10 Day Notice from USDA SNAP EBT
10 (ten) Day Notice from USDA SNAP EBT
One of the goals of the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) is to make certain that food benefits are provided to the right people and that those benefits are used accurately. Legislation has been enacted to govern the use of SNAP benefits. Retail outlets are normally qualified prior to being authorized to sell food to individuals with Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards. Such stores infrequently find themselves in legal trouble connected to food benefits, but it happens from time to time. In the event that this occurs, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) will send a 10 (ten)-day notice out to the store owner. During this timeframe, the store owner can reply with an explanation in writing for the violations.
Sanctions for SNAP Law Violations
If you neglect to respond to the SNAP violation allegation within the 10 (ten) days, you risk losing your EBT license temporarily, or in some cases, permanently. There may also be stiff civil fines to pay. These penalties amount to lower total revenue in your business, especially if SNAP purchases constituted a major source of income for your outlet. How long a temporary suspension lasts depends on the number of cases and the extent of the evidence against you. Additionally, if you have a history of SNAP law violations (more than two previous breaches of the legislation), authorities can disqualify you for a much longer period of time. Temporary disqualification periods range from 6 (six) months to as much as 5 (five) years.
As far as civil fines, the maximum you can be charged for violating SNAP laws is $59,000.
In each case, the specific amount levied is determined by the amount of money you transact in SNAP purchases. The kind and quantity of charges made against you also helps to determine the amount of any monetary penalties.
Many times, a store owner may be completely oblivious of violations made by their employees against SNAP regulations. Some causes of this might be insufficient or lack of training of staff or intentional illegal transactions or activities done without the owner’s knowledge.
To minimize your chances of being disqualified from the EBT program, it is paramount that you make sure that all of your employees, especially your cashiers, are thoroughly trained in all aspects of how to work with SNAP benefits. Documenting their training appropriately is a best practice to cover you. Well kept documentation could be the key to keeping you in business, even if you are found guilty and fined. Your in-house compliance policies must have been in effect before charges were ever filed against your store. For this to be solid proof that you can use, you must maintain dated logs with the signatures of all the parties who were involved to show when the events happened. Your training program entries should indicate when the employees completed the training and should show their signatures. It should also list the details of what they were taught about when and how to accept EBT cards.
Rather than handling it yourself and risk missing key details, you can enlist the services of a New York food benefits attorney to oversee the training of your staff members. Lawyers are capable of organizing sound compliance programs for your store. This prevention measure will help your lawyers if they need to mount a strong defense down the line if you ever get violation notices.
Also, the law does not take into account whether or not you were on the premises when the fraudulent activities allegedly occurred. You will be held responsible nonetheless for any violations that took place in your store, and the best you can do is reduce the probability of losing your EBT license. That said, your chances of being suspended from EBT cards are much lower if neither you nor the management of the store benefited directly from the violations.
Once you have received a violation notice, it is extremely important to get in touch with a lawyer to respond to the USDA appropriately and in a timely fashion.
Actions That Can Lead to SNAP Violation Charges
There are several reasons why you may receive a violation notice from USDA. One of these is referred to as trafficking. This is when a retailer or store owner knowingly sells goods to people using fraudulently acquired EBT cards. The use of stolen cards is also considered trafficking.
Store owners are also prohibited from selling unqualified products using EBT cards. A defined list of foods and non-alcoholic drinks can be purchased using them. Using EBTcards to sell hot foods that are meant to be consumed in the store is against the law. In addition, items including alcohol, cigarettes, medications, and non-human foods (i.e. pet food) are all listed as items that should never be purchased or sold using these cards. All purchases must be in the form of food meant for human consumption and are supposed to be consumed at home.
There are store owners who got violation notices because they used false information to obtain the USDA’s approval as a SNAP store. To get authorized for these cards, the first step is to get an FNS number. This will require you to sell food for preparation and home consumption. The Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) will also obligate you to commit to selling items in at least three of these four food categories:
- Dairy Products
- Fruits and Vegetables
These food products must be perishable, which means that they will spoil in a maximum of three weeks. Alternatively, a minimum of 50 (fifty) percent of store’s total sales receipts must be of staple foods that qualify for SNAP purchases. Do note that ready-made foods are not considered staple foods for the purposes of the SNAP program. They have to be sold for preparation at home. For example, a donut shop cannot qualify for an FNS number. Neither would restaurants be deemed eligible for EBT cards. When a store owner applies for approval to transact using SNAP cards, they are asked to present information about the store and how it meets the above requirements. In addition, they are required to provide accurate information on the hours of operations, annual sales, store names, store type, store address, and the personal information of the owner. The owner’s personal information includes the social security number and home address.
Having a clear understanding of the above requirements and the accompanying definitions will keep you from submitting inaccurate information to the FNS for qualification.
The government is actively seeking out and targeting retail stores that are violating SNAP laws. Customarily, the owners of targeted stores get notices 10 (ten) days before USDA takes action against them. Within this period, the owners has an opportunity to remit explanations of the charges and make defenses. Such violations can lead, at worst, to the permanent suspension of your EBT program, especially if you or the store’s management benefited directly from the sanctioned activities. In the best scenario, you will end up paying fines, but nonetheless, carry on operations in the store. Your best bet is to contact a lawyer to oversee the training of employees and to build a defense in case of violation charges.