HomeHow to Respond to a Letter of Charges for SNAP Violations

How to Respond to a Letter of Charges for SNAP Violations

How to Respond to a Letter of Charges for SNAP Violations

Getting a letter saying you violated SNAP rules can be scary. But don’t panic! This guide from our federal criminal defense lawyers will help you understand what’s happening and how to respond.

What is SNAP?

SNAP stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. It’s run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and provides food-buying assistance to low-income families. SNAP used to be called food stamps.

Why did I get a letter?

You got a letter because the SNAP agency says you broke the rules. Common violations include:

  • Lying on your application about income, assets, who lives with you, etc.
  • Trading or selling your SNAP benefits instead of using them to buy food.
  • Using SNAP benefits to buy non-food items like alcohol, tobacco, or household supplies.
  • Using someone else’s SNAP card without permission.

There are lots of rules around SNAP – it’s easy to make a mistake, even if you didn’t mean to break the rules!

What will the letter say?

The letter is called a “charge letter.” It will list the violations the agency believes you committed. It will also say if they plan to disqualify you from SNAP, and for how long. Common penalties include:

  • 12 months for a 1st violation
  • 24 months for a 2nd violation
  • Permanent disqualification for a 3rd violation

The letter will explain your right to appeal. You only have 90 days to request a hearing, so don’t wait!

Should I appeal?

Yes! You should always appeal a SNAP disqualification if you disagree with the charges. Even if you did break a rule, the penalty may be too harsh. Or there may be mitigating circumstances that led to the violation.

Some good reasons to appeal include:

  • You didn’t actually break any rules
  • It was an honest mistake
  • You had a good reason or hardship that led to the violation
  • The proposed penalty is too severe

Appealing gives you a chance to tell your side of the story. The hearing officer may agree the violation wasn’t your fault and dismiss the charges. Or they may decide a lesser penalty is fair.

How do I request a hearing?

The letter will explain how to request a hearing. Usually you fill out a form and mail or fax it to the SNAP agency. Be sure to keep a copy for yourself. Include any evidence or documents supporting your case.

The request must be made within 90 days. So don’t delay! If you miss the deadline, you lose your right to appeal.

What happens at the hearing?

SNAP hearings are informal. You’ll meet with a hearing officer from the SNAP agency. They will explain the charges against you. Then you’ll have a chance to tell your side of the story and present any evidence.

Some tips for the hearing:

  • Dress neatly and be polite
  • Bring documents, records, photos, etc. to support your case
  • Bring witnesses who can testify on your behalf
  • Be honest! Don’t lie or make excuses.

The hearing officer will make a written decision based on the evidence. If they still believe you committed a violation, they’ll impose a penalty. But it may be less than what the charge letter proposed.

Should I get a lawyer?

Having a lawyer represent you at a SNAP hearing is a good idea. The rules are complicated, and a lawyer can help present the best case.

A lawyer can:

  • Explain the charges and penalties
  • Gather evidence and documents
  • Interview witnesses
  • Negotiate with the agency for a better deal
  • Question their witnesses at the hearing
  • Make persuasive legal arguments to the hearing officer

This improves your chances of getting the charges dismissed or penalty reduced. If you can’t afford a lawyer, some legal aid organizations may be able to help.

What if I lose?

If you lose at the hearing, you can appeal the decision to an Administrative Law Judge. But this is complicated, so you’ll definitely need a lawyer’s help. Sadly, not everyone who gets SNAP charges can afford an attorney. But don’t lose hope!

Even if the disqualification sticks, it’s not necessarily permanent. You can reapply for SNAP after the disqualification period ends. Be sure to follow all the rules going forward. And if you get another charge letter down the road, appeal it right away!

SNAP provides vital food assistance to millions of struggling Americans. The rules are in place to prevent misuse of taxpayer dollars. But mistakes happen, and you deserve a fair hearing. With the right legal strategy, you may be able to overturn or reduce SNAP penalties. Don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself!

At our law firm, we understand folks on SNAP are already facing hardship. We fight to protect your benefits and keep families fed. If you need help responding to SNAP charges, give us a call! Stay strong and keep fighting.


SNAP charge letter overview: https://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/recipient/eligibility/hearing-process

SNAP penalties for violations: https://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/recipient/penalties

SNAP hearing procedures: https://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/state-snap-hearing-procedures

SNAP disqualification challenges: https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/can-fight-snap-food-stamp-disqualification.html

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