In 2013, Congress received a report detailing the dramatic increase in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) violations. Acting on this report, Congress mandated a crackdown on the stores found to be in violation, especially those trafficking. In 2014, Congress mandated the use of an ALERT system to identify, disqualify and suspend thousands of stores. Sadly, even the stores guilty of minor violations were treated as major violators. A business that accepts payments from Electronic Benefit Transfers (EBT), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP) and Women and Infant Care (WIC) food stamps are under the risk of falling into noncompliance. This can lead to gross sales losses, and most businesses are not able to recover.
Whether you are facing a minor or major SNAP violation, it is in your best interest to arm yourself with an experienced SNAP violation attorney. Convenience stores and small grocers heavily rely on the revenue from these transactions to remain afloat. Legal representation is therefore crucial because a violation charge could mean the closure of your business. To appreciate the need for a SNAP violation attorney, you need to be aware of the penalties you stand to face for a violation.
SNAP violation penalties
The Unites States Department of Agriculture can enforce the following penalties:
• A civil fine
• Temporary disqualification
• Permanent disqualification
These penalties are designed to affect your ability to conduct business and to keep your stores open. A temporary and permanent SNAP disqualification can have a huge impact on your revenue. A civil fine could mean parting with thousands of dollars. This can result in business closure, especially for grocery stores and convenience stores. While it is rare, it not unusual to face criminal charges for a SNAP violation. This will depend on the scope of the trafficking allegations. When so much is at stake, retaining a lawyer to help you defend yourself can have a huge impact on the outcome of your case.
Civil Fine Penalty
The Federal Regulations Code authorizes the USDA to enforce a civil fine against any food stamp trafficking. The amount of civil fine will depend on the volume of EBT transactions, the gravity of the allegations against you, and the number of offenses you have violated as a business. The relief with a civil fine is that you can still continue to operate as a business. While your revenue will be affected, you can still keep your doors open. The USDA will enforce a civil fine if the store has a compliance program in place. In the absence of a compliance program, a business can face temporary or permanent disqualification.
A temporary disqualification is damaging to a business. The extent of the damage depends on your cash status and the period of disqualification. The USDA is mandated by the Federal Regulations Code to issue temporary disqualifications ranging from 6 months to 5 years. The disqualification period will be pegged on the evidence brought against your business. If you had a prior violation, then the USDA will grant a longer period. With a good defense, you can cut down this disqualification time. Resuming business after several years could mean that you start from scratch.
A permanent disqualification could be the end of your business. Retailers and store owners get most of their revenue from EBT customers. In most cases, these customers account for over 70 percent of the total customers. Failure to comply with the SNAP and food stamp regulations can lead to permanent disqualification. There are several circumstances and offenses that can lead to a permanent disqualification:
• You or your employees knowingly engaged in EBT trafficking. This is defined as selling, buying, stealing or exchanging the SNAP benefits. The exchange can be done in the form of cash or other ineligible items or favors.
• Knowingly submitting false information to the SNAP programs during applications or other instances when you are asked to provide information.
Measures to prevent SNAP Violations
As is evident, stores and grocery shops stand to lose a lot after a SNAP violation. It is therefore imperative that stores remain compliant and take active measures to prevent violations. The following practices can help you remain on the right side of the law:
When investigation and prosecuting violations, the USDA will consider if the business had any written guidelines. These guidelines are to guide the employees. An attorney can help you draft these guidelines with respect to the statutory factors that need to be included. The guidelines also detail the products that qualify for different programs and the actions that should be taken during the transactions. The employees are expected to go through this policy document and provide a signature to show compliance.
SNAP regulations are subject to regular changes as Congress deems fit. As such, the employee training is crucial if businesses are to remain compliant. The training programs should present different case scenarios and the expected actions. An understanding of the different food programs is also important for all employees. The training should be well supervised by the management to ensure that every employee attends all the training sessions. It is also important for the trainers to respond to the different questions that the employees may have. Refresher training programs can be scheduled regularly to keep the employees on the right track.
It is important for stores to implement tracking systems for WIC, Food Stamps, and EBT. This can help to identify potential and existing problems before they catch the attention of the USDA. One of the best preventive measures is to have a Point of Sale System that updates each of the transactions. The system should also flag the items that do not qualify under certain programs. Investing in such a software system can go a long way in identifying and correcting errors that could result in violations.
An understanding of SNAP fraud can help you avoid violations that could result in loss of revenue. To safeguard the future of your business, consult with a SNAP violation attorney if you are facing a violation charge.
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