New York’s food stamp program is called the New York State Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The program issues benefit cards to residents of New York who need help with food security. The amount you get depends on your household income and the number of people in your home. You can spend the benefits at locations throughout New York State that are approved to accept them.
Food stamp rules
The state has rules for how to use food stamps. Even though food stamps are a lot like cash, you can’t use them to purchase alcohol or cigarettes. You must use them to buy non-prepared food. That means you can’t use them to buy hot, prepared food to eat in the store. You also can’t spend them on non-food items like clothes, tools and other household goods.
Why would someone need a food stamp lawyer?
When investigators believe that individuals or businesses misuse the food stamp system, those involved might find themselves facing criminal charges or civil actions. Using criminal charges, officials might seek to put someone in jail for abusing the food stamp fraud system. New York’s food stamp fraud laws fall under the general auspices of welfare fraud. Charges of welfare fraud can range from misdemeanors for isolated offenses to serious felonies when large amounts of money are involved.
NYC food stamp fraud lawyers can help their clients defend against allegations of food stamp fraud. Defending an allegation of food stamp fraud involves tracking down witnesses and gathering evidence of the truth. Perhaps you accidentally had false information when you applied for benefits. Maybe someone gave you their card to use on their behalf. These are just a few of the possible defenses to food stamp fraud charges in New York.
Food stamp fraud must be intentional
In New York, food stamp fraud can’t happen by accident. The law requires you to act purposefully when you commit food stamp fraud. Specifically, the law says that you must act “knowingly and with intent to defraud.” New York law 158.00 says that this is the minimum standard in order to be guilty of food stamp fraud. If you act accidentally, you’re not guilty under the law. That means if you have an innocent explanation for what happened, you’re not guilty of the charges.
Defending yourself against the charges
Your food stamp fraud lawyers can help you prepare your defense and present it to the state’s attorney or to the jury. You may be able to show the state’s attorney that it’s just a misunderstanding. They might want documentation of what information you used to apply for benefits. They might accept confirmation that you made a mistake when asking for assistance.
If they don’t accept your explanation, you may want to take your case to trial. The jury can listen to your story and have the final say. Your attorneys can work with you to track down necessary witnesses and make sure that they come to court. They can help you understand the legal process and what to expect on court day.
Food stamp fraud cases often involve a lot of paperwork at trial. The case might center around your application for benefits, how you use your benefits, who lives in your household or any other fact that the case hinges on. Paperwork can be a bit tricky because there are specific rules of evidence in play in New York City court cases when it comes to how to admit paperwork. You may need to bring a person from the state who controls the paperwork or someone from your bank or your employer. Your lawyers can help you make sure that you prepare your case in a way that the important evidence is admissible in court.
How the case unfolds
Your case will likely begin with an arraignment. That’s a hearing where you formally learn the charges against you. You may have to post a bond, and you may also have conditions to comply with while you’re on bond such as notifying the court if you change your address.
While you wait for the trial date, your attorney can advocate on your behalf. They’ll spend time exploring your defenses and building your evidence. In the meantime, they might also approach the state’s attorney to see if they are willing to extend any plea offers.
Whether you accept a plea offer or take your case to trial is your decision. However, your lawyers can offer guidance by helping you understand how the law applies to your case. They can give you the confidence to help you know that you’re making the right decisions.
Your food stamp lawyers are your advocates for you and your family. An allegation of food stamp fraud can turn your life upside down and put your family’s security in jeopardy. Having experienced lawyers on your side can help you do everything that you can to get back to life as normal.
If you’re dealing with an accusation of food stamp fraud, you shouldn’t take it lightly. Depending on whether you have any priors on your record and the amount of benefits you’re accused of obtaining fraudulently, there could be jailtime involved in your sentence. Even if you avoid that, you could still end up paying restitution for the benefits you obtained and fines, and you won’t be able to ever apply for food stamps again.
It’s important to know what you’re dealing with when you’re charged with food stamp fraud. This post will get you up to speed and help you figure out your next move.
How food stamp fraud Works
Before we get into food stamp fraud examples, it’s important to note that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the organization that issues food stamps in all 50 states, and it doesn’t issue real stamps anymore, it issues an EBT debit card and loads funds onto each recipient’s card.
The charge of food stamp fraud can apply to the recipients of SNAP benefits and retailers who take part in SNAP and accept the program’s EBT cards.
Quite a few types of food stamp fraud exist, but it falls under the following two categories:
• Obtaining benefits through false information.
• Use of an EBT card in ways not authorized by snap.
These two categories cover a variety of different situations. Here’s a more in-depth look at both categories.
