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SNAP Trafficking Charge Letter

The SNAP program is designed by the government to assist families with a certain amount of money each month. The participants receive the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP) benefits through an Electronic Benefit Transfer card (EBT).  However, the benefits on the EBT cannot be used for all purchases or services. The EBT cards have actually replaced previously known “food stamps”.  It is the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) who enforce and oversee the program.

According to a statistics study it was indicated that SNAP violations were on the increase.  Although trafficking does not bring financial costs to the Federal Government, it is an aberration from the program’s intentions to help low-income households have nutritious meals. To prevent that, USDA applies all available means to detect and prevent such activities.  So, they increased the number of investigations conducted annually and utilized the ALERT system more frequently, adopted the use of technology to identify, and prosecute any trafficking.

It is widely believed that the US government is doing its to reduce the number of stores offering SNAP/EBT services to violate the rules. The USDA shows no tolerance whatsoever and disqualifies as any such stores. Their main goal is not to close the stores but to set an example, to single out those who traffic for cash, so as to discourage others from doing so and put a stop to that.  A simple transaction wrongly performed even if it violates the rules unintentionally may bring about serious consequences .

Defining SNAP benefit trafficking

The federal government defines SNAP benefit trafficking as “intentionally purchasing, selling stealing or exchanging SNAP benefits for cash or other ineligible items or services.” EBT cards are traded for non-food items, used for inventory purchases by retailers or other individuals for cash.  FNS investigates and prosecutes any such illegal actions either by the retailer or any other individual suspected of profiting from the benefits.

SNAP Trafficking Charge Letter

The “Charge Letter” is a simple form of letter like most letters received from state agencies and departments.  It reaches your store through UPS and should not be ignored or put off for later. In simple words it states all allegations brought against you as a retailer, and all the details regarding the suspension, disqualification or penalty the USDA intends to issue.  Attached, you will find all the evidence that supports your violation(s).  You are a given a 10-day period to defend your case.

The “Charge Letter” gives you the opportunity to respond and defend your case against the USDA’s allegations according to their rules. Unfortunately, these rules are not always clear enough, and may have been misread or not fully understood by you. Nevertheless, you are expected to follow them to the letter.

Although you must respond, take action immediately, you should never under any case, rush before consulting an experienced lawyer on SNAP issues.  Your response must be prepared scrupulously as expected by the USDA with your lawyer.  Do not make an attempt to respond on your own, anything you communicate with them is kept on record and may be used against you and make matters worse. Unlike other government agencies they do not negotiate, they do not reduce charges.  So, do not waste precious time, trying to solve the matter. If you do not respond within the time give, they will proceed with the charges anyway.  There are two categories of trafficking cases one is based on witnessed trafficking, with specific transaction descriptions.  The other is based on data or EBT SNAP violations.  Both cases include details of transactions but no specific descriptions of the participant’s card, household or an employee who may have been involved.  In both cases the outcome of a trafficking case is permanent disqualification.

To avoid such a verdict, you may ask for a Civil Money Penalty (CMP) if you qualify in lieu of a disqualification, though expensive in some cases but worthwhile in the long run.

Take all precautions to prevent and avoid any SNAP violation, knowingly or unintentionally. Be well-organized and prepared for all actions occurring in your store.  It is important to keep a written record of the store policy, procedures, employee training, have employees sign everything acknowledging that they understand the store policy, and the consequences of violating the rules.

You should also be always well informed and updated on all publications from the USDA to protect your business interests.  Most important of all notify your lawyer every time you rend necessary.

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