How SNAP Violations Happen: Common Examples Of SNAP Retail Violations
Retailers who accept EBT transactions through the federal food stamp program (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP) must comply with detailed rules. It’s the responsibility of store owners to understand SNAP regulations – and ensure that their employees understand and follow the rules, too.
Missteps in handling SNAP benefits can lead to costly consequences. The federal government (specifically, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service) has broad authority over EBT transactions. This agency is entrusted to protect program integrity and, to that end, aggressively investigates SNAP program violations. It has the power to impose penalties such as:
- Temporary disqualification from accepting EBT (electronic benefits transfer) transactions
- Permanent disqualification
- Steep civil money penalties (fines)
At Roberts Law Group, we defend retail food stores – including grocery stores, convenience stores, gas stations and farmers’ markets – across the country that are facing potential sanctions by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for SNAP violations.
If you’ve received a USDA “charge letter” or notice of a violation, you need to act quickly to protect your business and your future ability to accept food assistance benefits. We can help you put the right defensive strategy into place – as well as a strong, proactive compliance policy to prevent further violations down the road.
What Are Some Common SNAP Violations?
There are many types of SNAP violations, any of which can threaten your future SNAP participation and your ability to handle EBT transactions in your store.
In general, any ” trafficking” in SNAP benefits is a violation that could lead to permanent disqualification for authorized retailers, many of whom who rely on EBT transactions as a big source of revenue.
Violations often committed by store clerks or cashiers:
- Accepting SNAP benefits in exchange for alcohol, cigarettes, and other goods that are not eligible food items
- Accepting SNAP benefits in exchange for cash to the customer
- Accepting SNAP benefits from a customer who isn’t EBT qualified
- Taking EBT card numbers and PIN numbers over the phone
- Buying or selling EBT card/PIN numbers
- Providing cash change for an EBT transaction
These are very common examples, often committed by a store clerk or cashier, either knowingly or unknowingly. It is relatively easy for a cashier to become involved in food stamp trafficking. This puts you as the owner at risk.
Suspicious activity: While not strictly a violation of EBT rules or regulations, cashiers should avoid manually entering EBT card numbers unless absolutely necessary. Manual entries can indicate food stamp fraud, identity theft or stolen debit card numbers, especially when there’s a large number of manual transactions. Only enter card numbers manually if the swiping machine is broken, and even then, do so only in the customer’s presence.
Violations often committed by store owners or managers:
- Continuing to participate in EBT transactions after you’ve been disqualified (for example, by transferring ownership or changing the store name)
- Submitting false information on your EBT application (which can also lead to a fraud investigation by law enforcement and criminal charges)
- Doctoring accounting records to cover up an imbalance in the amount of SNAP benefits received compared with sales of qualified foodstuffs
- Keeping EBT card and PIN numbers on file
- Failing to maintain secure and functional EBT processing systems
Additionally, as the store owner, it’s your responsibility to ensure that all employees are trained in SNAP regulations. No cashiers should be allowed to handle EBT transactions until they’ve completed training on how to do so properly and legally. You should keep thorough records of these trainings. That way, should a violation still occur, you may have strong grounds for contesting the penalty (or at least arguing for a reduced penalty).
A training program should be part of a comprehensive compliance policy for any retailer who handles EBT transactions for public assistance benefits. The best way to avoid penalties such as steep fines and lengthy disqualification is to prevent violations in the first place.
Accused By The USDA? What Can You Do?
If you’re an authorized retailer and you have been accused by the USDA of a SNAP violation, you have a limited amount of time in which you can respond and mount your defense. Remember that the government has the power to permanently disqualify your store if the USDA believes that you or your employees committed any of the above common SNAP violations. Other penalties may also apply.
Roberts Law Group, based in North Carolina, handles SNAP violation cases anywhere in the nation. We represent grocery stores, convenience stores, gas stations and other retailers who get into trouble with SNAP/EBT transactions. The nature of this work allows us to handle most cases by phone and email. This means that you can rely on the experienced and accomplished lawyers of Roberts Law Group to preserve your ability to accept food stamp benefits, even if your store is located outside of North Carolina.
When the stakes are high – and your business is on the line – you need a legal team that understands how to navigate the murky waters of federal EBT law, including the nuances of SNAP rules.
We can do just that. We understand what it takes to put together a strong defense. Our lawyers can help you respond to the USDA charge letter, pursue administrative review and fight for you in court, if needed. No case is too challenging for our experienced lawyers to tackle.
We can also advise you on how to prevent violations in the first place by working with you to implement an effective training and compliance program.
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