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Violations on SNAP and EBT Card Use

Violations on SNAP and EBT Card Use

The government department that keeps watch over the USDA Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the Food & Nutrition Service (FNS).  The FNS deals with all matters connected to grocery store licensing and SNAP violation enforcement.  Oftentimes, EBT Violation charges are sought against business owners by the FNS via a letter.  All their violations and decision letters go out from their offices through UPS overnight delivery.  Ifi it so happens that you get such a letter at your place of business, you have just ten (10) days from the date of its arrival to respond to it.  If you neglect to respond, this could get you a permanent disqualification of your SNAP privileges and the end of a vital income source.


All SNAP benefits fraud letters that are dispatched by FNS will contain a list of allegations of different categories of SNAP violations.  These include:

  1. Selling unqualified products; 
  2. Using EBT benefits to pay credit; 
  3. Trafficking in SNAP benefits; and 
  4. Reciprocal disqualifications from WIC.  

A charge letter from the FNS customarily includes language saying that FNS “has compiled evidence that your firm has violated the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) regulations.”  You can read more about the SNAP violation statues here.


Know the Numbers: 90% of Stores that Fight Without a Lawyer get Disqualified.


Major SNAP Violation: Benefits Trafficking

There is one category of crimes that rank as of most egregious SNAP violations that can come in a SNAP charge letter. That category is SNAP Benefits Trafficking.  A blanket definition of trafficking is an exchange of cash for EBT benefits. This could be conducted in various types of transactions, including disbursing cash back on a SNAP purchase or the sale or purchase of an EBT card. Fairly recently, fraud investigations for trafficking began to shine a bright light on retailer purchases of inventory that was bought first using benefits funds.  This also comes under the category of trafficking and regularly gets retailers permanently disqualified.


Trafficking charges can follow the discovery of two different versions of documented proof: 

  1. Transaction pattern/categories or
  2. Eye witnesses affidavits .  


Often, SNAP violation charges are based on a statistical analysis.  In general, this language can be found in USDA letters:

  “Analysis of the records reveal Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) transactions that establish clear and repetitive patterns of unusual, irregular, and inexplicable activity for your type of firm.”  A charge letter shows up accompanied by a set of attachments detailing all the transactions in each category.  The categories include:


Multiple Transactions from the Same Household

“In a series of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) EBT transactions, multiple transactions were made from the accounts of individual SNAP households within a set time period.”  For the USDA, this questionable pattern leads them to the conclusion that a SNAP violation occurred in connection to the frequency of purchases from the same household.  By and large, the USDA is of the belief that it is abnormal for a head of household to shop repeatedly in a small store over the course of a short time frame.


Multiple Transactions in a Short Time

“In a series of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program EBT transactions, multiple purchase transactions were made within a set time period.”  In this category are clusters of transactions occurring from different households over a limited amount of time that can appear dubious.  In short, the USDA may think that this is a red flag that a SNAP violation has taken place as there is no viable cause for how your registers are able to complete transactions so rapidly.


Depletion of Household Benefits

“In a series of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) EBT transactions, the bulk of SNAP households’ remaining benefits were depleted within short time frames.”  Such a group  of transactions examines the percentage of a cardholder’s total benefit funds are spent at your checkout counters, and when an EBT card balance is zeroed out in their transactions at your place of business, this raises a flag.


Repeated Dollar Values

What used to be known as “same-cent transactions”, transactions in this category have been recently revised.  “In a series of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) EBT transactions, there were a large number of transactions in repeated dollar values.”  When they examine the amounts of your transactions, the USDA can lead to the belief that you or one of your staff members has committed a SNAP violation.  In actuality, such transaction patterns often wind up being nothing more than an indication of how your store does business, but the USDA would have any first hand knowledge of this.


Large Transactions

“In a series of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) EBT transactions, your store conducted EBT transactions that are large based on the observed store characteristics and recorded food stock.”  This category, previously known as “excessively large transactions,” is characterized by a list of transactions that get attention because they are uncharacteristically  high dollar amounts.  Incredulously, this group can include purchases that were flagged for as low as $30 or less.


Manual Transactions

In this category, which is pretty rare in SNAP violation cases these days, lies a selection of transactions that were executed at your store where rather than swiping, the EBT card number was manually entered.  This brings the USDA to the conclusion that if the number was manually entered, then it is possible, if not certain, that the EBT card was not physically present at the time of purchase and that the transaction could possibly have been a SNAP violation.


Handling your SNAP Violation Letter

Snap Violation cases are very serious matters.  Although the letter you get may look as though it is just routine communication, it is your indication that the USDA  is targeting you to disqualify your business.  You could get jammed up with a term disqualification, or under the most extreme circumstances, a permanent disqualification.  Calling up the program specialist is a choice you can make, but before you make that call, please read our Guide on What Not to Say to the USDA.  You can find out from them what information they require, but they will probably in turn demand that you “submit any information that you think might help explain those transaction patterns.”  You should know that the specialist will withhold the information that there is a very specific set of documents and responses that you are obligated to submit, and if you don’t get those in, then you will lose your case.


Our attorneys have worked for many years of SNAP violation defense cases.  This breadth and depth of experience gives us an advantage over other firms.  We have completed dozens of depositions of USDA agents, section chiefs, investigators and program specialists. This being the case, we can prepare effectively to handle the questions the Department has about your grocery store.  We can sort through all the details to assist you in figuring out what is helpful, what may be harmful, and how to put up the strongest possible case for your licence.  Our SNAP violation defense process is the most effective in the field. We are quite pleased to be considered as an authority in matters all the way from administrative actions to cases before the United States Supreme Court.


Move quickly!  The later you delay in putting a professional on your team, the more of an difficult journey it is to get a positive outcome in your case.  You can receive a free consultation every day of the week (including weekends).  To start the process, complete the form below or reachout to us on our toll free number.

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