Many small grocery and convenience stores accept electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards in payment. If you operate a store that accepts EBT, you may receive a SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) Violation Letter from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
You may receive a variety of attachments to the SNAP Violation Letter, containing hundreds to thousands of individual transactions that the USDA believes may fall into a range of violations categories. If you receive a SNAP Violation Letter, realize this isn’t a DIY project. Contact the New York SNAP Violation Defense Attorneys immediately for an initial case evaluation. Since you have just 10 days from the receipt of the letter to file a response with the USDA, call us now. The USDA may terminate or suspend your store’s ability to accept EBT payments.
Before we address questions you may have about the SNAP Violation Letter, learn more about the SNAP Program and how it operates.
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP
SNAP offers participants a certain amount of food benefits credits each month. Each user’s benefits are loaded on an EBT card that functions and looks like a bank debit card. Of course, SNAP EBT cards are substantially different from debit cards issued by banks and credit unions: 1) the user can’t spend or use the benefits amount on the SNAP card for any purpose other than the purchase of foods and qualified purchases, and 2) the user can’t get cash from the EBT card.
Until the late 1990s, users were issued food stamps by their residence state. Then and now, the SNAP program (formerly known as the Food Stamps Program) were administered by the U.S. government and implemented by each state.
The SNAP program is governed by 7 U.S.C. Chapter 51 (United States Code) and 7 C.F.R. § 278 (Code of Federal Regulations. USDA’s Food & Nutrition Service administers the program and enforces the laws in place to protect it.
What’s a SNAP Violation?
A SNAP Violation is said to occur when an authorized retailer violates any of the SNAP Program’s rules, including:
• USDA says the retailer “trafficked” in SNAP EBT benefits. Trafficked typically means the store stole or fraudulently accepted SNAP benefits.
• The retailer accepted SNAP in exchange for ineligible items such as tobacco, cleaning products, alcohol, etc.
• The retailer’s staff, management, or owner(s) intentionally provided false information about the business in order to accept EBT payments.
• The retailer’s EBT payments exceeded its sales of foodstuffs over a certain period of time.
• The retailer’s staff or employees accepted SNAP payments from an individual or individuals that weren’t legally authorized to use them.
• The retailer kept a tab or credit account in exchange for the customer’s EBT payments.
• The retailer was previously disqualified from participating in its state Women, Infants’, and Children’s (WIC) program. In some circumstances, the USDA may proceed to disqualify the retailer from participating in the SNAP Program.
SNAP Violation Defenses
Our law firm is experienced in defending clients against a wide range of SNAP Violation Letters. We are experienced in any of the three types of SNAP Violation actions that your business may be subject to, including:
1. SNAP Violation Charging Letter (Phase 1). This is the USDA’s first step in removing your business’s EBT license. You may have received prior warnings but it’s not unusual for the letter to arrive without previous communications. A Phase 1 letter typically arrives with several allegations. Most of these allegations refer to attachments to provide more details. Your response to the Phase 1 SNAP Violation Letter must be submitted within 10 days of receipt. When you retain us, we assume responsibility for your business’s communications with USDA, the compilation of evidence, and writing and delivering a complete, accurate response that addresses the USDA’s allegations.
2. SNAP Administrative Appeal (Phase 2). The USDA will move to Phase 2 if it continues to believe the business has violated its terms and conditions. At that point, the USDA issues a second letter to set forth the decision to disqualify or suspend the business’s license. Again, the business has just 10 days to appeal the Phase 2 decision. If you fail to respond within the 10-day period, USDA will move to disqualify or suspend the business’s ability to accept EBT. After you retain our firm, we will file the required paperwork with the Department to challenge the Phase 2 decision. We will collect evidence to support your appeal, write the appellate brief, and provide additional information as appropriate to show the Administrative Review Agency that its decision is wrong.
3. SNAP Judicial Appeal (Phase 3). The USDA Administrative Review Agency can decide to overturn or maintain its first decision. In the event it maintains the decision, your business must move to file for Judicial Review in the appropriate Federal District Court. The Phase 3 case operates much like any court case. You have the right to conduct discovery, file necessary motions, and go to trial. We are experienced in the handling cases in New York and other states, depending on the location of your business or retail location.
New York SNAP Violation Defense Attorney
Most convenience stores and groceries depend on revenues received from their customers’ EBT sales. Experienced legal representation can make a difference in the outcome after the USDA notifies you of alleged violations in the Phase 1 SNAP Violation Letter.
We have successfully represented large and small groceries, food delivery services, and convenience stores.
USDA ALERT Computer System and Your Business
USDA’s SNAP Violation Report shows that SNAP benefits’ trafficking has dramatically increased in the last 20 years. In response to the data, Congress directed USDA to investigate fraud in the SNAP system. To comply with its directive, USDA began to use the ALERT computer system to find suspicious SNAP benefits transactions. The ALERT system is used to identify businesses that are noncompliant and to disqualify or suspend thousands of businesses from accepting EBT across the country.
Unfortunately for the USDA, the ALERT computer system has significant flaws. False positives, or misidentification of stores and/or transactions, are common. The New York SNAP Violation Defense Attorneys work to explain our clients’ misidentifications and to get trafficking charges dropped.
Protect Your Business’s Revenues
SNAP Violations cases are serious. You must respond aggressively when the USDA sends a Phase 1 Charging Letter. You must continue to challenge the USDA’s findings to protect your business.
Some small retailers count on EBT transactions for a significant portion of annual revenues. Don’t risk your business’s bottom line. Although each client and case is different, we want to help each client eliminate USDA charges as soon as possible.
Contact Spodek Law Group to discuss your case now.