SNAP Violations Attorney
Protect Your Business. Call Us Today at (215) 839-9529.
At Fienman Defense, we handle Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) violation cases throughout the country. We help our clients with everything from SNAP compliance to judicial appeals, as well as SNAP suspensions and disqualifications. Take action to preserve your business and prevent it from losing permanent access to EBT transactions. Allow our SNAP violation attorneys to build a strong defense against the fraud allegations against your store.
Call us today at (215) 839-9529, or reach us through our online form to request a free case evaluation.
What Is SNAP and What Happens with SNAP Fraud?
As a replacement for the Food Stamp program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program was introduced by the federal government in the late 1990s. Participants of the program are provided with a set amount of benefits each month for the purchase of food items. Eligible individuals are provided with an (electronic benefits transfer) EBT card, which they can only use to pay for the food. Specific rules govern how EBT cards may be used in retail food stores. Any violation of these rules by grocery stores, retail stores, gas stations, convenience stores, or other locations where cards are used may be designated as a SNAP violation, also referred to as food stamp fraud.
EBT Card Use
Although having similar functionality as a traditional debit card, an EBT card does feature a few differences:
- SNAP benefits on an EBT card are not to be used for general use and other spending
- SNAP benefits may not be used for cash-back purposes
- Accepting Unqualified Purchases – The only qualified purchases available through a SNAP EBT card are those for food and non-alcoholic drinks that are consumed at home after being purchased at a retail store. Examples of unqualified purchases with an EBT card include medicine and vitamins, hot food consumed in the store, pet food, tobacco and alcohol, household supplies, and other non-food items.
- Falsified SNAP Application – This violation refers to an intentional submission of false information on the store’s EBT benefits application to the FNS.
- Inaccurate Coupon Accounting – This occurs when coupon redemptions of the retail store are higher in dollar value than the dollar value of the food sold during a specific period of time.
- Maintaining a “Tab” in Exchange for EBT Card Benefits – This this type of SNAP violation (food stamp fraud) occurs when the store returns a favor through a creditor tab to a customer in exchange for their use of an EBT card.
- Receiving SNAP Benefits from an Unqualified Purchaser – This violation occurs when an employee of the store accepts SNAP benefits from a person not authorized or entitled to use the benefits.
- Disqualified from the WIC Program – Under certain circumstances, when a store has been disqualified from participating in the WIC program, the USDA may disqualify the store from receiving EBT card transactions.
- Civil fine (called a Civil Monetary Penalty or “CMP”)
- Suspended access to the EBT terminal
- Permanent disqualification
Eligible EBT card holders feeding a family of four may receive up to $632 per month worth of benefits. Individuals may receive about $189 worth of benefits per month. Those amounts are dependent upon household income, number of household members, and other specific circumstances.
SNAP Violation Letters
The U.S. Code and the Code of Federal Regulations outline specific rules that govern the use of EBT cards and retail food stores. Enforcement of these rules is carried out by the Food & Nutrition Service (FNS), a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
In the majority of cases, food retailers adhere to the guidelines and rules established by federal and state laws. However, if a store is found to have committed a food stamp fraud, the FNS will send a SNAP violation letter to the retailer.
If your store receives one of these food stamp investigation letters, you only have 10 days to respond. If your store fails to respond within this time frame, the eligibility of your store to accept EBT may be either suspended or terminated. It’s important to reach out to a SNAP violation attorney immediately if you receive a SNAP violation letter. A lawyer can contact the FNS and other government entities and protect your ability to receive SNAP funds.
Many times, a retailer may not even be aware they have violated SNAP rules. Sometimes this occurs when employees are violating the system behind the scenes. SNAP is a federal program that is implemented by each state – all violations are determined by the state in which those violations occur.
Who Investigates SNAP Fraud?
If you receive a SNAP fraud letter, that may mean that an investigation has already taken place. However, it also gives you an opportunity to respond and take part in the ongoing investigation for SNAP fraud. Your primary contact will be the FNS, as part of the USDA.
The investigation likely began with a complaint or a review of your records that indicated an inconsistency. It is likely that the FNS has very little information about your activities. It is important to request information from the FNS and contribute additional evidence that supports your case. A food stamp fraud lawyer can help you through an investigation if you receive a SNAP charge letter.
Don’t let fraud charges impact your business. Contact our experienced Food Stamp Fraud defense attorney today: (215) 839-9529.
What Is SNAP or Food Stamp Fraud?
