Reversal of a Permanent Disqualification
For more than two decades, a small grocer in Lexington, Kentucky participated in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) as a retailer The store had never had a SNAP Violation, or so much as a warning letter. When the small grocer began participating, the program was based around physical food stamps. But over time both the program and the grocer shifted to accepting payments with an EBT machine. As the years passed, the grocer became a neighborhood staple. In order to grow further he offered even more foods that were SNAP eligible. In response, the local residents turned into regular customers of the store. The small grocer’s business flourished.
A SNAP Violation Charging Letter
In February, the store received a SNAP violation Charging Letter from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The letter informed the small grocer that his store had been investigated for a SNAP violation, and that the store was found to have trafficked in SNAP benefits. The USDA set forth two specific allegations:
- The USDA alleged that 3.5 years prior to the Charging Letter, the store provided an undercover investigator with $100 in cash for stolen SNAP benefits. The Department claimed that this activity was trafficking of SNAP benefits, and that the store would be permanently disqualified.
- The USDA also alleged that three years prior to the Charging Letter, the store had sold a single can of beer to a SNAP participant using EBT funds. This sale, according to the USDA, amounted to an unauthorized sale of ineligible items. An offense like this would result in a suspension of the store.
As any store owner would be, the small grocer was very upset with the letter and was certain that nothing of the sort could have occurred.
An Answer to the Charging Letter
The small grocer responded the USDA’s Charging Letter with a strong denial of the charges. It was impossible for the store to address a specific transaction though because the Department never provided much information about the actual alleged violation.
A few weeks after the small grocer had submitted its reply to the USDA, he received a letter indicating that he had been permanently disqualified. The Department had decided to ignore his denial. Instead, the USDA relied solely upon the few sparse paragraphs of allegations in its own letter.
That same day, the USDA turned the store’s EBT machine off. The small grocer was suddenly and inexplicably without the ability to sell to its customers. A business that had been family run and operated for more than two decades was on the brink of collapse.
Metropolitan Law Group’s Appeal
Andrew Tapp, Esq. of Metropolitan Law Group, PLLC, was retained by the small grocer to draft an Administrative Appeal of the USDA’s permanent disqualification. After a review of the USDA’s work, it became immediately apparent that the Department had made a severe mistake. No SNAP violation had occurred and the retailer was innocent.
In this instance, the Department had relied too heavily upon the vague and outdated allegations. Nevertheless, the USDA refused to back off of the permanent disqualification, so the administrative appeal moved forward.
In a 24 page appellate brief, Mr. Tapp outlined the deficiency in the USDA’s permanent disqualification of the small grocer. Due to Mr. Tapp’s vast database of case law & experience, the brief was well documented and thorough. As a result, he was able to set out not only the scope of the USDA’s error, but also outline a fundamental problem with the Department’s internal process.
Reversal of Permanent Disqualification
Less than two weeks after the Appeal Brief was submitted to the USDA by Mr. Tapp, the small grocer received a new letter in the mail. The letter was brief but straight to the point: the Administrative Review Officer agreed with Mr. Tapp’s analysis and completely withdrew the permanent disqualification.
The small grocer and his store, a neighborhood staple, was able to revive the business and regain the lost EBT customers.