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If you own aretail store, be it a grocery store, a convenience store or a gas station then you must have access to Electronic Benefit Transfer card (EBT) so as to be entitled to accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.  In this case it is of utmost importance to be fully acquainted with the rules and regulations of SNAP as enforced by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Food and Nutrition Service (FNS). The SNAP regulations are very precise and distinct. It is important to be aware at all times of what happens in your store as you are held solely responsible for any violation that may occur even during your absence. As there has been a substantial increase in SNAP violations, the USDA is doing its to track down all violators.


Preventing SNAP Violations

The policy to protect your business is to take all necessary precautions to prevent any SNAP violation.  Store owners or employees especially cashiers may commit a violation unknowingly or intentionally.  For this reason, the owner must read (some don’t) the rules and regulations of the SNAP. Try to be constantly informed and updated by checking posts of the USDA online.  It is important to have a written compliance store policy acknowledged and signed by you and your employees.  All your employees should follow the SNAP training program.  No one is to handle the EBT terminal prior to training so as to do so rightfully and legally.  Records of the training should be kept in writing and signed by your staff.  Staff training is a vital issue for retailers accepting SNAP benefits. The training should be included in the compliance policy.


SNAP Violation Letter or USDA Charge Letter

The USDA will send a SNAP Violation Letter if they have evidence that you have violated the SNAP regulations.  The letter is issued after thorough investigation, compiled evidence, data and documentation to support the alleged violations. The USDA monitors all transactions of the EBT card from your store, with the aid of a sophisticated algorithm ALERT your store may be red flagged when any inconsistencies appear on the system. Then a charge letter is sent by FNS. The letter informs you of all the violations and attached they include all data and documents they have to support it.  You have just 10 days to respond.  Although you must respond the soonest, do not take any action before consulting your lawyer.


Defending your Case

It is that an experienced lawyer on SNAP issues handles your case.  The lawyer will do all the communication with the USDA, contact the case agent whose name appears on the letter and ask for what is required to submit to stand your case.

Some of the violations include:

  • Trafficking SNAP benefits
  • Accepting SNAP benefits for ineligible foods items or other products
  • Accepting SNAP benefits from an unauthorized person
  • Benefit redemptions exceed food sales over a specific period of time
  • Maintaining a credit, a tab in exchange of benefits for customers
  • Submitting false information on the application for acceptance in the EBT benefits
  • Being disqualified from participation in the WIC program

Your response should be specific, try be explicit as of the way your store operates what measures you take to prevent SNAP violations. The data, documents, invoices you provide must be precise and cover all the time period of the occurred violation.  This is the reason you need to have everything in writing and signed by your staff, a form of acknowledgement of how the business is run.

The USDA supports its allegation based on figures. Some minor violations can be explained, clarified as to how the sore operates and its location. However, all must be included in the store’s compliance policy.

SNAP benefit trafficking is the most serious violation that may result in permanent disqualification from accepting EBT. If you cannot provide concrete evidence for defense you may ask for a Civil Money Penalty (CMP) in lieu of a temporary or permanent disqualification. In order to qualify for CMP you must meet some criteria:

  • An effective compliance policy, in writing, prior to the time of the alleged violation
  • An effective training program for all employees dealing with EBT, and SNAP benefits
  • Proof that you were not involved or did not profit from the violation

To have a successful result you need the right defensive strategy based on the facts and circumstances for your case. You need the strongest protection for your business revenue and your reputation.  Having an experience lawyer on SNAP issues can make a big difference, save you money, and most importantly save your business and integrity.

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