SNAP benefits are an important part of the business of many grocery stores. The SNAP or food stamp program is one of the largest and most extensive welfare programs that the federal government offers. Millions of families make ends meet with these funds, and they utilize them in the same grocery stores that every other family uses. However, with any government funding source like this comes the prospect for fraud. Millions of dollars are fraudulently spent against the wishes of the SNAP program every year, often with the help of grocery store providers. A SNAP violation can be debilitating to the safety and prosperity of a grocery store. It is imperative to know what your store can and cannot do before taking steps that may jeopardize the store’s future success.
SNAP benefit violations usually involve taking advantage of the program’s basic structure and guarantee. In many cases, users will buy or sell SNAP benefits in an illegal way to grocery stores. This is known as trafficking. A grocery store may take $100 worth of food stamps and give a customer $80 in cash. The customer wants the money to use for other purposes, and the grocery store would make a profit once they turned in the SNAP benefits to the government for reimbursement. This is the most egregious error that is often found with grocery store SNAP violations, but there are numerous other actions that could be classified as illegal. For instance, some grocery stores lie on their applications to sell SNAP benefits, and some commit tax fraud and need the help of our tax fraud lawyers. A grocery store may also accept SNAP benefits for non-eligible items like alcohol and tobacco, or maintain a tab for SNAP benefits.
All of these SNAP violations can cause numerous problems for a company. SNAP violations could result in denied eligibility for the SNAP program. A grocery store that does not accept SNAP is choking off a revenue pipeline that could lead to tens of thousands of dollars every year. There is also the possibility for fraud charges and other criminal charges stemming from defrauding the government. This set of charges is often reserved for the most serious cases, such as when grocery store owners personally pocket the money from SNAP benefits. A fraud charge could result in jail time for offenders.
SNAP benefits violations have a clear legal timeline associated with them. An institution receives a notice of allegations and then has a specific period of time in which they can respond. This response period is crucial. A grocery store needs to present a competent, robust defense against such charges if it has any hope of keeping its SNAP eligibility. Certain assumptions of the legal system that many store owners have do not apply with SNAP violations. For instance, many owners believe that they can negotiate for a softer settlement with the USDA. This standard of plea bargains is extremely common in the justice system. However, the USDA does not negotiate with violators of its rules. An attempt at negotiation may lead to the discussion of information that hurts a grocery store owner’s case overall. The legal process surrounding SNAP benefits can be problematic and can result in the ruining of a grocery store owner.
These pitfalls are the main reason why any grocery store owner facing SNAP violation allegations should consult a private attorney. Private attorneys are often well-trained and have years of experiences in these cases. They know exactly what the USDA is looking for and will help you provide a robust defense. Private attorneys also know the right times and places to argue a case and to discuss evidence. These figures could mean the difference between keeping and losing the business that the owner has fought so hard to keep. If you face one of these allegations, make sure to contact a law firm with SNAP violation experience today.