When you’ve been charged with food stamp fraud, there are some serious potential consequences, including fines, disqualification from any future participation in the food stamp program and even a prison sentence. These make it all the more important that you get in touch with a qualified New York food stamp fraud lawyer to look at your situation and advise you on what to do going forward.
There are plenty of different types of food stamp fraud out there, and by better understanding them, you’ll know what to avoid in the future. You can also determine whether you potentially did anything that could be considered food stamp fraud. We’ll start with how the food stamp process works.
Applying for Food Stamps in New York
Although most people use the term “food stamps,” the program is actually called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). It’s available nationwide, and it’s intended to help people and families who have low incomes with purchasing food.
There are multiple ways to apply for SNAP. You can get an application at a SNAP center and also submit it there, or print the application, and then turn it in to a SNAP center. There’s also the option of faxing or mailing your application. The most convenient option, if you have a computer and internet access, is applying online.
SNAP will go over your application to decide whether to approve you for financial assistance and, if so, for how much. Upon approval, SNAP will send you an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) debit card with your benefits on it. You’ll also get a personal identification number (PIN) to ensure that if someone else gets your EBT card, they can’t make any unauthorized purchases.
EBT cards work at retailers that participate in the SNAP program, and there are certain prohibited items, such as tobacco products and alcohol, that EBT cards cannot purchase.
Now, let’s look at how food stamp fraud works.
Consumer Food Stamp Fraud
The most common type of food stamp fraud is when you provide any false information on your SNAP application. The SNAP application requires information about you and your household to determine if you need financial assistance. If you don’t provide accurate information and get approved for assistance because of it, then that would be considered food stamp fraud. This could include reporting a lower income, failure to disclose assets or claiming that you’re the primary parent of a child when you’re not.
You’re also supposed to notify SNAP if your situation changes. For example, if you begin to make more money than you did when you first applied, or if someone leaves your household, you need to report those right away. That way, SNAP can adjust your assistance accordingly. If you don’t report a change, that’s another type of food stamp fraud.
Another popular way people commit food stamp fraud is by using their EBT card for anything other than authorized purchases. You’re not allowed to sell your EBT card to anyone, and you also can’t have a retailer ring up a purchase, but then give you some of the money the item would have cost instead of the item itself. Those situations are all examples of food stamp fraud.
Retailer Food Stamp Fraud
In the situation above where an EBT cardholder exchanges runs their card as if they’re making a purchase, only for the cashier to give them a portion of the money instead of the item, that would be food stamp fraud on both the consumer’s and the retailer’s part.
Penalties for Food Stamp Fraud
Whether it’s a consumer or a retailer committing food stamp fraud, the penalties can be severe. At a minimum, if you’re found guilty, you’ll likely need to pay back the amount you obtained fraudulently, and there could be fines on top of that. Even for food stamp fraud in the fifth degree, which is a misdemeanor, there’s still the potential for jailtime. It’s unlikely, though, unless you have prior offenses on your record.
Perhaps the most significant penalty is disqualification from SNAP. For a consumer who needs financial assistance, this is a serious problem, and it can also be a major financial blow for a retailer that gets taken out of the SNAP program.
No matter what type of food stamp fraud you’re dealing with, our team of New York food stamp fraud lawyers can give you legal advice and represent you during the case. It’s important to have the best defense possible, and we can look for ways to get the case dismissed, negotiate a favorable plea bargain or present a strong defense, should the case end up going to trial.
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