The United States Congress was forced to take harsh measures after a report was tabled in 2013, highlighting the increased violations in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The United States Department with the full backing of Federal Codes has closed and disqualified hundreds of shops that have been found to be in violation. A SNAP disqualification can result in heavy losses to a business store. If your store receives a SNAP charge, you need to act immediately.
SNAP and other programs are regulated and subject to certain federal codes. As a store owner, you may not have the necessary legal knowledge to defend yourself against a SNAP violation. There is also a time limit in which the USDA expects you to respond. Failure to comply with these rules can have negative and far reaching consequences.
When you receive a charge letter with the SNAP allegation, one of the things you contemplate is whether to hire the services of a violation attorney. It is easy to dismiss this charge or not treat it with the seriousness it deserves. However, incurring heavy losses due to a violation can be avoided in most circumstances. There are several compelling reasons why you should retain a violations attorney.
The USDA is aggressive in fighting SNAP fraud and violations
The USDA is dedicated to protecting the interests of the American tax payers. As such, SNAP violations are treated with utmost seriousness. The federal government has also put measures in place to track SNAP purchases. This helps them to identify all suspicious transactions and conduct investigations. The USDA also collaborates with other state agencies to ensure that the violators are charged.
USDA uses top technology to track down violators
The USDA is constantly investing in the latest technologies to ensure that this food program is not abused. One of the key technologies is the use of electronic “audit trail” to identify and track any suspicious activity. The Anti-Fraud Locator is another tool used to monitor the Electronic Benefit Transfer systems. Stores engaging in suspicious activity can easily be tracked and fined heavily. Serious violations can attract a permanent or temporary disqualification.
USDA employs SNAP Violation investigation staff
The USDA has a wing dedicated to SNAP fraud. The department has over 100 investigators and analysts located in different parts of the country. This team is tasked with analyzing data to check for suspicious activities. They also undertake undercover investigations in collaboration with the police and detectives. The team also prosecutes cases and administers fines and disqualifications for retailers who are guilty of violations. The Department also consults with law enforcement authorities and fraud experts.
The federal government takes strict action against violators
Retailers and store owners found to be misusing the programs stand to face harsh penalties. In 2012 for instance, the Department deployed over 100 investigators to patrol and monitor over 15, 000 stores. During these investigations, about 1, 400 stores faced permanent disqualification. Most of these retailers were charged with trafficking. Among the 1, 400 stores, about 70 received sanctions for other violations such as illegal sales. Serious offenders received prison sentences.
To remain on the right side of the law and to avoid harsh penalties, you need to be aware of what constitutes a snap violation.
SNAP violations explained
The following activities can result in SNAP violation charges:
• If your store is found guilty of SNAP benefits trafficking. The word trafficking is a broad term used to refer to fraudulently accepting or stealing benefits.
• If the owners knowingly and intentionally falsified information on the store’s application form or in an attempt to gain EBT benefits.
• If a store accepts benefits or exchanged non-food items such as tobacco, alcohol and other unqualified products to gain SNAP benefits.
• If the coupon redemptions for a particular store exceed the food sales during the same period.
• If the store knowingly accepts benefits from unauthorized persons. SNAP benefits should only be used by legally entitled card holders.
• If a store maintains a credit tab in exchange for EBT benefits.
A defense of any of these violations will require legal consultation. On your own, you may make certain mistakes that can jeopardize your case. For starters, you need to remember that any conversations you make with the USDA are recorded. As such, any admissions of guilt can be used against you. Many store owners also attempt to negotiate with the USDA for SNAP violations. The state department does not negotiate with violators. You can be sure that once they send you a violation charge, they intend to fine you or disqualify your business from the program.
Another mistake you can make is admit wrongdoing before consulting with a violation attorney. It is important to note that just because the USDA had detected something amiss does not mean that you are guilty of a violation. It is prudent to look through your records and engage with an attorney. It would be detrimental to you and your business if you acknowledge an inaccurate charge.
It is also ill advised to immediately accuse your employees of wrong doing and report the same to the USDA officials. As an owner, you will still be held responsible for any violations conducted under the name of your business. Before you jump the gun and point fingers, conduct an investigation with the help of a legal expert.
Overall, the best defense to a SNAP violation charge is compliance. You need to have a written policy document with clear guidelines on how SNAP transactions should be treated. Employees also need to be well trained on the actions to take when effecting these transactions. You can also invest in software to help you keep track of these special transactions. A Civil Penalty Fine can cripple the operations of your business. The same goes for a permanent or temporary disqualification. You need to give your business a fighting chance by hiring a violations attorney. Their expertise and experience can help you prepare a good defense that could help you avoid the harsh USDA penalties
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