Whole food and retail stores that do not comply with the regulations laid out in the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) face fines or even suspensions. In response to suspicious activity, the Department of Agriculture can send you a 10 day termination notice. However, you can submit a written or oral explanation to the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) office in your area.
For SNAP to permit you to continue EBT card transactions, there has to be consistency in the data they see for EBT redemption in the store. If there is a violation in your store, it will be described in a letter you receive from the USDA. A store can also be booted from the SNAP program because they are no longer qualified for the Special Supplemental Nutritional Program for Women, Infants, and Children program – or WIC.
Stores disqualified from SNAP because of WIC disqualification cannot appeal. You might be disqualified from the WIC program for out of date food on your shelves or because you do not have required foods. Or employees could be exchanging these food instruments for drugs, ammunition or cash, overcharging customers or using unauthorized transaction channels.
A SNAP disqualification for your store will last as long as you are suspended from the WIC program, although it may begin a bit later than the WIC disqualification. Once your store is disqualified from WIC participation, SNAP does not review your store. Note that if SNAP disqualification would have a negative impact on nearby EBT households, you will not necessarily be disqualified because of a WIC disqualification.
Your ten-day notice from the FNS will lay out the violations your store committed and the actions you will have to take to regain SNAP licensure. An experienced lawyer can help you assemble a defense. Permanent disqualifications begin as soon as you get the letter, with temporary disqualifications lasting anywhere between six months to five years for the first sanction and 1-10 years for the second sanction. Sometimes criminal charges also follow.
If a lawyer can help you create an effective response, you may be able to simply pay a penalty and continue participating in the program. These penalties are limited to $59,000. To increase the chances of a penalty rather than a suspension, ensure your employees get thorough SNAP and EBT transaction training. You will want to provide the agency with verification of such training.
Your lawyer should be able to help you assemble any necessary documentation. Your disqualified store can reapply to the SNAP program, but no sooner than 10 days following your disqualification. FNS decides on your eligibility. If your store’s disqualification results in suffering for the neighborhood, you will likely be reauthorized.
When you get a letter from the USDA ending your participation in SNAP, you will need to find a lawyer with experience in this area to help with your defense. Remember you must respond quickly, and the effectiveness of that response determines whether you are suspended or penalized.
What to Do if You Receive a 10 Day Notice from USDA SNAP EBT
As a beneficial way to provide nutrition to struggling families, the first version of a SNAP program began in 1939 in response to widespread unemployment. This program only lasted about four years. There was a period of 18 years before another program would start in 1961. Today, millions of people depend on this program to help feed their families. Misuse of SNAP benefits by consumers or retailers can carry stiff penalties.
What is a SNAP Civil Money Penalty?
Although it may be difficult to understand, the civil money penalty is an alternative to suspension of a retailer from participating in the SNAP program. In other words, rather than stopping the business from taking SNAP benefits either temporarily or permanently, Congress allowed the USDA to fine them. SNAP benefits can only be used to purchase certain food items. Sometimes people and businesses do not adhere to the rules of the program.
A business is not allowed to benefit or profit from improper use of SNAP benefits. If the USDA believes the business is profiting from the program, they will send a letter telling the business the penalties they are facing. The offense is quite serious, and fines and penalties can be severe. When the letter is received by the business, they have 10 days to respond to the letter and qualify to pay the amount the USDA says is owed, allowing them to continue to accept SNAP benefits. If the business ignores or does not respond to this letter within 10 days, they will lose their ability to accept SNAP from their customers.
Qualifying for the Civil Money Penalty
When a business receives a SNAP violation letter, it is not just as simple as paying the fine. There are dozens of questions that must be answered in order to qualify for the penalty. Many business owners are confused. They do not know what they did wrong. They are overwhelmed and may decide to ignore the letter. Contacting an attorney immediately to advise them how to handle the letter is of the utmost importance.
Since so many people depend on SNAP to buy the groceries their family needs, if your store can not accept SNAP, they will take their business elsewhere. This can result in a huge loss of income. Losing customers, even temporarily, can hurt a business. Once the customer goes to another store, they may not come back if and when the store is permitted to accept SNAP.
Can An Attorney Help?
Paying the fine is likely to be far less expensive than the loss of business. It is not just as simple as sending the USDA the fine. There is a lengthy process that includes many rules, requirements, and questions. An attorney experienced in dealing with this type of case can help you sort through the maze of questions, rules, and regulations. He or she can assist you with all aspects of the civil money penalty and help to keep your business from experiencing financial loss.