Responding to a USDA SNAP Violation Letter
As I discussed in another article about Preventing a USDA SNAP Violation, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) oversees the handling of violations of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs (SNAP) which are alleged to have occurred inside a store accepting EBT, WIC or Food Stamp products. The USDA is specifically responsible for compiling what is called a Charge Letter, or a USDA SNAP Violation Letter, which is the formal document that the department uses to place offending stores on notice of the charges against them. Usually, attached to the charge letter is the evidence that the USDA has compiled, and an explanation of why they believe the evidence amounts to a SNAP violation. But the letter is also designed to provide the store with the opportunity to respond to the USDA’s allegations, and participate in process.
AS SOON AS YOU GET A CHARGE LETTER, CONTACT AN ATTORNEY. There is a timeline inside of which the store must respond to the specific allegations set forth in the Charge Letter. The time limit is ten (10) days from the date the store (or the registrant) received the letter. If the store fails to respond to the letter, the USDA will present its charges without opposition, and the Food & Nutrition Services committee will render its opinion without the store’s input.
The store’s response to the letter, however, is extremely important as the response can either challenge the USDA’s findings by providing an explanation, or the response can request a Civil Money Penalty be imposed in lieu of a disqualification. In the event the store seeks the imposition of a Civil Money Penalty rather than a disqualification, the Food & Nutrition Services committee will consider the following:
- Has the store developed an effective compliance policy, which is in writing and in effect at the time that the alleged violation occurred?
- Can the store prove that the compliance policy was in existence and in effect prior to the occurrence of the alleged violations?
- Does the store have an instituted and effective training program to train the store’s employees on the acceptance of EBT, WIC and Food Stamp payments?
- Was the store’s ownership aware of, involved in or benefiting from the violations? Or, was the management aware of or involved in the violations?
In truth, a violation on behalf of any store employee is a problem that is best prevented rather than defended. But, any store who faces a violation should seriously consider contacting an attorney immediately to make sure that a bad problem doesn’t grow into a insurmountable one.
My offices handle SNAP violations and offer free consultations to help answer any questions you may have about the programs or the process. Don’t hesitate to contact me (813) 228-0658.