The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) affords needy families an ability to avoid hunger. If you’re a retailer who participates in SNAP, you provide a valuable service to low income residents as well as having a consistent source of income for your business.
An accusation that you have violated the laws and rules of the program, if not defended, can jeopardize the financial health and reputation of your business. This is because violations could lead to fines and disqualifications from the program. With knowledge that your store cannot accept EBT benefits, customers who rely on them will go elsewhere for their foods. Further, certain violations can lead to criminal prosecution.
If you’re accused of violating SNAP rules, you may need one of our lawyers to help you defend the charges.
Common SNAP Violations
Trafficking stands among the most serious SNAP transgressions. Essentially, it means that you receive SNAP benefits from the participant for cash or other consideration.
Generally in trafficking, the SNAP recipient offers to sell you his or her EBT benefits. The seller can then use the cash to buy things that unavailable through the EBT card. The merchandise can include alcohol, cigarettes, electronics or other non-food items. In some cases, the selling recipient presents an air of desperation, needing the money to pay rent, catch up on bills or buy medicines.
Some retailers use the EBT cards and the associated PIN numbers to stock their stores with merchandise to be resold. Others may purchase items originally bought by clients with EBT cards, then sell them to other stores. In schemes that don’t involve the client’s participation or knowledge, certain retailers steal the EBT and the personal identification numbers (PIN).
If you’re not careful, you might catch yourself in a trafficking charge even if you’re trying to help the EBT client. In such a scenario, your customer does not have enough on the card. You agree to let the client buy now and pay later with the EBT card. This facially goodwill gesture actually violates the SNAP law. Funds on the EBT card can be used only for current purchases and must be used at the time of the purchase. So, if the EBT card lacks enough to complete your customer’s purchase, you can’t allow him or her to pay the difference with the EBT card on a later visit. You can allow the customer to make up the different with cash or some form of payment other than a replenished EBT card.
Selling From the Non-Approved List
As a program to help needy families buy food, SNAP clients can apply their benefits only for food items. Eligible food items consist of those bought for household use, such as cereals, breads, fruits, vegetables, milk, cheese, meats, butter and poultry. Sodas, cookies, candy, snack crackers and ice cream also are approved for purchase through SNAP.
Not all food appears on the approved list. Hot foods and those prepared for consumption at the store or other site where they are prepared cannot be purchased through SNAP funds. Restaurants in some areas have authority to receive SNAP benefits from elderly, homeless or disabled clients for low-cost meals.
As you can expect, SNAP funds cannot purchase alcohol or tobacco. Also, you can’t allow an EBT card to pay for personal care products, pet foods, cleaners or other household supplies, medicines, vitamins and pet foods or pet care items.
Lying On Your Application
False statements on your application to participate in SNAP also can disqualify you. Violations of this sort may include misrepresenting someone other than you as the store’s owner to hide your prior disqualification from SNAP or otherwise lying about previous disqualifications. Misstating the amount of your sales and the nature of your inventory can also result in your SNAP license being revoked.
Handling a SNAP Violation Charge
An audit of card history or an undercover purchaser/client SNAP violations. Someone, perhaps a customer, reports that one of your store’s employees or the manager or you tried to buy the EBT benefits that the balance disappears even though the customer hasn’t used the card. The EBT client may be facing his or her own disqualification and decides to report that you, allegedly, participated in the fraud.
When the Food Nutrition Service (FNS) or other authorized agency enforcing SNAP believes it has evidence that your store has violated SNAP laws, it will embark upon penalizing your through fines or disqualification from accepting EBT payments from clients. Depending on the evidence, a bar from participating in the program could last one year, three years, five years or permanently.
The Charge Letter
The enforcement starts with a SNAP violation letter setting for what laws or rules FNS says you’ve disobeyed.
From the date you get this “charge letter,” you have ten days to respond. One of our San Antonio SNAP violation attorneys can assist you in gathering the evidence to rebut the charge and fashioning the response.
If you receive a “charge letter” alleging that you have committed trafficking, you can ask FNS to impose on you a civil money penalty in place of being permanently disqualified from the SNAP program. FNS will consider factors such as whether your store has a policy to ensure that you and the employees comply with the SNAP regulations, whether and how you have or are training employees and internal review.
Of course, the seriousness and extent of the alleged trafficking play a role in whether SNAP will even entertain the less drastic alternative of a civil money penalty. You must provide evidence that you meet the criteria for avoiding permanent disqualification through a civil money penalty.
Review by the Agency and Courts
Once FNS reviews your reply and decides to take the disciplinary action, you have ten (10) days from the delivery or service of such a notice to ask for an administrative review of the decision. A reviewer within the USDA will take a second look.
If the administrative reviewer upholds the disqualification or penalty, you have thirty (30) days after the date that decision is delivered or served on you to ask a court to review the action. This judicial review comes in the form of a lawsuit. You can file it in federal district court or in your state court. In the lawsuit, the court will conduct a de novo, or new, trial. Our San Antonio attorneys work with you to properly file the lawsuit and prepare the evidence and arguments for trial or other hearings to reverse the fine or disqualification.
A prior disqualification from the Women, Infant and Children’s Program (WIC) on certain grounds will keep you from getting judicial review of the SNAP disqualification.
Make sure you take claims that you have violated SNAP very seriously. Once the agency starts its enforcement process, your time limits to respond will approach rapidly. Contact one of our SNAP violation attorneys who can help you protect your rights and your business.