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SNAP Trafficking Charge Letter

SNAP Letter Charging You with Trafficking

Being a licensee in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) as the owner of a market or grocery store means that you are set up to serve customers living in low income households. It might surprise you to know the large amount of revenue this license can translate to in your store.

Nevertheless, selling to SNAP recipients is connected to important legal obligations designed to combat fraud in the government benefits program. Such responsibilities are not just for you as the proprietor.  These rules are applicable to your managers and all of your workers.  If it so happens that anyone in your place of business gets caught perpetrating fraudulent acts, the government may have a “Trafficking Charge Letter” delivered to your store. Responding to it rapidly and in the right way is of paramount importance.

Why Did a Trafficking Charge Letter Show Up at My Store?

The crime of trafficking can happen in a number of ways.  Buying EBT funds from your card holding clients is one tactic. Another tactic we’ve seen is when the recipient accepts money from you and, in a collaborative strategy, they use the cash to purchase products that they are not authorized to pay for with EBT benefits. Trafficking in SNAP benefits can also be charged in cases where a benefit recipient’s EBT card is used to purchase store inventory and then resell those products to other stores or customers. In other SNAP trafficking transactions, a SNAP client may offer to swap their benefits with you for illicit drugs, guns or ammunition. A grocer can permanently lose his or her license to accept EBT cards as a payment method for participating in trafficking.

A Charge Letter will show up in your mailbox when investigators from the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) or the relevant state agency have some kind of evidence showing that you have violated SNAP legislation. The FNS frequently deploys undercover shoppers from whom they mine information on which to base their charges. Undercover shoppers will come up to you and/or your employees at your Indian Grocery store posing as EBT cardholders to find out whether or not you or your workers violate the legislation. They might offer to sell you their benefits or see if you request to buy them. Periodically, the FNS will procure evidence of your violations from actual EBT recipients who inform on you or from data pulled from EBT records that are analyzed by computers to sniff out habits and patterns in the transactions.

Apart from the crime of trafficking, SNAP violations can include neglecting to post prices, charging a higher price on goods to EBT customers than you do to other customers, segregating EBT customers into different checkout lanes and receiving EBT payments for non-food grocery products. Your customers are not authorized to use an EBT card to buy beer, wine, spirits, cigarettes, other tobacco products, prepared, hot foods meals or restaurant meals (A handful of exceptions have been permitted in specific restaurants in communities that provide reduced-price, hot meals to poor and homeless people).

A Prudent Response to a Charge Letter 

The Trafficking Charge Letter that shows up in the mail will give you details, in addition to the reasons for the trafficking charge, of your choices. The USDA may furnish you the option of remitting a civil monetary penalty in lieu of permanently disqualifying you from the SNAP program completely. You have a mere ten (10) days from the date of the letter’s arrival to request that the FNS penalize you in the less punitive manner. If you decide not to reply to the letter, you forfeit your right to select the smaller penalty. Remember that trafficking customarily gets you a permanent disqualification from participating in the SNAP program. If this happens, you wouldn’t ever be eligible to enter the program again. 

As they decide whether or not you qualify for the less drastic penalty, the FNS will take into account whatever activities you engaged in to create or try to create a culture of obedience to SNAP rules in your place of business. The requirements include your response to violations in-house and what measures you have enacted to make certain that your managers and staff remain compliant – ahead of any possible allegations of violation. Our firm’s specialist SNAP violation attorneys can work with you to bring together all the required evidence so you can measure up to the standard for evading permanent disqualification.

Compliance Policy Standards

The FNS wants to see documented proof of your store policies for trading in SNAP benefits. Are employees who violate SNAP rules subject to penalties or termination? How do you correct errors or violations? Exactly what types of procedures have you put in place in your grocery store for internally reviewing EBT transactions?

Your history of compliance weights extremely heavily in the decision of whether you can be spared a permanent disqualification. If this is your first infraction, you are more likely to persuade the FNS to just levy a monetary penalty instead of permanently terminating your SNAP program privileges. If the business owner had any prior knowledge of or benefited from a trafficking violation at any point before to this current one, the likelihood is much higher that they will unfortunately face disqualification. Further, avoidance of disqualification cannot occur if firearms, ammunition or controlled substances were involved in transactions with EBT benefits. Considerable trafficking or situations that involve exorbitant amounts of money are also highly likely to bring the store a disqualification.

Compliance Training at Your Store

To be eligible for the penalty choice instead of a disqualification, you will need to show  the FNS that you took it upon yourself to get your employees trained thoroughly on the SNAP procedures. This includes your store managers and every store employee whose position and duties might require them to handle EBT cards, like cashiers. This training initiative should feature detailed written instructions that explain the implications of accepting EBT benefits for firearms, ammunition, or controlled substances.

In accordance with this training, your documentation of the program you administer is essential. You should keep logs at your store complete with information on the employees’ training on the SNAP procedures and legislation prior to the date of any alleged violations. Your files must be  meticulous, displaying dates of hire and training of every worker. As a feature of your training program, you could always distribute every new hire a copy of publications or regulations from FNS. Get each of them to sign to the effect that they acknowledge receipt of the booklet and any other written materials.

After answering the Charge Letter, FNS will make a choice as to whether to proceed with the permanent disqualification or simply charge you the monetary fine instead. If they decide upon the former option, your disqualification takes effect immediately. Once this reaches this stage, you won’t be eligible to participate in SNAP even if you undergo an appeal through administrative or judicial review. If either forum gives you a reversal of the disqualification, FNS Is not obligated to reimburse you for the sales you lost during the review period.

Conversely, if you meet the criteria for the civil monetary penalty and you appeal the trafficking allegations, you would be able to continue to take EBT payments for your customers’ purchases until the reviews are complete.

After the Charge Letter

Again, you have just ten (10) short days from when FNS drops its written decision on you to ask for an administrative review. An FNS reviewer will decide whether to uphold the court’s decision or to overturn it.

If the FNS reviewer doesn’t waiver on their assertion that you need to be disqualified or should be subject to other sanctions for trafficking offense, your next choice at that point is judicial review. You are required to make a request for this by filing a lawsuit in state court or federal district court within thirty (30) days after the reviewer’s verdict is served on you. Our lawyers can assist you in launching your lawsuit and prepare for the trial.

A Charge Letter for SNAP trafficking is a serious situation that your business can hardly afford. The deadlines to respond and file documents run quickly and require expeditious, thorough and decisive action on your part. Call one of our SNAP attorneys for assistance working your way through this process.

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