If you own a retail store that accepts SNAP benefits and have received a letter from the USDA about a violation, you may be wondering what your legal rights are. You may have received a notification advising you that you are scheduled for an Administrative Disqualification Hearing. The USDA schedules these hearings when your business is suspected of what it calls an Intentional Program Violation, or IPV.
In New York, hearings are conducted by the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance. You are permitted to hire an attorney to assist you with this hearing. When you receive notice of this hearing, you should request the evidence in your case.
Going over the evidence (the evidentiary packet) carefully is crucial, and this is where an attorney experienced in working on SNAP compliance cases can be very beneficial to your case. If the evidentiary packet does not show enough evidence that an IPV has occurred, no administrative hearing will be scheduled and the case will be dismissed.
Since time is of the essence in the case of an Administrative Disqualification Hearing, contact a New York attorney as soon as possible to learn about your rights and responsibilities.
What Is SNAP?
SNAP stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the program offers food assistance to low-income families who meet a set of qualifications. These families are issued a SNAP card they can then use to purchase food at grocery stores, specialty food stores, health food stores, and farmers’ markets.
Only foods for at-home preparation are covered by SNAP benefits. SNAP is the largest food security program in the United States.
Is My Business SNAP Compliant?
To stay compliant with SNAP, your store must meet certain eligibility requirements. The USDA requires that stores accepting SNAP benefits sell at least three varieties of each of these four staple food categories:
1. Bread and cereal
2. Dairy products
3. Fruits and vegetables
4. Meat, poultry, and fish
Alternatively, if the store doesn’t stock three or more varieties of each, it must make at least 50% of its total revenue from all retail sales (including non-food sales) from the sales of foods that fall into these four staple categories. “Variety” is specifically defined by the USDA; having different brands and sizes does not meet the definition.
The USDA also requires that all employees of a retailer that accepts SNAP benefits undergo SNAP compliance training. Full-time, part-time, and temporary employees must all be trained, and the store owner is held responsible for that training. English- and Spanish-language training materials are available from the USDA.
What Happens If I Receive a Violation Letter From the FDA?
If you receive a violation letter and are assigned a date for your Administrative Disqualification Hearing but cannot attend the hearing in downtown Brooklyn on the date you are assigned, you can contact the NYS Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance to adjourn the date of your hearing. You are allowed to adjourn the date of your hearing for a variety of reasons, including conflicts with other scheduled events, inability to find child care for that date, or other reasons. However, you will not be able to choose the new date for your hearing.
Waiving your right to a fair hearing is also an option, but this is not advisable in every case. Signing the waiver has the same effect as being found guilty of an Intentional Program Violation.
To waive your right to a fair hearing, you must send the waiver form in to the NYS Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance. If you fail to send in the waiver form before the scheduled day of your hearing, you must fill out the waiver form and show up to the office in downtown Brooklyn on the date of your scheduled hearing to turn in the waiver form in person.
What Happens If I’m Found Guilty at My Hearing?
If this is the first time your business has been found guilty of an Intentional Program Violation (IPV), your business will not be allowed to participate in the SNAP program for one year. This means that during this year, your business will not be allowed to accept SNAP benefits for any food products. In addition, if it is determined that your business owes the SNAP program money as a result of the IPV, you will be assessed a fine corresponding to that amount. A judgement against you may also affect other benefits you receive.
Retailers who have been disqualified from the SNAP program may re-apply to the program so long as they do not provide any dishonest answers on the application. If your business has been disqualified from the SNAP program, contact a lawyer in New York State regarding your legal rights to re-apply to the SNAP program.
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