we will compile the appellate brief with all of the evidence, case law, regulatory and federal code, and any other details that are appropriate to demonstrate that the first decision was not correct.

Phase 3: The Judicial Appeal.  The USDA may maintain its refusal to overturn the first decision in the Administrative Review.  At this stage, what remains for you to do is to file a Judicial Review in the local Federal District Court. The Judicial Appeal functions like a normal case in court in that we will be given the right to conduct discovery, file our motions and stand trial before a judge.  Our attorneys have handled a number of these cases in various states and, depending on what state you do business in, we are more than likely capable of taking on your case.

SNAP Violation Letters

On a normal day, the UPS delivery person brings a letter from the USDA that looks rather simple and inconspicuous.  Don’t underestimate it.  It could be a SNAP Violation Charge Letter.  This letter is your notification of either extremely serious accusations that came out of an in-store visit by a department inspector, or a detailed list of what the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) believed to be “suspicious transactions” perpetrated at your store’s check out counter.  It is not terribly unique at first glance from the form letters that other government agencies and departments send out. Nevertheless, in reality, this is a totally different process and mindset on the part of the USDA.

The USDA is Gunning is to Shut Your Market or Grocery Store Down

It was discovered that Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP) fraud had reached a twenty-year high in a 2013 study carried out by the USDA.  To deal with this issue, the Department ramped up its fraud detection and prevention procedures by way of a two pronged approach. First, they ratcheted up the number of undercover investigations they conduct annually and (2) they utilize their ALERT system more frequently.  If a SNAP Violation charge letter came with documented descriptions of transactions that took place at your business place, this is your first clue that the store has been shopped by an undercover agent of the USDA.  If your SNAP Violation charge letter only included a list of transactions, then they utilize their remote ALERT system to come across the offending transactions.

No matter how your case came about, the USDA has taken on a “zero tolerance” policy against fraud and it moved forward with permanently disqualifying as many stores as it could.  Congress threw its support behind the Department’s position.  The result is that it is required by law that the USDA crack down on SNAP violators.  Because of this, the Department is constantly seeking to disqualify and suspend as many grocery store licenses as it can..

The SNAP Charge Letter: A Closer Look

Business owners receive SNAP charge letters via UPS overnight delivery.  The charge letter is basically a simple form letter.  On page one, it lays out the details of what charges are being brought against the store owner. The letter will detail the specifics of the disqualification the USDA is pursuing against you.  These SNAP violation charges can come under any of the following types of cases:

SNAP Trafficking

Benefits trafficking is, in essence, defined as the act of exchanging SNAP benefits for cash, drugs, or weapons.  The fact that this category does not cover the sale and purchase of ineligible items is of critical importance.  There are some lawyers practicing SNAP law as specialists and are nonetheless unaware of the difference, but it is very important.  There are two kinds of trafficking cases. One type is data driven.  These are EBT SNAP violation cases.  These cases will rely upon details of transactions but no specific descriptions. The other type  is a witnessed trafficking, which is accompanied by its specific transaction descriptions. The customary verdict in a trafficking case is permanent disqualification.

Sale of Ineligible Products

These types of charges entails a retail store accepting SNAP benefits as payments in exchange for products that are not allowed to be bought with EBT funds.  Under usual circumstances, these unqualified items include things like soap, sandwich bags and plastic cutlery and.  More dubious violations  involve such purchases as gasoline, cigarettes or alcohol.   Term disqualification is the usual penalty the USDA will seek in these types of cases.  For more innocuous unqualified purchases, the Department often looks to levy a six (6) month disqualification during which the retailer is barred from serving their SNAP customers.  Those proprietors with more egregious infractions often find themselves facing three-to-five (3-5) year disqualifications.

Reciprocal Disqualifications

Disqualification from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for Women, Infants and Children (also referred to as WIC), this can get you a disqualification from the SNAP program.  In these matters, the USDA customarily seeks to disqualify your store for three (3) years, or they may even hit you with a permanent disqualification.

SNAP Charge Letter

What You Should NEVER Say to the USDA

Our lawyers are well versed in dealing with SNAP Violation charge letters that include a list of transactions and accuse the recipient of SNAP trafficking.  Putting a quick call in to  the USDA may seem like the right thing to do, but it is, in actuality, an extremely risky move.  Even though it is normally wise when you receive such a letter for you to give the state agency a call to ask questions about the details of the letter and offer your cooperation in resolving the matters, the USDA is quite different.  The person whose name and number were in the SNAP Violation charge letter (your case analyst) is responsible for collecting evidence against you in relation to the charges.  They present themselves as professional and personable people, but these analysts are highly trained to probe you and interpret your replies to their inquiries as admissions of guilt.

