Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) works to ensure that food benefits are delivered to the correct people and that the resources are used properly. Laws have been enacted to govern the use of SNAP benefits. Retails stores are usually qualified before being authorized to sell food to people with Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards. It is uncommon for such stores to get into legal trouble because of food benefits, but it occasionally happens. When this occurs, the United States Department of Agriculture will send the store owner a 10-day notice. During this period, the store owner can deliver a written explanation for the violations.
Penalties for Violation of SNAP Laws
If you do not respond to the violation within the 10 days, you will lose your EBT license permanently or temporarily. You may also have to pay a civil fine. All these penalties will lower your total revenue, especially if SNAP benefits were a major source of revenue for your store. The length of temporary disqualification is dependent on the extent of the evidence against you and the number of cases. If you have violated the SNAP laws more than twice in the past, you will be disqualified for a much longer period. Temporary disqualification lasts for between 6 months and 5 years.
For civil fines, the exact amount will be determined by the amount of money you transact using SNAP cards. The type and number of charges made against you will also determine the amount of the fine. You cannot be charged more than $59,000 for violating SNAP rules.
In very serious cases, you might experience criminal charges. This is very rare and only occurs in cases where the money transacted is very large.
Often, store owners are unaware of violations made by their employees with regard to SNAP regulations. This might be because of poor training of employees or intentional illegal activities behind the owner’s back.
To reduce your chances of getting disqualified from the EBT program, it is important to make sure your employees and cashiers are well trained with regard to SNAP benefits. You also need to document their training appropriately. That way, you may be get fined, and still remain in business. The compliance policy must have been in effect before the filing of charges against your store. To prove this, you must have dated logs with signatures to show when the events happened. The training program should indicate when the employees completed training and should have their signatures. It should also contain details on when and how to accept EBT cards.
Otherwise, you can enlist the services of a New York food benefits attorney to oversee the training of your employees. Lawyers are able to organize compliance programs for your store, and this will help them build a good defense later on when you get violation notices.
The law does not consider your exact location when the fraudulent activities occurred. You will still be held responsible for the violations, and the best you can do is reduce the probability of losing your EBT license. Your chances of being suspended from EBT cards will be reduced if neither you nor the management of the store benefited directly from the violations.
Once you receive violation notices, it is important to contact a lawyer to respond to the USDA appropriately and in time.
Reasons for Receiving SNAP Violation Notices
There are several reasons why you may receive a violation notice from USDA. One of these is 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 not allowed to sell unqualified products using EBT cards. Only certain foods and non-alcoholic drinks can be purchased using them. Using EBT cards to sell hot foods that are meant to be consumed in the store is illegal. In addition, alcohol, cigarettes, medications, and non-human foods should never be purchased using these cards. All purchases must be in the form of human food and have to be consumed at home.
Some store owners also receive violation notices because of using false information to get approved for SNAP cards. To get authorized for these cards, you will have to get an FNS number. This will require you to sell food for preparation and home consumption. The Food and Nutrition Service will also need your commitment to selling products in at least three of these four food groups:
- Dairy Products
- Fruits and Vegetables
These foods must be perishable, meaning they will spoil in a maximum of three weeks. Alternatively, at least 50 percent of the total sales in the store must be of staple foods that qualify for SNAP cards. It is important to note that staple foods are not ready-made. They have to be prepared at home. For example, a donut store will not qualify for an FNS number. Also, restaurants are ineligible for EBT cards. When applying for approval to transact using SNAP cards, you will have to present information that covers the above requirements. Also, you will have to accurately provide information on the hours of operations, yearly sales, store name, store type, store address, and personal information of the owner. The owner’s personal information includes the social security number and home address.
Understanding the above requirements and the accompanying definitions will prevent you from submitting inaccurate information to the FNS for qualification.
The government is actively searching for retail stores that are violating SNAP laws. Usually, owners of these stores get notices 10 days before USDA takes action against them. Within this period, the owners can send explanations of the charges and make defenses. These violations can lead to the permanent suspension of your EBT program, especially if you or the store’s management benefited directly from the activity. In the best scenario, you will end up getting fined, but still, carry on operations in the store. It is best to contact a lawyer to oversee the training of employees and to set up a defense in case of violation charges.