If your retail store receives a SNAP violation letter, it may be due to one or more of the following reasons:
Trafficking – Transactions that are fraudulently accepted equate to trafficking. As it concerns SNAP violations, trafficking refers to the intentional or unintentional stealing of these federal benefits.
There are many situations in which a store employee or the owner has no idea that their actions are illegal. It’s important to review your specific situation with a SNAP violation attorney to make sure your rights are protected throughout the investigation process.
What Are the Penalties for SNAP Fraud?
The USDA has the authority to enforce various food stamp fraud penalties for SNAP violations (food stamp fraud). These include, but are not limited to:
These penalties are very serious and can affect your ability to stay in business. Receiving a civil fine from the USDA could cost your business tens of thousands of dollars. However, that fine can be negotiated with the FNS. It is best to work with a SNAP violation attorney to guide you through this process.
A temporary suspension of your access to EBT transactions can also have a significant impact on your revenue. A permanent disqualification, especially if you are a convenience or grocery store, has the potential to end your business. If your food stamp access has been limited, you should immediately call a SNAP violation lawyer who can review your situation and work with the FNS to regain your status.
In rare cases, criminal charges are possible for a SNAP violation depending on the scope and nature of the allegations. Charges for food stamp fraud or other financial or white-collar crimes are possible. It is important to have an experienced SNAP violation attorney represent you and your business if you receive a food stamp charge letter from the USDA.
Have you received a SNAP violation letter? You have 10 days to respond. We can help: (215) 839-9529.
Civil Monetary Penalty
The USDA is authorized by the Federal Regulations to enforce a civil fine against any store committing SNAP fraud or food stamp fraud in the form of trafficking. The degree of the fine imposed will be based on the number of alleged offenses, the volume of transactions, and the gravity of the allegations. If a retail store has an existing compliance program in place, the USDA will likely enforce a civil fine – otherwise, a business may face suspended access or permanent disqualification from EBT card transactions.
A disqualification on a temporary basis can be quite damaging to the revenue of a business. The USDA is charged by the Federal Regulations to issue disqualifications on a temporary basis that range from six months to five years in length. The length of the disqualification will correspond to the evidence brought against your store. If your business has received a previous violation, the USDA will likely impose a longer disqualification period. With experienced SNAP violation lawyers on your side, you can likely reduce the length of this disqualification period.
In the most serious cases of food stamp fraud, a business may receive a permanent SNAP retailer disqualification from receiving revenue via EBT card transactions. In many cases, most of a store’s yearly revenue can be due to EBT transactions. Some of the offenses and scenarios that can lead the USDA to permanently disqualify your store include:
An owner, manager, or other employee knowingly provides false information on a SNAP program application, or they provide false information when requested.
You, as the owner, or one or more of your employees knowingly participates in EBT trafficking. This activity of stealing, buying, or exchanging SNAP benefits may occur through an exchange of cash or other favors or items.
As it is clearly evident, grocery and convenience stores have much to lose after receiving a SNAP violation letter. It’s vitally important for your store to take deliberate measures in order to remain compliant and prevent these violations. Consulting with a food stamp lawyer is one way to protect the future of your retail food business.
Is SNAP Fraud a Felony?
Although most of the penalties for food stamp fraud involve administrative penalties through the USDA, criminal charges are possible. Because SNAP benefits are managed through a federal government agency, SNAP fraud is a federal crime. This is different from most crimes based on state law that are handled in state court. Federal crimes are managed in federal court with federal prosecutors and judges.
Penalties can also be more significant in federal crimes. If you are convicted of a federal crime, you may face time in federal prison instead of local jails or state prisons. You may also face significant criminal fines and other penalties that are separate from the administrative penalties mentioned earlier.
There are different types of crimes that you may be charged for SNAP fraud. If the amount of fraud is under $100, then the crime is typically charged as a misdemeanor. If the fraud is for an amount over $100, then it is typically charged as a felony. Most cases of food stamp fraud are felonies. Multiple people may be charged with crimes from one business that committed SNAP fraud.
Contact Experienced SNAP Violation Lawyers
At Fienman Defense, we represent clients across the country involved in SNAP violation cases. Our team is able to help you if your store is facing potential or existing SNAP/food stamp fraud issues involving judicial appeals, compliance, suspensions, and disqualifications. Our team of attorneys is here to help you preserve your revenue stream and your business.
Contact us today at (215) 839-9529 to set up a free consultation.