How We Defend Business Clients Against EBT Disqualification For SNAP Benefits
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is a federal food stamp program for low-income individuals. These benefits are redeemable for eligible food items at authorized grocery stores, gas stations and convenience stores. For businesses that accept these benefits, they’re often a significant source of revenue.
However, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service, which administers these benefits, takes a close look at businesses with suspicious EBT (electronic benefits transfer) activity. If the agency discovers a violation of the federal rules and regulations governing acceptance of SNAP benefits, it can impose harsh consequences, including temporary or permanent disqualification on top of steep civil monetary fines.
The result? A significant decrease in revenues, which could even put you out of business.
How SNAP Violations Happen
Violations of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program commonly take the form of food stamp trafficking. This occurs when a store takes EBT benefits for noneligible items such as cigarettes, alcohol, household goods or cosmetics. Only retail food items are eligible for SNAP benefits. Pre-prepared hot foods – such as premade, ready-to-eat hot dogs or burgers – aren’t eligible under federal SNAP regulations.
Trafficking also covers receipt of benefits in exchange for cash, including cash change.
These activities happen for numerous reasons. Unscrupulous employees may be trying to make a buck from buying and selling EBT benefits. But many times, employees simply don’t know the rules. Proper training and a thorough compliance policy can prevent these kinds of unknowing violations.
How These Violations Come To Light
There are many ways for businesses to end up on the USDA’s enforcement radar. For example:
- A large number of transactions with manual entry of EBT card numbers can raise red flags. These transactions are considered suspicious since they may indicate theft or fraudulent use of EBT debit card numbers.
- When the amount of EBT card transactions received exceeds the accounting of food items sold, that’s a clear indication of potential food stamp trafficking.
- Some cases begin with an IRS audit that uncovers discrepancies or red flags in EBT accountings. These discrepancies can result in referral to the USDA and perhaps even law enforcement agencies for investigation into criminal charges, depending on the type and extent of the suspicious activity.
SNAP Violation “Charge Letters” from the USDA
SNAP violation cases often begin with a letter from the U.S. Department of Agriculture alleging that your store is in violation of the law against food stamp trafficking, having committed a SNAP violation. This letter is known as a “charge letter,” sent by the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Services agents, outlining the allegations against you.
It’s important to take action as soon as possible after receiving this letter. You may have a strong defense. By enlisting a lawyer who is familiar with these actions, you can protect your business, potentially averting or diminishing the harsh penalties for an infraction.
Swift and strategic action is essential for responding to USDA charge letters. You must respond within 10 days of the date that you received the letter. Otherwise, the USDA’s decision to disqualify you for EBT transactions stands.
How We Fight These Charges To Prevent Disqualification
At Roberts Law Group, we represent clients facing EBT disqualification in all phases. Our lawyers can advise you and help establish a compliance program to avoid trouble in the first place. But if you are already facing formal accusations of food stamp trafficking, whether or not you have a compliance program in place, we will answer the USDA’s charge letter, help you prepare a strong defense, challenge the imposition of any monetary penalty (or argue for a reduced penalty), and file any necessary appeals.
The process for challenging SNAP disqualification generally follows three steps:
- Reviewing the evidence and writing an answer to the charge letter, outlining grounds for a defense against disqualification
- Following an adverse decision, filing an administrative review asking for the decision to be overturned
- Representing you before an administrative hearing officer
- If needed, pursuing judicial review in federal court
In many SNAP violation cases, we can resolve the matter at step one, hopefully avoiding the most serious penalties. Some are resolved at steps two and three, and fewer at step four. At any rate, knowledgeable legal representation can mean the difference between a successful and not-so-successful outcome.
Why Choose Us?
At Roberts Law Group, we help convenience stores, gas stations, grocery stores and other authorized SNAP retailers across the country. Our lawyers have a wealth of experience representing clients before federal government agencies and in federal court. We’ve helped prominent businesses overcome USDA charges for food stamp trafficking and other SNAP violations. With a tireless and determined approach, we can help you:
- Challenge the allegations
- Highlight mitigating factors (such as a compliance program and records of having completed an employee training program)
- Argue for lighter penalties
- Negotiate a more favorable resolution
- Pursue administrative and court appeals, if needed
Additionally, our attorneys can help you put a compliance plan into place to reduce the risk of costly SNAP violations down the road.
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