What is a USDA SNAP Violation?
For any business that accepts payment from Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs (SNAP) such as Electronic Benefit Transfers (EBT), Women & Infant Care (WIC) or food stamps, there is always a danger of falling into non-compliance and losing qualification to accept SNAP payments from customers. This can cause gross sales losses of hundreds or even thousands of dollars per day. A USDA SNAP violation can come in several different types, many of which can result in a store being disqualified, but generally the violations range from basic non-compliance issues (selling unqualified items) to trafficking (accepting payment for which no goods were sold).
Punishments and Factors
The punishments for violations range from civil fines and disqualifications (6 months to permanent) to criminal charges. Making matters more complicated, a store owner or an applicant can be subject to a USDA SNAP violation even though the violating acts may have occurred with the personnel or the management of the company, regardless of whether or not the owner was aware of the violations.
How to Prevent a USDA SNAP Violation
The most important thing a store can do to prevent a USDA SNAP violation is to be organized, and have the following practices ingrained in your operation:
- Written Guidelines: One of the significant factors looked at by the USDA when evaluating a violation claim is whether or not the offending company has written guidelines in place that pre-date the alleged violations. The best way to do this is to have an attorney draft guidelines based upon the statutory factors, and then to include the guidelines as part of the employment agreement between the company and each of its employees. These guidelines should outline what products qualify for what programs, and a specific list of actions that should never be taken. With each employee’s signature on the guidelines, the company is better insulated from the employees willful violations.
- Training: A written training program should be developed and put into action. Based primarily on the guidelines I discussed above, every training program should help to prepare the employees for the variety of situations he/she could come into contact with in each of these programs. The program itself should be directly administered by the management of the company to ensure the employee’s completion. This doesn’t have to be a day long program or anything like that, but it just needs to be thorough enough to answer any questions the employee may have, and to equip them with enough knowledge to identify appropriate transactions, and to ask the management questions when he/she doesn’t know how to handle transactions.
- Store Organization & Operation: How a store tracks its EBT, Food Stamp and WIC sales goes a long way to identifying and correcting problems before the USDA even notices them. An updated Point of Sale system should be able to identify each transaction, the exact items purchased and for what amounts – and flag items that may not qualify. If a store does not have the ability to acquire new equipment, then a journal and the collection of a detailed receipt will be sufficient to verify your compliance with the USDA.
Generally speaking, the best policy is to be organized ahead of time. If the store has its employees sign agreements that they know the SNAP policies, in addition to having its management train the employees in the policies, then all that remains is to track the purchases and verify that the program is being handled correctly.
Are you protected?
Does your company have a comprehensive SNAP policy? If not, maybe it’s time to develop one. Contact our offices for more information. See our other articles to learn more about what to do if your company has received a Charge Letter alleging a violation of SNAP policies.