" They worked very hard on my case and got me a very, very favorable outcome "
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) aims to provide for families of low-income. The SNAP benefits are distributed to the eligible individuals through an Electronic Benefit Transfer card (EBT). However, they cannot use these benefits to withdraw, or receive cash or for general purchases. The EBT cards have replaced the “food stamps” with the hope to stop SNAP fraud. The program is under the authority of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS).
Despite the fact that SNAP violations do not bear financial cost to the Federal Government, they are against the program’s intentions to help low-income families afford nutritious meals. To prevent any violations, the USDA uses all available means to detect such activities. Investigations are conducted more often that before and the ALERT system is targeting all inconsistencies.
The USDA is making every effort to reduce SNAP/EBT violations. The USDA does not negotiate whatsoever and does not hesitate to disqualify any violators. Their main aim is to stop SNAP trafficking for cash or any other illegal transaction. Some small grocery store owners have been accused with many minor violations but still had to face charges imposed against them.
What is SNAP benefit violation
SNAP benefit violation is considered any “intentionally purchasing, selling stealing or exchanging SNAP benefits for cash or other ineligible items or services” when EBT cards are used for the purchase of ineligible items alcohol, tobacco or even drugs and weapons as well as household supplies etc. Store owners may make use of an EBT card for exchange of cash or to cover some of their expenses. All illegal actions are investigated and prosecuted.
SNAP Violation Letter
Once the USDA has compiled all the necessary information and evidence for any “suspicious” transactions or moves in your store they will send you a Violation Charge Letter. You receive it through UPS and you should answer back the soonest. In it you will read the alleged violations you may have committed, and attached, you will find all the evidence that supports your violation(s). Charge letters usually state that FNS “has compiled evidence that your firm has violated the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) regulations.” You have a 10-day period to respond, not a very long time in some cases. At such an occasion, the first thing to do is consult your lawyer to handle the case professionally and bring a successful result.
The “Charge Letter” will also include what your penalty is. They can issue a Civil Money Penalty (CMP). It is a fair amount of money to pay but it will save your retail store and your integrity as a business man. Other penalties include temporary suspension from the use of EBT card in your store. This will reduce your revenue and you will lose all your clients using SNAP benefits to buy their food for the given period or forever. The worst scenario is a permanent disqualification. That is given in cases of serious violations, such as SNAP trafficking or repeated transactions rendered as illegal.
How to respond to a “Charge Letter”
Following the wisest advice, do not respond on your own, everything your say is kept on record and may be used against you and make matters worse. USDA does not change or reduce charges. If you try to solve the case yourself and do not respond on time, they will proceed with the charges without your defense. Furthermore, you will lose the opportunity to ask for a CMP in lieu of a Permanent Disqualification. A CMP may be a big amount to pay as a fine but it saves your business from closure and you finding yourself unemployed.
Therefore, make certain you are always aware of what is happening in your store. The retailer is held responsible for all violations that occur even if for what happens during his absence. Do not underestimate the importance of proper employee training, which should be stated in writing and signed by the employees. This procedure will protect you from paying the mistakes someone else made, either because of ignorance or intention. The training also informs the employees of the penalties and consequences of their “mistakes”.
USDA rules and regulations change from time to time to adapt to the needs that arise from unforeseen events, such as natural disasters, social and health issues etc. So, it is vital that you remain well-informed and updated by checking on the USDA posts online.