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You received a letter from the USDA stating you are trafficking SNAP benefits. This may come as a surprise to you and you want to clear up the mistake. Your first reaction is to contact the USDA to clear everything up. That could be disastrous for your business.
Your first step should be to contact an attorney. Most attorneys offer free consultations. This is important to do at once because there is a 10 day deadline to respond and failure to meet it may be grounds for an immediate and permanent SNAP disqualification for your business.
Despite the low trafficking rates of the SNAP program, the USDA has began a campaign to aggressively go after stores that accept SNAP transactions. Their primary targets are small to medium-sized stores. The USDA believes these retailers are suspect because of fewer healthy food options than grocery stores.
No matter how nice the USDA agents seem, they are not your friend and are looking for anything to use against you. Even an innocent statement may be skewed as admitting guilt. Even asking them for more information about the charging letter may be viewed as you seeking to abuse the program in some other way. They have already assumed you are guilty.
There is no such thing as off the record with a USDA agent. Assume everything you say will be used against you. It is best to stay silent and contact an attorney to help you respond because they know how the USDA operates.
Do not enter into any negotiations with the USDA. This can be viewed as an admission of guilt and result in your permanent disqualification. Temporary disqualifications and civil money penalties are rare. You may be negotiating in good faith but assume the USDA is not. They are not there to help you but to penalize you.
Never blame your employees for the violations because the USDA may decide you are guilty. The owner is 100% responsible for their store and the actions of their employees. Make sure to put in place a training program to prevent employees allowing misuse of SNAP benefits. This may help your attorney advocate on your behalf for civil money penalties because these changes went into effect once the charging letter was received. Do not share this information with the USDA, only your lawyer should be told.
Acknowledge nothing about your stores alleged wrongdoing. There may be violations against your store that will be found to not have merit. The USDA has two systems in place that can send up a flag. First they may use undercover agents to catch you violating the SNAP program rules. Another is a computer system that flags certain transactions. The computer system has algorithms to look for certain types of transactions that can be legitimate.
If your store has a certain amount charged to SNAP EBT cards, the algorithm flags your store and the charging letter may be sent. You might have a reason that the same dollar amounts are consistently charged. SNAP customers may be coming in for a soda which will show the same amounts consistently. Having a record of these transactions and including them in your response can show the transactions are legitimate.
You should gather your transaction receipts, invoices, Employee/Owner SNAP training and verification program material, and other supporting documents immediately because you only have 10 days to respond. If you have hired an attorney, they will also need this material so they can respond in a way that can help you avoid permanent disqualification. Being disqualified from receiving SNAP benefits could adversely affect your businesses profits. Having help with answering the letter and an informed response may help you retain this business.