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As a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) retailer, the receipt of a Charge Letter from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is a jarring and unsettling experience. The document, with its formal language and accusations, no doubt has you wondering how this could have happened to your business and what steps you can take to rectify the situation. This article aims to provide guidance on how to navigate the process of regaining your ability to participate in the SNAP program or contesting a penalty imposed by the USDA.
It is important to understand that the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) has the authority to permanently disqualify a SNAP retailer found to be engaging in “trafficking” of SNAP benefits. Trafficking is defined as “the buying, selling, stealing, or otherwise effecting an exchange of SNAP benefits…for cash or consideration other than eligible food…” This can happen to any retailer, regardless of size or reputation, and it is crucial to take immediate action to mitigate the consequences.
When the USDA is planning to issue a SNAP disqualification or impose a penalty, they must first send a Charge Letter outlining the specific charges against your business. This is your opportunity to review the accusations and begin preparing your defense. In determining the disqualification or penalty, FNS will consider the alleged nature and scope of the violations, any prior warnings issued to your business, and any other evidence of intent to violate regulations. A finding of trafficking can be based on facts established through on-site investigations, inconsistent redemption data, and evidence obtained through a transaction report under an electronic benefit transfer system.
It is a difficult and overwhelming situation, but by understanding the process and taking proactive steps, you can work towards regaining your ability to participate in the SNAP program or contesting a penalty imposed by the USDA.
It’s time to take action. If you’ve received a SNAP Charge Letter, time is of the essence. You have just 10 days to respond, and the longer you wait, the harder it becomes to prevent disqualification. But don’t despair. With the help of an experienced attorney who specializes in SNAP disqualifications and penalties, you can mount a powerful defense and fight to protect your livelihood.
Your attorney will guide you through the preparation and presentation of key evidence, such as receipts for individual transactions and inventory invoices from the review period. They may also advise you to take photographs of your store and gather statements from witnesses. The key is to be thorough and proactive in your response, so you can rebut the allegations and avoid disqualification or minimize the penalty.
It’s important to remember that trying to make peace with the USDA on your own is not a good strategy. I’ve seen countless retailers make this mistake, only to have the USDA use their own statements and evidence against them in the disqualification process. Don’t let that happen to you.
In the end, it’s crucial to understand that as a SNAP retailer facing a Charge Letter, the odds are stacked against you. The USDA is looking for any excuse to disqualify you and impose penalties. But with the right attorney by your side, you can fight back and defend your business. Don’t go it alone. The stakes are too high and the risks are too great. Seek help now and give yourself the best chance of success.
SNAP Retailer Disqualification – Why Did You Get The Snap Charge Letter?
The United States Department of Agriculture, a federal agency that oversees the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (“SNAP”), is taking a hardline stance against retailers who engage in illegal exchanges of cash for food stamp benefits, a practice known as food stamp trafficking. The USDA recently released a new report examining the trafficking rate within SNAP authorized retailers which “better pinpoints where the vast majority of SNAP trafficking occurs – smaller stores that typically offer minimal access to the healthier foods encouraged by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.”
The takeaway from this report is clear: the USDA is actively investigating small retailers such as gas stations, convenience stores, and specialty grocery stores for any violation of federal SNAP regulations and seeking to permanently disqualify any retailer who commits even a single trafficking offense. As a result, if you own a small or medium-sized retail business that is authorized to accept food stamps or you are interested in submitting an application to become authorized to accept SNAP EBT benefits, this article will provide some valuable insights on common missteps made by retailers (which can lead to civil sanctions or even criminal charges), as well as when it’s time to hire an experienced defense attorney.
The federal laws governing which items may be sold by retail stores to customers using food stamps are found in Title 7 of the Code of Federal Regulations. These regulations state that only authorized retailers may accept EBT payments for “eligible food.” The term “eligible food” is defined as any food or food product intended for human consumption except alcoholic beverages, tobacco, and hot foods and hot food products prepared for immediate consumption. The Regulations are clear that the Food and Nutrition Services (FNS) Regional Office “shall disqualify a firm permanently if personnel of the firm have trafficked.” Trafficking is defined as “[t]he buying, selling, stealing, or otherwise effecting an exchange of SNAP benefits issued and accessed via Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards . . . for cash or consideration other than eligible food. . .”
But how does trafficking occur in small retailers? The typical trafficking scenario in a small SNAP-authorized retailer looks something like this: imagine you are the owner of a small grocery or convenience store that has recently been authorized to accept SNAP EBT as a form of payment for food items in your store. Like many small business owners, you have transferred the day-to-day operations of the store to a store manager, who has hired a few individuals to serve as cashiers at the store’s only cash register on a rotating basis. Also imagine that, like many SNAP authorized retailers, your store’s customer base is comprised of many low-income individuals who qualify for food stamps, which is what motivated you as the store owner to apply to accept food stamps in the first place. Now imagine that the store’s young cashier, who was probably hired out of the same neighborhood as many of the store’s customers, is approached by “a few guys from the neighborhood” who are offering a common-sense trade: they want to swipe their EBT cards in a sham transaction that gives the store $150 in SNAP payments from the government, and in exchange, all they are asking for is that the store give them $75 from the cash register. The young store employee, who probably realizes that this transaction isn’t the best idea but who hasn’t been trained specifically on the EBT regulations and has never even heard the word “trafficking,” succumbs to peer pressure and makes the sale. After this sale, word spreads through the neighborhood that this particular store is a place where you can trade your food stamps for cash, leading to more transactions of this type.
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