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SNAP Disqualification Defense

SNAP & EBT Violations

The USDA Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) oversees the through the Food & Nutrition Service (FNS).  This FNS division is responsible for retailer licensing and SNAP violation enforcement.  EBT Violation charges are brought against grocery store owners by FNS in a letter delivered by UPS in overnight mail.  If such a letter arrives at your store, you have ten (10) days from the date UPS delivered the letter to respond.  Failure to respond could result in your store being permanently disqualified.

 

Every food stamp fraud letter dispatched by FNS includes allegations of different categories of SNAP violations.  These include:

  1. sale of forbidden products; 
  2. trafficking in SNAP benefits; 
  3. payment of credit with EBT benefits; and 
  4. reciprocal disqualifications from WIC.  

Charge letters from the FNS usually state that FNS “has compiled evidence that your firm has violated the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) regulations.”  You can find the SNAP violation regulations here.

 

90% of Unrepresented Stores are Disqualified.

SNAP Violation: Trafficking in Benefits

The most grievous of the violations that can be alleged in a SNAP charge letter is trafficking.  Loosely defined, trafficking refers an exchange of cash for EBT benefits. This may be in the form of cash back on a SNAP purchase or the sale or purchase of an EBT card. Not long ago, fraud investigations for trafficking began focusing on retailer purchases of inventory which was initially bought using benefits.  This counts as trafficking and invariably results in a permanent disqualification.

 

Trafficking charges are brought in the presence of f two different types of evidence: 

  1. transaction pattern/categories or
  2. eye witness affidavits.  

SNAP violation charges are frequently based upon a statistical analysis.  The language in every  USDA letter is reads:

  “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.”  Each letter comes with a set of attachments listing all the transactions for each category.  These categories include:

 

SNAP Violation Charge: 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.”  This category covers transactions occurring from multiple households over a limited amount of time.  Basically, the USDA may think that this indicates that a SNAP violation has occurred because there is no explanation as to how your store conducts transactions so quickly.

 

SNAP Violation Charge: 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.”  When they see this, the USDA may think that a SNAP violation took place because of the frequency of purchases from the same household.  In general, the Department holds the belief that it is unusual for a head of household to make repeat visits to small stores in a short space of time.

 

SNAP Violation Charge: Repeated Dollar Values

Formerly known as “same-cent transactions” this category of transaction has 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.”  Judging from the amounts of your transactions, the USDA is led to believe that your store has committed a SNAP violation.  Contrariwise, such transaction patterns usually turn out just to be an indication of how your store operates its business, but the USDA wouldn’t know this.

 

SNAP Violation Charge: 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, formerly referred to as “excessively large transactions,” contains a list of transactions that are flagged as being unusually large in size.  Ironically, this list can include purchases for as little as $25 or $30.

 

SNAP Violation Charge: 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.”  This category of transactions evaluates what portion of a participant’s total benefits are spent at your store, and it flags when a card balance is depleted to $0.00 in their transactions at your store.

 

SNAP Violation Charge: Manual Transactions

This category, which is presently uncommon in SNAP violation cases, involves a selection of transactions that have taken place where the EBT card number was manually entered rather than swiped.  This leads the USDA’s to believe that if the number was manually entered, then it is possible, if not likely, that the EBT card was not physically present at the time of purchase and that the transaction was possibly a SNAP violation.

 

How to Handle a SNAP Violation Letter

Snap Violation cases are severe.  While the letter may appear to be casual enough, the USDA’s intention is to disqualify your store.  You could get a term disqualification, or in some circumstances, a permanent disqualification.  You can contact the program specialist (before you do, please read our Guide on What Not to Say to the USDA) and find out what information they need, but they will request you that you “submit any information that you think might help explain those transaction patterns.”  The thing the specialist neglects to tell you is that there is a very specific set of documents and responses that they’re looking for, and if you don’t furnish those, then you will lose your case. You cannot be selling items like Glass Bongs, Red Wine, Tequila, Liquor.

 

We have years of professional SNAP violation defense experience that gives us an edge over other attorneys.  We have carried out dozens of depositions of USDA officials, section chiefs, program specialists and investigators. Therefore, we can tailor your cases to meet the questions the Department has about your store.  We can sort through the information to help you decide what is helpful, what may be harmful, and how to present the strongest possible case for your store.  Our SNAP violation defense process is second to none, and we are well pleased to be thought of as an industry leader in cases ranging from Administrative actions to matters before the United States Supreme Court.

 

Don’t delay.  The later you wait to contact a professional, the more difficult it is to prevail in your case.  We offer free consultations every day of the week (including weekends).  To get more information, fill out the form below or call us on our toll free number.

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