People facing hardship and extreme difficulty should not have to starve to death. This fundamental belief is at the heart of the SNAP program. It is a federal assistance program that helps people who are out of work or on very wages buy food.
The vast majority of individuals receiving food stamps are down on their luck. They have lost their job through no fault of their own or suffered a series of catastrophic setbacks in their life. SNAP is a measure designed to help such persons as they get on their feet. As a government program, it is subject to the strictest regulation. Any intentional or unintentional violation of these rules can result in the severest of penalties.
Committing food stamp fraud can be tempting for those in need and those trying to help them. It is important to note that the laws governing the SNAP program apply not only to the recipients of food stamps but also to the retail outlets from which they purchase their groceries.
Food stamp trafficking is one of the many ways recipients commit food stamp fraud. This involves exchanging food stamps for hard cash or some other valuable item. Most people on benefits struggle to make ends meet. They may have a part-time job to prove they are trying to find work, which is a requirement of SNAP. Part-time work is often more precarious and unreliable than full-time work.
Many SNAP beneficiaries cannot get enough hours, even if they have more than one job, to pay rent and utilities and buy food. In this situation, it can be tempting to try and convert food stamps into hard cash or to exchange them for some item of value that they can then sell for hard cash. The people in this situation may reason that it is all going toward keeping them and their family alive and off the street so there can be no harm in it. The fact is it is against the law. If they are caught exchanging food stamps for hard cash, they will be prosecuted. The individual or vendor involved in helping them carry out this exchange is also subject to prosecution.
Another common form of SNAP fraud involves buying items from a store that are not on an approved list. This form of fraud occurs most often in small neighborhood stores. Food stamp recipients get to know the personnel who work behind the cash register. Some of these employees may even be friends and neighbors of the food stamp recipient. Beer, cigarettes, and other such non-approved items can be easily wrung up manually as something else by store personnel. Stores that are caught selling non-approved items to food stamp recipients are subject to civil money penalties.
Civil money penalties (http://www.investopedia.com/terms/c/civilmoneypenalty.asp?lgl=rira-baseline-vertical) allow you, as a store owner, to continue your membership in the SNAP program. The government realizes the burden that suspension from SNAP can put on small retail outlets. If you are the owner and operator of such a store, your business should not be made to suffer because of the dishonesty or incompetence of your employees.
If you have received a charging letter, which is a letter stating the offense, you will have to pay no more than fifty nine thousand dollars in penalties. You will also be required to institute a thorough employee training program that gives specific instruction in SNAP guidelines.
However, your first response to receiving such a letter should be to contact a lawyer. You should work only with those lawyer specialized in working such cases. SNAP law is very detailed and the inner workings of the program require lawyers with a great deal of knowledge about them.
As a small business owner, you don’t want to overburden yourself in litigation with the federal government. Nor do you want to risk suspension from the SNAP program. On the other hand, you don’t want to pay out thousands of dollars if you don’t have to. If you receive a charging letter from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which runs the SNAP program, it may feel as though you’ve done something wrong and must simply resign yourself to all that they’re accusing you of. That is the wrong way of thinking.
The government must be made to prove its case against you. Contacting a SNAP lawyer will allow you to establish whether you have actually done anything wrong. Such lawyers are trained to investigate, to gather and analyze evidence, and to put forth sound argument in your defense. Hearsay and rumors, for example, do not prove anything against you. The government must have specific proof that you are in violation of SNAP laws.
Even if it is found that someone in your store allowed the purchase of a non-approved item or was involved in benefits fraud in some other way, you want to get a judgment that is least burdensome on your business. A SNAP lawyer can help you negotiate a settlement with the federal government.
Your company need not pay exorbitant amounts of money because of the indiscretion of one of its employees. A SNAP lawyer can help prove that you did everything in your power to follow SNAP law, and to ensure your employees were well aware of its stipulations. It is unreasonable for anyone to believe that you can watch over every employee constantly. There will always be people who break the rules. It doesn’t make the entire organization liable.
If the government has conclusive proof that your store was involved in violating SNAP law, hiring a SNAP lawyer can help you keep the amount of the civil money penalty to a minimum. If the government has no proof or very little evidence that anyone in your store did anything wrong, a SNAP lawyer can help you beat back the charges. In any case, your first action once you have received a charging letter should be to bring in an attorney who specializes in handling this kind of case. It is your best hope for a fair and just outcome.