The USDA Supplemental Nutrition Assistance, or SNAP, program provides economically disadvantaged people in the United States with assistance in purchasing food. Upon meeting certain requirements, a merchant is able to participate in the SNAP program.
If you are a SNAP program participant, you may encounter a situation in which you receive what is called a SNAP vendor violation letter. You can end up the recipient of a SNAP vendor violation letter for a number of different reasons.
Overview of a SNAP Vendor Violation Letter
A SNAP violation letter is the first step in a process of taking action against a merchant who allegedly violated the rules and regulations regarding the SNAP program and taking consumer payments via the EBT system. These are rules and regulations established by the USDA. As a vendor or merchant, you have a very narrow window of opportunity to prepare and submit a response to the allegations contained in the SNAP vendor violation letter. Indeed, you must submit a response within 10 days of the receipt of the communication.
You must not minimize the importance of meeting this deadline. If you fail to submit a response within the 10-day time period, the USDA will deem you to have admitted the allegations made in the SNAP vendor violation letter. Generally speaking, if you miss the deadline, you will have no recourse to appeal the violations set forth in the initial communication from the USDA.
Potential Types of Allegations in a SNAP Vendor Violation Letter
A SNAP violation letter can include one allegation of wrongdoing by a merchant, or multiple accusations. In many cases, there are in fact multiple allegations alleged by the USDA in a typical SNAP violation letter. With that said, there are certain types of allegations that routinely are made in SNAP vendor violation letters.
Unqualified purchases permitted by a merchant represent the most common violation area enumerated in SNAP vendor violation letters issued by the USDA. The SNAP program specifically delineates the foodstuffs that can be purchased via the EBT system.
If your store permitted SNAP participants to make purchases like alcohol, tobacco, or pet food with an EBT card, you face an allegation that you have violated the rules and regulations of the SNAP program. A violation can occur even if you had an employee who unknowingly permitted such a transaction. As the owner of an authorized SNAP EBT participant, you have an obligation to ensure that your employees are fully trained regarding the rules associated with permissible program purchases.
Another violation technically is called trafficking. Trafficking means that your store has knowingly accepted fraudulent or stolen EBT cards for purchases. The USDA can take this a step further. A violation can issue in a situation in which you reasonably should have known an EBT card was fraudulent or stolen, even if you lacked actual knowledge.
Yet another type of violation rather frequently faces by SNAL EBT merchants involves the submission of a false application by a merchant. In this scenario, a vendor is alleged to have included false information within an initial application to the USDA to be able to quality for the SNAP program in the first instance. Defending this type of allegation is very challenging, unless the agency has incorrectly concluded that false information was contained in the initial application made by a vendor to the USDA to gain acceptance into the program.
The Formal Process Following Receipt of a SNAP Vendor Violation Process
The issuance of a SNAP vendor violation letter sets into motion a formal process regarding your certification as a participant in the program. As noted previously, you have a specific timeframe to tender to the agency a response to the allegations contained in the initial communication.
When a response is submitted on you behalf, the agency reviews your contentions. If the agency agrees with your assessment that a violation did not occur, the matter is dismissed. However, if the agency does not concur with your assessment of the case, a response from the USDA is issued. The response from the agency either affirms the initial allegations, or affirms some but not all of them.
At this juncture, you have the right to seek an administrative review within the agency of the decision made to date regarding SNAP violations. Keep mind that there exists a specific timeframe within which you must request this administrative reconsideration.
If you are denied relief through this process, you then have the ability to seek what is known as a judicial review of the agency decision regarding the SNAP violation or violations. The judicial review occurs in the local United States District Court. As with other steps in the process, there is specific deadline by which you must submit your request for relief to the court.
Pursuing a legal matter in federal court is complicated. In fact, many attorneys would advise that a judicial review of an agency action, like a finding of a SNAP violation, represents one of the most challenging types of actions in a United States District Court.
The Importance of Legal Representation
As a vendor or merchant, you have a great deal at stake when you receive a SNAP vendor violation letter. Therefore, you best protect your legal rights and interests by engaging the services of an experienced, qualified SNAP violations attorney. You are best served taking a proactive approach to retaining legal representation in regard to SNAP violation allegations. By this it is meant that you should retain legal counsel directly after you receive a SNAL vendor violation letter.
The first step in the process of getting an attorney on board is arranging an initial consultation with a SNAP violations lawyer. During the meeting, you will obtain an evaluation of your situation. This will include a discussion of strategies to counter and respond to the allegations set forth the SNAP vendor violation communication. As a general practice, an attorney providing representation regarding SNAP violations does not charge a fee for this preliminary appointment to discuss a case.