Providing false information is a common way for people to receive approval for snap benefits when they don’t meet the guidelines, or to get more benefits than they would qualify for otherwise. When you apply for snap benefits, you need to provide quite a bit of information about yourself, your occupation, your income and the number of people in your household. Lying about any of this is food stamp fraud.
It’s important to note that providing false information isn’t the only way that false information could lead to food stamp fraud. Failure to update information with your local snap office is also food stamp fraud. For example, if you had three children living with you when you filled out the application, but one of them later moves out, you’d need to notify snap about it so that your benefit amounts can be updated for your new household size.
Now, we’ll look at how an EBT card could be used in ways snap doesn’t authorize. Even though it’s a debit card, it’s still only intended for purchasing food, and it’s fraud if you try to use the card to purchase any prohibited items. You also can’t sell the card or your benefits for cash. An example of this would be if you and a retailer made a deal that you would purchase $100 worth of products using your EBT card, and instead of the products, they would give you $80 cash instead. You and the retailer would both be guilty of food stamp fraud.
Degrees of Food Stamp Fraud
In New York, food stamp fraud falls under the category of welfare fraud, which has five degrees. The degrees are as follows:
• First-degree welfare fraud is when you fraudulently get over $1 million. This would be unlikely on a consumer’s part, but it can happen with retailers who run food stamp fraud rings that involve many customers.
• Second-degree welfare fraud is when you fraudulently get over $50,000 up to $1 million.
• Third-degree welfare fraud is when you fraudulently get over $3,000 up to $50,000.
• Fourth-degree welfare fraud is when you fraudulently get over $1,000 up to $3,000.
• Fifth-degree welfare fraud is when you fraudulently get up to $1,000.
Each of these degrees of fraud have different minimum and maximum punishments. Fifth-degree welfare fraud is the only misdemeanor, and it’s a class A misdemeanor, which means it will typically have the lightest punishment. The rest are felonies – class D felonies for fourth and third-degree welfare fraud, a class C felony for second-degree welfare fraud and a class B felony for first-degree welfare fraud.
Defending Yourself When Charged with Food Stamp Fraud
Food stamp fraud cases can be complex, and that’s why it’s vital that you have a good lawyer. Our New York City food stamp fraud law firm has plenty of skilled lawyers who can represent you. We’ll start by evaluating the prosecution’s case. For this reason, it’s a good idea to bring us any paperwork you have about what you’re being charged with, along with evidence you can use to defend yourself, as soon as possible.
We can then figure out the best defense strategy, negotiate plea bargains on your behalf and represent you in a trial.
Food Stamp Eligibility Investigations in New York
There are various programs which distribute benefits known as “food stamps” or food assistance to help low income, disabled or elderly people purchase food. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the program that is used in New York City. The way snap benefits are given to people are through “Electronic Benefits Transfer” cards (“EBT”). The benefits are deposited into a card, and the person receiving the benefits withdraws the benefits with a personal pin number. The card can be used during checkout while purchasing food or through an ATM.
To determine whether you are eligible, there is a website where you can plug in your household information in a pre screener test. https://mybenefits.ny.gov. The purpose of this pre screener to get basic information on whether you should apply for the benefits.
The main factor that is used to determine whether you are eligible for food assistance benefits is your income. The chart below describes the monthly and annual maximum income amounts one is allowed to have if they want to apply for food stamps. However, in somes cases, even if one’s income is below these maximums, food stamp benefits will not be provided. A snap budget must be determined after an application is sent in.
NYC Food Stamp Fraud Attorneys
Income Guidelines (no elderly or disabled member)
Monthly Gross Income*
Annual Gross Income*
Each additional person
$ 436 +
$ 5,232 +
Checking and savings accounts, retirement funds, college saving accounts, stocks, are no longer required in determining your eligibility. This means the main test for eligibility will be the above income levels.
For people who are elderly or disabled, the guidelines are slightly different.
Income Guidelines for Households with an Elderly or Disabled Member and Households with Dependent Care Expenses
Monthly Gross Income*
Annual Gross Income*
Each additional person
$ 670 +
$ 8,040 +
If you meet eligibility, you can apply online at myBenefits.ny.gov, in person, by mail or fax. By calling 1-800-342-3009, a representative can tell you the contact information of your local social services office. Once you fill out the paperwork, there will need to be an eligibility interview. If you fill out a paper application at the local office, the office can conduct your interview on the same day, or you will be called back to come in another day. You want to make sure if you get food stamps, you must use it only grocery stores.
