The United States spends approximately $1 trillion in welfare initiatives. One of the welfare programs that have been under a lot of scrutiny is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. This program’s budget of $70 billion provides essential food to up to 40 million low income Americans. However, since its inception, the SNAP program has been riddled with fraud, one of the reasons law makers are seeking to either cut budget spending on the initiative, or do away with the program. Here is a look at a basic background of the SNAP program, what a snap violation is, the different phases of a SNAP violation action, and the penalties for food stamp fraud,
Background Of The SNAP Program
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is an initiative that provides a fixed value of monetary food benefits to participants on a monthly basis. Participants of the program utilize these benefits by means of an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card. The EBT cards were introduced as a replacement of food stamps which were used in the 90s. The EBT card is similar to a debit card except for the fact that the card is not for general use and is not applicable for cash-back services.
The SNAP program is monitored on a national level by the federal government and implemented by individual states. The initiative is governed by the Code of Federal Regulations and the United States Code. The United States Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) is responsible for enforcing the regulations of the SNAP initiative.
What Is A SNAP Violation?
A SNAP violation happens when a store authorized with dealing in SNAP benefits is involved in any of the following offenses:
Trafficking of SNAP benefits. This means accepting fraudulent benefits or stealing these benefits.
Accepting SNAP benefits and giving out non-food items, like tobacco, alcohol, or any unqualified goods, in exchange.
Submitting false information on the store’s application to receive EBT benefits.
If a store’s coupon redemption for a certain duration of time is more than its food sales during the same period
Employees from the store receive SNAP benefits from persons who are not legally authorized to use these benefits
If a store offers credit to a customer and receives EBT benefits as compensation
If a store is disqualified from participating in the WIC program
The Phases Of A Snap Violation Action
The first move by the USDA against retailers charged with a SNAP violation is serving them a charging letter. This letter outlines different allegations and the consequences of these charges. The accused is required to respond to a violation letter within ten days. The lawyer of the accused will normally respond to this letter by defending their client’s position and proving why they are innocent.
If the USDA is not satisfied with the offender’s answer to the charging letter and still believes they violated the terms of the SNAP program, it will issue a second letter declaring its decision to disqualify or suspend the store from the program. The accused will have ten days to appeal to this verdict. Failure to respond to this decision will result in the store being disqualified from the SNAP program.
The SNAP violation lawyer representing the store will usually respond by declaring their intention to challenge USDA’s decision. They are required to draft an appellate brief with all the evidence, case law, federal and regulatory code, and any relevant information that demonstrates that USDA’s decision was wrong.
If USDA does not overturn its initial decision even after an administrative appeal, the store’s lawyer may file a Judicial Review. A Judicial Appeal is the same as a normal case. This means the accused has the opportunity to go through the normal case stages of discovery, filing motions, and going to trial.
Penalties For A SNAP Violation
Before punishing a store or firm for a SNAP violation, USDA normally considers the nature and severity of the violations committed, any prior action that the agency had taken to warn the firm about the violations, and any evidence pointing to the firm’s intention to violate the SNAP regulations. The main penalties for a SNAP violation are:
Permanent disqualification from the program
A five year suspension from the program
A three year suspension from the program
A one year suspension from the program
A six month suspension from the program
SNAP Civil Money Penalty
Under certain circumstances, a store may be subjected to a SNAP civil money penalty. In order to reduce the impact on a business facing suspension or disqualification from the SNAP program, the USDA begun charging fines to the business instead of suspending it from the initiative. The cap on civil money penalties is $59,000. The calculation for individual penalties is based on a store’s EBT transaction information. In many cases, the charging letter will indicate the amount of civil money penalty required from the business in question.
How Does A Business Qualify For SNAP Civil Money Penalties?
The rules regarding SNAP civil money penalties are highlighted in the United States Code and SNAP Regulations. To qualify for money penalties:
A business must have a SNAP compliance policy. This means that a store’s employee handbook should have guidelines on SNAP benefits. These guidelines should be updated on a regular basis.
The business needs to prove that their compliance policy existed before the violations took place.
A business should have a training program. This means the store should have a written training program that covers how and when EBT benefits should be accepted. There should be a record bearing the signature of all the employees who have finished the training.
The owners and the senior management of the business should not be among the beneficiaries of any SNAP violations.
The SNAP program is a commendable effort by the U.S. government to help families that are unable to meet their basic food requirements. However, despite all the good intentions of the initiative, some of the beneficiaries are fraudsters who have found a way to rip from the weaknesses of the program. The USDA is charged with investigating SNAP violations and charging the involved parties accordingly. If your store has been wrongfully charged with a snap violation, consult an attorney to determine your legal options.