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Your Business Is Important: Protect it Against SNAP Violations
A multitude of grocery stores receive payments from recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs (SNAP), previously administered as Food Stamps. Just the fact that you are a participant in this program opens you up to the possibility of being accused of non-compliance and seeing your privilege to accept SNAP payments from program recipients taken away. The USDA conducts the SNAP program to help families in the United States of America with nutrition support. Households whose have members that are eligible to get an Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card can utilize their benefits to buy food and food products at retail grocery stores that are licensed in the program.
Shops and markets where EBT cards are accepted must submit to routine inspections that are normally undertaken by undercover USDA agents. A business that is seen violating SNAP legislation will find itself at risk of possibly being disqualified from participating in the program, being charged heavy civil cash fines, or in the most brutal cases, the managers and/or owner could be up against criminal charges.
SNAP Violations You Might Face
In a routine undercover inspection, an inspector will be on the look out for numerous practices that are classified as SNAP violations. The one they seem to find most frequently is trafficking, which can be characterized by such unscrupulous activities as swapping SNAP benefits for cash or receiving payment for which no goods were purchased. The laws expressly forbid stores from taking SNAP benefits in exchange for cash.
SNAP fraud can take place when an individual furnishes untrue information on their application to receive benefits when they may not actually be eligible or to qualify themselves for I higher amount of benefits than they are supposed to receive. Business proprietors who, after having had a disqualification in the past, frequently lie intentionally about their information on their application to get back into the program. These are also in violation of SNAP laws.
Two more of the myriad non-compliance problems include selling unauthorized products and failure to adhere to specified SNAP requirements. In the event that an investigator discovers a violation, the grocer will soon see a charge letter in the mailbox from the Food Nutrition Service (FNS), the body that oversees and enforces SNAP regulations. The SNAP charge letter gives the defendant a complete rundown of the charges, including where and in what manner the offenses are said to have taken place. Additionally, this letter spells out the intended penalties for the alleged infractions. At this point, the onus is on the proprietor to rapidly respond to and defend themselves against the accusations detailed in the letter.
Legal Problems Connected to SNAP Violations
It is a well known fact that the U.S. government is zealous about waging war against SNAP benefits fraud and they act aggressively against market and grocery store proprietors who misuse the program. Grocery store owners who sell or permit the sale of ineligible items could get disqualified from the program for, at minimum, six months. If you rack up a list of violations after repeated warnings, you could be permanently disqualified from taking SNAP payments at your grocery store.
The federal government classifies SNAP trafficking as a very egregious crime. If they discover evidence that you or your workers have engaged in the act of exchanging SNAP benefit for cash, for example, you may get slapped with a permanent disqualification from the program. The FNS does not consider the fact that it was the first offence or how minimal an amount of money was involved in the fraud. Permanent disqualification can hugely impact some grocery business, causing them to miss out on hundreds or thousands of dollars per day in sales.
A rather unfortunate circumstance that grocers face as participants in SNAP is that charges can be brought against them even in cases where the offenses in question were committed by their staff members or store managers. It is the owner of the business who is forced to face any charges and suffer the penalties even if they might not have known anything about what was going on. Because this problem is so prevalent, it is a wise proactive act for SNAP program grocers to do everything possible to preempt SNAP infractions from taking place in their stores.
Smart Approaches to Preventing SNAP Violations
Among the most important steps that businesses who have been accepted into the SNAP program can take is to institute practices and house rules designed to stop front line workers (especially cashiers) and store managers from engaging in acts of SNAP fraud. Here are a few clever moves to make:
It is important that your employees are all sensitized about the SNAP benefit program and the types of transactions that are considered to be infractions against the applicable laws. Smart store owners implement a written training system to assist their staff in preparedness for the multiple situations that they could encounter during the normal course of business and how to properly navigate them. The training program should be all encompassing and interactive so that the staff is empowered to ask questions and have effective methods to retain and apply what they learn. Nurture an environment that engages workers and makes them feel comfortable openly consulting with the managers if and when they encounter an unfamiliar circumstance or are not equipped to handle SNAP transactions that are new to them.
Employees in markets and grocery stores are prone to ignore or even forget instructions that are delivered to them in a manner that is too informal. When you work with SNAP benefits, you are advised to distribute a formal document that explains the guidelines and let every staff member know the importance of adhering them. To properly implement this, you might include the manual in their employment contract. The manual should contain lists for the employees’ reference of the categories of items that qualify for the SNAP program, forbidden transactions and acts, and the penalties for violating SNAP rules in the store. From the time your associates sign the agreement, and you emphasize for their benefit the seriousness of these rules, it will be very easy for them to recognize and respect the rules, refraining transactions that could lead to SNAP fraud charges.
The part of your business routines in which you monitor or do a periodic audit of the store’s transactions in general and SNAP transactions in particular can make it possible for you to see and address possible violations long before inspectors arrive at your store from the USDA. Implement a point of sale system that uses the most up-to-date technology and is able to sort through all transactions and details of items purchased. The POS system should also be configured to flag products that are eligible for EBT purchase as your cashiers ring them up. With this type of a system installed, store proprietors and managers could troubleshoot issues in real time and stay abreast of their business compliance with SNAP regulations.
Your Response to a SNAP Charge Letter
The reality is that a retail store owner can put in all of these prevention measures to shelter their business and still end up dealing with SNAP violation charges after a USDA inspection. In such situations, the business is customarily given 10 (ten) days to respond to the letter, after which time the penalties outlined in the letter will be imposed. If the response to the allegations arrives at the Department in time, the USDA may send out a second letter stating that they intend to maintain that the violations did indeed take place. The second letter details their decision to disqualify or suspend the store from SNAP.
The wisest next step is for proprietors of grocery stores in this type of a dilemma to consult with legal counsel as soon as possible upon receiving an initial violation letter. An experienced SNAP attorney can take on the administrative appeal process, gather any evidence (if it is useful), and assume responsibility for all continuing communications with the USDA. If the USDA is adamant about pursuing the charges in the second letter, the lawyer can put in for a judicial appeal on the client’s behalf to have a judge try the case. Retaining a SNAP lawyer places the business in a more enviable position to beat the charges against it.
The federal government is focused on fervently protecting the integrity of the SNAP program and they want to make certain that it is distributing vital assistance to the families in this country who are in the greatest need. In fact, trafficking crimes have decreased dramatically over the past two decades because those who violate its legislation have been penalized with mighty lofty penalties. It is so crucial for all grocery store owners to take the prescribed measures to shelter their business against the possible legal implications of violating SNAP regulations. Furthermore, if once such measures are in place, the retailer ends up getting charged nonetheless as a result of a USDA investigation, they should consult with an experienced Attorney as quickly as they can.