Once you complete the interview and are found eligible for benefits, there will be limits to the amount of benefits you may receive. For example, a household of one person will be allowed $200 a maximum per month. A family of four would receive a larger amount maximum of $668. This means you may receive up to this amount per month, but you could receive less than the maximum as well.
For each additional member
The EBT card may be used at retail stores and Farmer’s Markets. There are only some specific types of food one may use their snap benefits for. The benefits may be used to purchase breads, cereals, fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, poultry, dairy products, seeds used for growing food to eat, and other types of food items. There are certain items that are restricted and one is not allowed to purchase using food stamps. Some ineligible items include, beer, wine, cigarettes, tobacco, pet food, soap and paper products, supplies for the household, vitamins and medicines, foods that will be eaten at the store and hot foods.
Food Stamps for People Convicted of Drug Charges
Under the NYC state laws, you will have to prove that you are free of drugs before you are eligible for food stamps. This law applies to ex-convicts and people who are thought to be drug addicts. The law was introduced in the late 1990s after the federal government made it illegal for drug convicts to receive food stamps. Also, the federal law does not allow any discretion or method of receiving food stamps in the future, even if the convict reforms and completes rehabilitation. However, it allows states to enact laws that either ignore the federal ruling altogether or modify it.
The NYC law requires ex-convicts to undergo drug tests to ensure they are not using tax payers’ resources to subsidize their drug habits. It does not require all recipients of food stamps to test for drugs. In Michigan, food stamps recipients have been tested for drug abuse, and only a little over 10 percent have been discovered to have been abusers. Lawmakers in New York State have found it poor use of tax payers’ funds and have, therefore, limited the process to ex-convicts and people who are likely to be addicted to drugs. There is insufficient proof to suggest that food stamp recipients are more likely to use drugs than working citizens.
It is prohibited to use food stamps to pay for drugs or anything other than the required foods. Engaging in such activities can lead to snap fraud and drug charges. Transacting any amount of money using food stamps is illegal, but the charges get more severe with an increase in monetary value. This is a serious offense and can lead to jail or prison sentence in a federal facility, fines, court fees, and limitation or loss of your food stamp benefits. If you are not a US citizen, you may even get deported and denied a green card and US citizenship. The charges may also result in criminal records that affect your ability to rent an apartment or get a job in the country. Prosecutors will often allow lesser penalties for convicts who co-operate in larger cases. This option is usually available to lower level offenders.
The food stamp penalties will be determined by the type of court that rules your case. New York courts will still allow you to access food stamp benefits after release from prison. If you use food stamps to pay for drugs, the charges will fall under one of five tiers:
Welfare fraud in the fifth degree is the least serious offense and it includes crimes involving less than $1,000
Welfare fraud in the fourth degree includes offenses exceeding $1,000
Welfare fraud in the third degree includes offenses exceeding $3,000
Welfare fraud in the second degree includes offenses exceeding $50,000
Welfare fraud in the first degree includes offenses exceeding $1,000,000. This is the most serious snap fraud.
Drug charges are not only limited to the sale or possession of the substances. Even being in possession of drug paraphernalia can lead to a conviction. Drug paraphernalia is legally classified into two; those used for drug distribution and those used for ingestion of drugs. The latter includes syringes used to inject drugs such as heroin. In some cases, equipment such as spoons can also be considered drug paraphernalia as they are sometimes used in the distribution of drugs.
Possible Defenses against Drug Charges
If you are facing drug-related charges, it is best to hire a New York lawyer to handle your case. They are always in a better position to win cases or at least get you the best deal possible. It will be in your best interest to give your lawyer all the relevant information so that they can come up with the best defense. Otherwise, they may be unable to formulate a proper defense for your case.
Defenses for the possession of drugs in New York include:
Unlawful or illegal seizure or search
Missing or insufficient evidence
Drugs were not in your possession
Coercion to take the drugs
It is worth noting that the use of marijuana for medical purposes is legal in New York. Certain life threatening conditions make you eligible for medical marijuana in New York. These include AIDS and cancer, and the disease must be accompanied by chronic pain or other complicating conditions. You will have to get certification from a registered medical practitioner and then register through the medical marijuana program. You will still have to stick to the recommended dosage or you will be charged.
Use of medical marijuana is not a defense in federal courts but is acceptable in New York state courts.
Drug trafficking and possession charges are very serious and can result in lengthy jail terms, in addition to major fines. In the state of New York, you will still be eligible for food stamps, although you have to undergo drug tests. It is advisable to enlist the services of skilled New York attorneys if faced with such charges. This will enable you to get the best deal possible.
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