Each year, merchants across the United States, including the state of New York, receive notification that they have violated the laws or regulations associated with the USDA Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. Through SNAP, certain individuals are able to make qualified food purchases from a merchant using the program’s EBT card.
If you have received notification of an USDA SNAP violation, you may be like many merchants and not understand what next steps you must take to protect your legal interests. You may not know what you need to do to respond properly to an USDA SNAP violation. There are in fact certain strategies to employ when it comes to responding to a SNAP violation allegation.
The USDA SNAP violation process occurs in phases. The process commences with what is known as the issuance of a charging letter from the agency to you as the merchant.
Responding to a Charging Letter
The process of addressing an alleged SNAP violation commences when the USDA delivers a charging letter to you as the owner of a business that participates in the EBT program. The charging letter sets forth the specific violation or violations that have alleged to occurred in regard to SNAP.
You need to keep in mind that you have only 10 days to respond to the charging letter. If you fail to respond within that 10-day time frame, the USDA is likely to issue a final determination that you are guilty of the violations outlined in the initial charging letter. This can result in the removal of your business from participating in the USDA SNAP program.
In responding to the charging letter, you must specifically delineate how and why the allegations made by the agency in regard to SNAP are false. You cannot just make a general denial of the allegations contained in the charging letter.
Many merchants elect to retain the professional services of skilled, experienced USDA SNAP violation lawyers to respond to a charging letter. By retaining legal representation, a merchant is placed in the best possible position to protect legal rights and to ensure a proper response to a charging letter.
Pursuing an Administrative Appeal
Once the response to the charging letter is submitted to the USDA, the agency will respond to you as the merchant. The USDA may concur with your position regarding the allegations contained in the initial charging letter. In the alternative, the agency may reject your contentions and maintain that a violation or violations of SNAP rules and regulations have occurred. The agency may also conclude that some alleged violations should be dismissed, while other alleged violations will be maintained.
When this determination is received from the agency, you have a set period of time in which to respond by seeking what is called an administrative appeal of that decision. The request for an administrative appeal of the initial agency determination must set forth with specificity why you believe the USDA has erred in making an initial determination that SNAP violations have occurred.
You need to keep in mind that there are specific rules which must be followed when pursing an administrative appeal regarding a SNAP violation case. If you do no follow the requirements set forth to the letter, you run the risk of having your appeal “thrown out.” In the grand scheme of things, retaining an experienced attorney who understands the appeal process typically is the wisest course of action when it comes to responding to this phase of an USDA SNAP violation.
If you do not obtain the relief desired through an administrative appear of an USDA SNAP violation, you have the legal ability to seek what is known as a judicial review of an agency determination. The judicial review actually involves commencing a case in the United States District Court.
You must understand that the rules of procedure of the U.S. District Court are complex. Indeed, even many seasoned attorneys struggle with the rules of procedure of the federal court. In addition, when a case involves a judicial review of an administrative agency, court procedures become all the more complicated.
There also exists a specific time frame in which judicial review must be sought in the U.S. District Court. If you miss the deadline, the decision of the USDA regarding the SNAP violation stands. If the agency previously decided to remove your store from the SNAP program, that determination remains in place.
The pleasing, or legal paperwork, needed to commence a judicial review of the decision of the USDA must be completed precisely as required be federal law and the rules of the court. The failure to properly complete this paperwork will result in the court not accepting your request for judicial review.
Because of all of the different ways in which seeking judicial review of the determination of the USDA regarding a SNAP violation can “go off the rails,” you likely are best served hiring legal counsel, if you have no already done so by this juncture in time. There are attorneys that not only routinely practice in federal court, but who have backgrounds in pursuing the judicial review of agency determinations, including those associated with the USDA SNAP program.
Retain Legal Representation
You likely best protect your legal rights and interests by contacting a skilled, experienced lawyer directly after receiving a charging letter alleging USDA SNAP violations. Taking a proactive approach can make the difference between formulating appropriate responses at all stages of the case and failing to do so all together.
The first step in retaining the professional assistance of an experienced USDA SNAP violations lawyer is scheduling an initial consultation. At an initial consultation, an attorney will provide you with an evaluation of your case. Legal counsel will advise of possible strategies to defend against alleged SNAP violations.
During an initial consultation with qualified legal counsel about your case, you will also have an opportunity to ask questions. As a matter of practice, a USDA SNAP violations attorney charges no fee for an initial consultation.
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