[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]If you accept EBT payments at your store, you may at some point, receive a SNAP violation letter from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) that charges you with alleged violations. Pages containing hundreds or even thousands of transactions, which the USDA believe to be fraudulent, are typically attached to this type of letter.
You should immediately contact a National SNAP Violation Lawyer for a free consultation. Your place of business must respond within TEN days to the USDA SNAP violation letter. If you do not respond within the required timeframe, the USDA is likely to suspend or terminate your store’s ability to accept EBT benefits in exchange for food. A National SNAP Violation Lawyer can help you to address the charges correctly.
There is currently an expected increase of USDA enforcement against SNAP violations and fraudulent EBT transactions. To help you understand the SNAP trafficking or other SNAP charges that you may be facing, we have provided you with an overview of the SNAP program and how it functions.
Understanding SNAP Violations and the Code of Federal Regulations
Individual states implement the SNAP program, but the program is run on a national level by the United StatesGovernment. The SNAP program and food stamp benefits are governed by the United States Code (7 U.S.C. Chapter 51) and by the Code of Federal Regulations (7 C.F.R. §278). The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food & Nutrition Service (FNS) enforce the regulations and run the program.
To help you understand possible violations that your store may be charged with, we will need to refer to the Code of Federal Regulations about EBT transactions. According to the Code of Federal Regulations, Chapter 51 and Part 278, the government has the right to disqualify any business from participating in EBT transactions permanently. Such as decision, would stop your business’s ability to receive SNAP benefits as a form of revenue.
Small retailers, including owners of gas stations, convenience stores and specialty stores, are at risk for termination of their participation in the EBT program. The USDA has released a report showing that it is actively investigating small retailers to find SNAP violations, such as food stamp trafficking and other violations.
FNS is Actively Investigating and Ensuring Retailer Compliance
The government’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) has a dedicated team of more than 100 analysts and investigators across the United States who are dedicated to ensuring SNAP retailer compliance. The FNS analyzes retailer data and conducts undercover investigations. They also process cases and initiate fines and administrative disqualifications against any violating retailers. The FNS also works with state law enforcement to offer SNAP benefits for use in sting operations to support anti-trafficking.
The federal government prosecutes those who violate SNAP regulations. For example, in 2012 alone, the FNS investigators reviewed more than 15,000 stores and operated nearly 4,500 undercover investigations. The results were concluded with 1,400 stores being permanently disqualified for food stamp trafficking, and nearly 700 stores were sanctioned for other SNAP violations, including the sale of ineligible items.
Have You Been Charged with Food Stamp Trafficking?
Under Title Seven in the Code of Federal Regulations, only authorized retailers can exchange SNAP qualifying food for food stamps. Eligible SNAP foods do not include prepared convenience items or alcohol and cigarettes. Accepting SNAP for such items is considered to be food stamp trafficking. However, food stamp trafficking is a broad term. Most SNAP trafficking cases refer to fraudulent EBT transactions, which exchange food stamp benefits for cash, rather than the accepting food stamps for eligible food.
A fraudulent EBT transaction could look like this:
The cashier swipes the EBT card to provide 100 dollars in SNAP benefits but instead removes 50 dollars in cash from the register and hands it to the customer. A series of similar transactions will result in unbalanced accounting and will catch the USDA’s attention, and you will receive a fraudulent charge letter.
There are many types of violations that take place within the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and even one food stamp trafficking offense or SNAP violation can lead to your permanent disqualification. Other penalties may be included as well. We expect that these charges will be experienced by many more small business owners, as the USDA continues an active investigation of small retailers for SNAP violations. Our attorneys at Spodek Law Group offer free national SNAP consultations.
Possible SNAP Violations
If your store is charged with trafficking food stamps, this means that you are being charged with fraudulently accepting or otherwise stealing SNAP benefits. A store may be accused of trafficking or be disqualified from the program in the following instances.
1. They accept SNAP benefits for nonfood items, including tobacco, alcohol or other obviously unqualified items?
2. The owner, manager or staff intentionally used false information on the store’s EBT benefit’s application.
3. The facility’s total SNAP redemptions over a particular period of time exceed the sale of food within the same period.
4. Store Employees accept SNAP benefits from an unauthorized individual who is not legally entitled to use the SNAP benefits.
5. The store offers a store credit for a customer in exchange for EBT benefits.
6. The store has previously been disqualified from participation in the WIC program. The USDA may then also exclude the store from the SNAP program, under certain circumstances.
How to Avoid SNAP Violations
SNAP vendors can avoid problems with SNAP by fully understanding the program and how it works before committing to it. As a business owner, do not exchange benefits for money and do sell items that are not permitted by the program. Complete all paperwork promptly, and always report paperwork problems immediately.
Report any SNAP program abuses that you are aware of, and always cooperate fully with authorities. When SNAP legal issues do arise, contact an experienced lawyer who is well-versed in SNAP policies. We can help you to fight false charges, reduce any fines and avoid or decrease jail time. We can also provide you with legal advice that will help you to prevent future problems with the USDA and SNAP regulations.
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