The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is structured to provide wholesome, nutritious food to millions of people in the United States. The SNAP program also provides economic benefits to merchants that participate in the program, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. SNAP oftentimes is referred to as the largest and most important safety net when it comes to food assistance in the United States.
A merchant or vendor participating in the SNAP program needs to take care to remain in compliance with rules and regulations. Even a diligent vendor may end up facing a violation allegation. An allegation of a breach of the rules or regulations associated with the program are transmitted initially to a SNAP participating vendor through what is known as a charging letter.
There is a wide array of different types of violation allegations that participating vendor might face. With that noted, there are certain types of violation allegations more frequently made by the USDA in regard to SNAP merchants or vendors.
False SNAP Application
A common type of violation made by the USDA against a SNAP vendor involves the initial application submitted by a merchant to gain entrance into the program in the first instance. With some frequency, the agency issues a charging letter that contends a vendor included false information in that initial application.
This type of allegation can have serious consequences. In many instances, a contention that a merchant provided false information when applying to participate in the SNAP program results in the permanent removal of a vendor from the program.
Permitting Unqualified Purchases
Another of the most common types of SNAP violations involves a merchant that permits unqualified purchases. A consumer enrolled in the SNAP program is permitted to purchase specific types of food items from a vendor.
Examples of items that are not permitted to be purchased via the SNAP program include alcohol and tobacco, pet food, and non-food items like cleaning products. In addition, hot food intended to be consumed in the store itself cannot be purchased with an EBT card through the SNAP program.
A vendor has a legal obligation to make certain employees are trained properly in regard to what can and cannot be purchased through a SNAP EBT card. An employee not understanding these parameters does not provide a defense to a vendor alleged to be permitting improper or unqualified purchases.
Setting Up a Customer Tab
A related violation a vendor can face involves setting up what might best be described as a tab. Through this impermissible process, a merchant allows a customer to place unqualified items on a tab at the store. The consumer then pays off the accumulated tab using a SNAP EBT card.
EBT Card Trafficking
A vendor can face a SNAP violation charging letter when an allegation is made regarding trafficking. Trafficking is the term the USDA utilizes in regard to the use of stolen or fraudulent EBT cards
If a vendor knowingly permits the utilization of a stolen or fraudulent EBT card, the merchant can face violation action by the agency. Action can be taken against a vendor who lacks actual knowledge if the merchant reasonably should have known that a stolen or fraudulent card was utilized in a purchase transaction.
Inaccurate Coupon Accounting
Inaccurate coupon accounting is another type of SNAP violation engaged in by some vendors. This occurs when a merchant’s total coupon redemptions are higher than the actual amount of food sold during a particular period of time.
Disqualification from WIC Program
Many vendors participate both in SNAP and Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, or WIC. If a merchant ends up disqualified from the WIC program, the vendor faces the prospect of a violation notice from SNAP as well.
Receipt of Charging Letter
A SNAP vendor typically first learns of an allegation of a violation or violations upon receipt of what technically is known as a charging letter. A charging letter sets forth allegations surrounding a SNAP violation or violations. Oftentimes, the agency contends that a vendor has committed multiple violations.
Upon receipt of a charging letter, a vendor has 10 days to file an appropriate response with the USDA SNAP program. The failure to submit a response within this established timeframe results in the allegations made by the agencies being accepted as true. The agency is then in a position to take further action against a merchant, which can include removing a vendor from the SNAP EBT program.
A response to a charging letter needs to set forth with specificity why the vendor believes it has not committed a violation or violations. In many instances, a response to a charging letter is best prepared and submitted to a skilled, experienced lawyer with a specific background in USDA SNAP violations.
When a response to a charging letter is submitted to the USDA, the agency reviews it and the responds itself. If no relief is provided by the agency at this juncture, a vendor can then seek an administrative review of the decision to date made by the agency in regard to SNAP violations.
If a vendor yet again fails to gain relief through the agency administrative review process, a merchant can pursue what is called judicial review in the United States District Court. The overall process of challenging the allegations that commence with a charging letter is complex, particularly when the matter ends up in federal court. This reality underscores the necessity of engaging the professional services of a skilled, experienced USDA SNAP violations lawyer.
Retain an USDA SNAP Violations Attorney
Scheduling an initial consultation is the first step in hiring an USDA SNAP violations lawyer. During this first appointment, a lawyer will examine the violations alleged by the agency. Legal counsel will discuss possible strategies to counter the allegations. A vendor obtains answers to questions about a violation case. As a general practice, legal counsel charges no fee for an initial consultation with a prospective client in a case involving a merchant facing USDA SNAP violations.