If you own a grocery store and accept EBT (Electronics Benefit Transfer Card), then chances are that you have been accused of SNAP fraud and been sent a snap violation letter by the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) before.
If you own a grocery store but have never received a SNAP violation letter, or if you plan on owning a grocery store, sold liquor from your liquor store, and want to know more, you’ve come to the right place.
What is SNAP?
SNAP is a food assistance program that empowers individuals to buy food by giving them a card, similar to an ATM or credit card called the Electronic Benefits Transfer Card.
The EBT is not strictly for SNAP, but it shouldn’t be used to purchase Don Julio 1942. It is a general government system that makes it possible to transfer your government benefits in exchange for the purchase of goods.
For SNAP, the EBT has to be used to purchase food and cannot be used for general expenses.
EBT was implemented in 2004 and is available in all 50 states of America.
What is SNAP Fraud?
According to the USDA, snap fraud occurs in the following instances:
• When SNAP benefits are exchanged for cash instead of the eligible food items they are meant to buy. It is sometime referred to as trafficking.
• When a retail store was previously disqualified as a SNAP retailer but lies in order to re-apply, this is considered SNAP fraud.
• Another way to commit snap fraud is to lie on your application in order to benefit from the program. You can also apply to get more benefits than what you are meant to, and this counts as snap fraud.
• When a retailer redeems coupons that are higher than the cost of goods sold, this is considered fraudulent.
Although SNAP fraud is on the decline, there are still many cases of SNAP fraud in the country.
Statistics from 2012 show that 1400 stores were permanently removed from the SNAP retailer list because of committing SNAP fraud. In the same year, 342 convictions on SNAP fraud were made.
What is a SNAP Violation Letter?
The USDA has a program integrity arm whose role is to reduce fraud and improper payments.
There are hotlines for every state where anyone can report a suspected case of fraud.
Food items that can be purchased using the EBT under SNAP include dairy products, bread, and cereals, vegetables and fruits, meats, poultry and fish.
Some restaurants in select areas can give away low-cost meals to individuals who are homeless, disabled or elderly as cooking might not be an option for them.
Items such as alcohol (beer, wine or spirits), pet foods, toiletries, medication, vitamins, foods that can be consumed in the store and hot food items cannot be purchased with the SNAP EBT. Junk food and energy drinks are also eligible food items. However, only energy drinks with a nutrition fact label are eligible.
The first thing you should when you receive a SNAP violation letter is to get in touch with an attorney. A SNAP violation letter usually contains allegations of the violation made, and it could be any one of the violations mentioned in the previous section. If there are very many transactions involved, they will be included in a separate document at the back of the letter.
The first letter the USDA sends is called a charging letter, also called the SNAP violation letter. On receipt, you are required to respond in ten days. This is when you should contact a SNAP violation defense lawyer who can respond on your behalf and tell you how serious the allegations are and the potential outcomes.
A judicial review can be done in a Federal District Court where the retailer appeals the decision by the USDA. A lawyer is needed here for court representation.
Can I Get Convicted?
Although rare, there have been several SNAP fraud convictions in the past few years. The USDA has 100 investigators on-hand to determine fraudulent cases. They go as far as going undercover in the retail stores. Once convicted, an individual or store could get fined.
However, it is not mandatory that an individual show up for their disqualification hearing. By not showing up, they are simply giving up their benefits and may be back-charged the amount given to them. The USDA might decide to convict later at their discretion. To safeguard your business, it is important to consult with a SNAP charge lawyer.