Grocery stores and food retailers are expected by law to adhere to certain rules and regulations. In normal cases, they have no problem doing this. However, government instituted food programs can expose your store to litigation issues. In the recent past, the government through the backing of Congress has embarked on closing stores that have been found in violation of food programs, the most notable one being the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). If you have received a SNAP violation letter, then you need to consult with a SNAP defense attorney.
A SNAP charge could result in hefty fines and serious penalties. The crackdown on food program violations is still ongoing. The United States Department (USDA) has closed down and issued temporary and permanent disqualifications to store owners. Putting up a good defense is one of the best strategies to avoid any of these penalties. As a grocery store owner, you may not be aware of any violations happening in your store. In most cases, these violations are carried out by employees. If you can prove that you were not aware of these violations, then the USDA can issue a warning or a lesser penalty.
Why should I consult with a SNAP defense lawyer?
Once you receive a SNAP charge letter, you are expected to respond within a given time frame. In most cases, the time allocated is 10 days. If you fail to respond to the allegations made against your store, then this can be assumed as an admission of guilt. This means that you will be stuck with the penalty issues against you with no chance to defend yourself. Given that you still need to manage the day to day activities of your store, retaining a lawyer is advisable. The lawyer will look into the allegations and advise you on the best way forward. SNAP defense lawyers have defended many stores before, and they know the right defenses to use in any particular situation.
SNAP defenses and responses
If you are guilty of a SNAP violation, the lawyer can use various defenses to ensure that you are not disqualified from the program. In most cases, you can make a request to pay a civil fine. This money penalty will depend on the gravity of the allegations made against you. A lawyer can represent you in a hearing and negotiate for a lesser civil penalty. There are certain factors that the USDA will consider before they decide whether to grant your civil fine request.
The USDA will check whether you have a compliance policy in place. This policy needs to be well documented and accessible to all employees. The compliance policy needs to have existed prior to the allegations. Any compliance document that is drafted after the violation charge will not be considered. A civil fine request can also be granted if you have a training program to educate employees on food program regulation and how to handle the electronic payments. Another crucial determinant is whether you as the store owner was aware of or part of the SNAP violation. The USDA will check whether you benefited in any way from the fraud or violation. Any involvement on your part can result in temporary or permanent disqualification.
A lawyer also comes in handy to help you appeal the judgment made by the USDA. A ruling by the USDA can be contested in court. A judicial review into the process needs hard evidence and a good lawyer. You need to check if your lawyer has trial experience. The USDA is serious about food stamp violations, and they hire the best lawyers. For your SNAP defense, ensure that you have an experienced and competent lawyer representing you.