SNAP Trafficking Charge Letter
Being a retailer in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) means that you can service low income customers. You might be surprised how this can sustain your business.
Selling to snap recipients comes with important legal duties designed to keep fraud out of the government benefits program. These obligations are not just for you. They extend to your managers and all of your staff members. If anyone in your business gets caught committing acts of fraud, the government may mail you a “trafficking Charge Letter.” Responding to it promptly and properly is paramount.
Why Did I Receive a Trafficking Charge Letter?
Trafficking can happen in the form of purchasing EBT benefits from your customers. The recipients accept cash from you and, in some cases, they may then buy products that they are not allowed to buy with their EBT card. Trafficking in snap benefits also includes using a recipient’s EBT card to purchase inventory and then reselling those items to other stores or customers. In some trafficking exchanges, a snap beneficiary may offer to sell you their benefits in exchange for firearms, bullets or illicit drugs. Grocers can permanently lose their ability to receive EBT benefits for participating in trafficking.
The Charge Letter shows up when agents of the Food Nutrition Service (FNS) or the state agency find that you have violated snap rules. The FNS often employs undercover purchasers from whom they get Information on which to base their charges. Undercover customers will approach your you are your staff members, pretending to be EBT customers to see if you or your employees break rules. They could either offer to sell their benefits to you or see if you ask to buy them. Some evidence of your violations can derive from EBT recipients who report you or data obtained from EBT records that are analyzed by computers to spot habits and patterns in the transactions.
Apart from trafficking, snap violations can include failing to post prices, charging EBT customers different (usually higher) prices than other customers, segregating EBT customers into specified checkout aisles and accepting EBT payments for nonfood items. Your customers are forbidden from using snap benefits to purchase beer, wine, liquor, cigarettes, other tobacco products, hot, prepared foods or meals at restaurants (Their are some exceptions in restaurants in some communities that offer reduced-price prepared meals to low-income or homeless people).
How You Need to Respond
The Trafficking Charge Letter that you receive will inform you, in addition to the reasons for the trafficking charge, of your options. The government may afford you the option of paying a civil monetary penalty instead of being permanently disqualified from the SNAP program altogether. You have just ten (10) days from the date of delivery of the letter to ask the FNS to impose the less drastic alternative. If you don’t reply at all, you waive your right to choose. Bear in mind that trafficking normally ends up in a permanent disqualification from participating in the SNAP program. This means you can never enter the program again.
To see if you are eligible for the less drastic penalty, the agency will take into account the extent you create or attempt to create a culture of obedience to snap legislation in your business. The criteria includes the way in which you respond to violations and what you have put in place or have done to make certain that employees remain compliant – before there can be a violation. Our SNAP violation lawyers can assist you in collecting the necessary evidence so you can meet the criteria for avoiding permanent disqualification.
Policy Standards for Compliance
FNS wants to see documented proof of your store policies for handling SNAP benefits. Do employees who violate snap rules face sanctions or dismissal? What do you do to correct mistakes or violations? What procedures do you have in place in your store for internally reviewing EBT transactions?
Your history of compliance is very relevant in the decision of whether you can avoid permanent disqualification. If it’s a first offense, you can persuade FNS to simply levy a monetary penalty instead of barring you entirely from the snap program. If the proprietors knew about or benefited from a previous trafficking violation, you are more likely to suffer disqualification. Also, avoidance of disqualification cannot occur if weapons, ammunition or controlled substances were part of the trading of EBT benefits. Extensive trafficking or circumstances that involve significant amounts of money are also highly likely to draw disqualification.
To be eligible for the penalty option in lieu of disqualification, you need to show the FNS that you took the steps to train your staff about the snap rules. This includes your managers and all of your employees whose position and duties include handling EBT cards, such as cashiers. Your training program should include detailed written instructions against accepting EBT benefits for firearms, ammunition, or controlled substances.
In this respect, documentation of the training programs or education is crucial. Your logs must show that the employees were trained by you on snap rules before the violation occurred. Your files must clearly show dates of hire and training of each staff member. As a step in your training program, you could even furnish a copy of publications or regulations from FNS to each new hire. Get a signature form each one acknowledging receipt of the bocklet and any other written materials.
After replying to the Charge Letter, FNS will decide whether to move forward with the permanent disqualification or charge you the monetary fine instead. If they opt for the former, your disqualification takes effect right away. Once this happens, you won’t be able to participate in SNAP even if you go through with an appeal through administrative or judicial review. In the event that either forum yields a reversal of the disqualification, FNS does not reimburse you for the sales you lost during the review period.
On the other hand, if you are eligible for the civil monetary penalty and you appeal the trafficking charges, you may continue to receive EBT funds for your customers’ purchases until the reviews are complete.
After the Charge Letter
Again, you have a mere ten (10) days after FNS delivers its written decision to request an administrative review. An FNS reviewer will determine whether to uphold the action or reverse it.
If the FNS reviewer maintains that you should be disqualified or should be subject to other penalties for trafficking, your next option is judicial review. You must request this by filing a lawsuit in state court or federal district court within thirty (30) days after the reviewer’s decision is served on you. Our lawyers can help you to start the lawsuit and prepare for the trial.
A Charge Letter for snap trafficking is an extremely grave threat to your business. The deadlines to act run quickly and require prompt, thorough and decisive action on your part. Call one of our snap attorneys for help navigating through this process.
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