 

What You Should Never Do with Your SNAP Violation Charge Letter:

There are no “off the record.” conversations in these matters.  Everything you say to a USDA associate can and will be used against you.  For the most part, if you ask a program specialist for an explanation of what they’re expecting to find, they will turn around and direct you to mail them your explanation in writing with regards to the transactions in question.  Furthermore, they will instruct you to mail them supporting documents that you think could assist them in a review of your transactions.  None of their instructions will be useful to alleviate your problem. Peruse our website and you will discover much more SNAP violation advice than a conversation with a USDA agent.

Additionally, consider yourself warned that department associates do not negotiate with alleged violators.  While other state organizations will talk with you about issues that need to be rectified, the USDA rarely lowers charges or penalties.  The very fact that a letter from them showed up is your proof of their intention to disqualify you.  Even though the SNAP Violation Charge Letter offers you a Civil Money Penalty, in fact, the USDA only charges less than ten of those in any calendar year.  More often than not, the USDA disqualifies grocers.

Don’t ever verbally acknowledge that any wrongdoing occured at your store, nor should you make such an acknowledgement in writing.  Numerous legitimate circumstances are possible under which their data may make it seem as though there’s something fishy happening at your store when in truth, there may never have been any infractions at all.  Before you have a chance to speak with a SNAP violation attorney or at least look your own records over, you can’t know with any certainty if any of their charges are correct.  The most detrimental thing you can do is to acknowledge any validity in the accusations made in an inaccurate SNAP Violation charge letter.  Indeed, you should read through our website to learn more about the different violation categories.

Also, fight the temptation to accuse your employees of the infractions.  Telling the officer that it was someone else’s fault will backfire on you.  The SNAP law is clear that regardless of the fact that your stock boy, not you, perpetrated the trafficking offence, you (the business owner) are no less responsible.  In addition, there’s a fair chance that your workers have not broken any laws. Even telling them that you were not on property can be used against you by the USDA.

Hire good help in assembling and dispatching your response.  The majority of replies that are sent directly by the proprietor in question are looked upon with skepticism by the USDA.  In a recent case analysis, the analyst remarked “of course the store would deny the charges in order to keep their EBT business.”  They hold the belief that your reply must definitely be embedded with compromised information or that something pertinent was omitted.  Employing a SNAP Violation lawyer can give you the edge to avoid the errors most unaware individuals make in such cases.  If your EBT business is vital to your store’s survival, paying to have your case defended by a good attorney is a wise investment.   Otherwise, your case could be in grave danger because of errors of inexperience.

Recommendations for Your Response

Again, we strongly recommend that you enlist the help of a professional to take care of these matters, but if you decide to represent yourself, here are a few recommendations:

Be as specific as possible.  The program specialist who reviews your case has never visited your store.  Your customers and their spending habits are unfamiliar to them.  The USDA must be provided with a clearer idea of how you run your business and what preemptive measures you had implemented prior to the violation to prevent SNAP violations. Be sure to include as much detail (including photos) as you can in your response.

If you are outwardly accused of a violation in the SNAP Violation charge letter, interview your team members.  When you complete the interviews, if you discover that none of them violated the law, then share that information with the agency.

If the USDA issued you a data-driven SNAP Violation charge letter, this comes with a list of transactions.  Fight the temptation of attempting to guess which families were involved in which sales.  If by chance you are 100% sure who it was, then share this information with the agency.  Keep in mind that if you guess wrong, the agents will think you are lying and you will lose credibility with them.

In matters where you had to give them invoices for your inventory, furnish them for the Review Period.  The review period is the date range of transactions that are represented in the attachments. If you only give them selected ranges, then they will reject everything.

We Can Help You Respond to a SNAP Violation Charge Letter

Our SNAP specialist attorneys have represented many retail grocers since 2013 in SNAP violations matters.  We have a greater depth and breadth of experience than any other SNAP law firm or lawyer in the country, and our reasonable fees will probably work with your budget.  If you have received a charge letter and you require answers, or if you are interested in obtaining a free consultation, we are available to talk with you at your convenience any day of the week.  The quickest route to getting an appointment with us is by completing our online intake form. 

You may also reach out to us anytime at this number:

SNAP Violation Lawyers

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