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SNAP Violation Defense

SNAP Violation Defense

Answer a SNAP Violation LetterWhat to Do About a SNAP Violation Letter

If you accept EBT at your store, there may come a day where the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) sends you a SNAP Violation Letter, charging you with any number of alleged violations of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).  The USDA may have attached a number of pages to the back of your SNAP Violation Letter that contain hundreds if not thousands of transactions which the Department believes amount to any one of several different categories of violations.

The first thing you should do after receiving a SNAP Violation Letter is to contact our offices for a free consultation (813) 228-0658.  Your store only has TEN days to respond to the charging letter.  If you don’t respond within the timeframe, then the Department will more than likely suspend or terminate your ability to accept EBT.

In order to understand what a SNAP Violation letter is charging you with, it’s important to understand what the SNAP program is, and how it is operated.

SNAP Background

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides participants with a set value of monetary food benefits each month.  These benefits are distributed through an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) transaction card that looks and functions similar to a traditional debit card.  However, there are a few of extremely important differences: (1) the SNAP benefits on an EBT card are not for general use and spending, and (2) they may not be used for cash-back services.

The EBT cards took the place of food stamps in the late 1990’s, and are issued by the state in which the SNAP participant lives.  Though the program would appear to be governed differently depending on the state that you live in, the program is actually run on a national level by the United States Government and implemented individually by the different states.

The SNAP program, and the benefits associated with it, are governed by both the United States Code (7 U.S.C. Chapter 51) and by the Code of Federal Regulations (7 C.F.R. §278).  The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food & Nutrition Service (FNS) is the agency that enforces the regulations and otherwise runs the program.

What is a SNAP Violation?

A SNAP Violation occurs when an authorized store violates any of the following rules:

  1. If the store has trafficked in SNAP benefits.  The term “trafficked” is an expansive term, but roughly means “fraudulently accepted” or otherwise stole the benefits;
  2. If the store has accepted SNAP benefits in exchange for nonfood items such as alcohol, tobacco, or other obviously unqualified goods;
  3. If the store’s owner, manager or staff intentionally submitted false information on the store’s application to accept EBT benefits;
  4. If the store’s total coupon redemptions for a specified period of time exceeds its food sales over the same period;
  5. Employees of the store accept SNAP benefits from an unauthorized person that is not legally entitled to use the benefits;
  6. If the store has maintained a credit or a tab for a customer in exchange for EBT benefits; and
  7. If the store has been disqualified from participation in the WIC program, then the USDA may disqualify it (under certain circumstances).

How We Defend Against a SNAP Violation Letter

Our law firm has handled a wide variety of SNAP Violation Letters against our clients, and has experience in all three phases of a SNAP Violation action that your store may be subject to:

  • Phase 1: Charging Letter.  The SNAP Violation Letter is the first step in an action by the USDA to remove your store’s EBT license.  This may come with or without prior warnings, and can appear at almost any time.  A Charging Letter has a variety of different types of allegations, but most of them set out a series of factual allegations with attachments that contain more detail.  A response to a SNAP Violation Letter is due within ten (10) days of the date you receive it.  After we are retained, our office takes responsibility for all communications with the USDA, for compiling our evidence (should it be necessary), and then the drafting and delivery of a thorough and accurate response to the USDA’s allegations.
  • Phase 2: Administrative Appeal. If, after reviewing the store’s answer to the SNAP Violation Letter, the USDA still believes that a violation has occurred, then the Department will issue a second letter which outlines its decision to suspend or disqualify the store based upon the allegations set forth in the original letter.  You have only 10 days to appeal this decision.  If you don’t, then the store will be stuck with the USDA’s decision to suspend or disqualify the store from accepting EBT.  Once we are retained, our office will file the necessary paperwork with the USDA to notify their Administrative Review Agency that we intend to challenge the final decision.  Our office will collect any other evidence on your behalf that will be useful in such an appeal, and draft an appellate brief containing all of the evidence, case law, regulatory and federal code, and other information that is appropriate to demonstrate that the initial decision was wrong.
  • Phase 3: Judicial Appeal.  If the USDA refuses to overturn the first decision, in the Administrative Review, then all that remains is for your store to file a Judicial Review in the local Federal District Court. The Judicial Appeal operates like a normal case in that you will have an opportunity to conduct discovery, file motions and have a trial before the judge.  Our attorneys have handled several of these cases in different states and, depending upon the state in which your store operates, can handle yours as well.