HomeSNAP Violation Lawyers Explain the Most Common Violations Stores Commit

SNAP Violation Lawyers Explain the Most Common Violations Stores Commit

SNAP Violation Lawyers Explain the Most Common Violations Stores Commit

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides crucial food assistance to millions of low-income individuals and families across the country. While SNAP does enormous good, some retailers unfortunately commit violations that undermine the program’s integrity. In this article, SNAP violation lawyers explain the most common ways stores break SNAP rules, and how accused retailers can fight back.

Trafficking SNAP Benefits

One of the most serious SNAP violations a store can commit is trafficking – illegally exchanging SNAP benefits for cash or other ineligible items[1]. This could involve buying a customer’s $100 in SNAP benefits for $50 cash, or giving a customer ineligible items like alcohol or cigarettes in exchange for SNAP funds. Trafficking defrauds taxpayers and diverts aid from families in need, so it is dealt with harshly. A first trafficking offense brings a 1 year disqualification, rising to permanent disqualification for subsequent offenses[2].

However, trafficking can be challenging to defend against. In many cases, a dishonest clerk engaged in trafficking without the owner’s knowledge. Since owners are ultimately responsible for their employees’ actions, they can face severe penalties. A skilled SNAP violation lawyer can argue that trafficking was an isolated incident rather than a pattern of fraud. For example, if the owner had a written policy prohibiting trafficking and requiring employee training, but a rogue clerk disobeyed, a lawyer may convince the USDA to issue a warning or shorter disqualification rather than permanently banning the store from SNAP[3].

Selling Ineligible Items

SNAP benefits can only be used to purchase food items for home consumption – not premade hot foods, alcohol, tobacco, or non-food products[4]. Selling major ineligible items like alcohol or electronics can trigger disqualification[5]. However, even selling minor ineligible items like paper towels repeatedly over time can result in penalties if deemed a pattern. Store owners must diligently train staff on what can and cannot be purchased with SNAP.

Defending against ineligible sales violations requires showing the sales were isolated incidents or made in good faith. For example, if a new cashier was never trained properly, a lawyer could argue the owner tried to comply in good faith. Or, if the undercover investigator badgered the clerk to break rules after initial refusals, the lawyer may claim entrapment[6]. Thorough employee training and clear written policies are key to showing good faith.

Overcharging on Items

SNAP retailers cannot charge higher prices for SNAP recipients than non-SNAP customers. This prevents gouging public aid recipients. If investigators catch a store overcharging on multiple occasions, disqualification can result. Defending against overcharge allegations requires analyzing the evidence to spot errors or show the higher prices were innocent mistakes, not intentional gouging.

Providing Cash as Change

SNAP recipients are prohibited from using benefits to withdraw cash. If a customer buys a small item like a pack of gum for $1 with $20 in SNAP benefits, the store cannot provide $19 cash as change – only other eligible food items. This ban prevents converting SNAP to cash. If caught providing prohibited cash change, a store may face fines or disqualification.

However, small stores often provide cash change to help customers. A lawyer can argue this shows ignorance of complex rules, not fraud. Evidence that the owner trained staff against this practice helps demonstrate good faith. The lawyer may negotiate to avoid disqualification and instead pay a fine or accept shorter disqualification.

Submitting False Information on SNAP Applications

To be authorized as a SNAP retailer, stores must submit applications with ownership details, store information, and an agreement to follow program rules. However, some stores provide false information like concealing ownership details of sanctioned individuals. This can result in application denial and disqualification from SNAP.

Defending against application fraud requires scrutinizing the alleged falsehoods to identify potential investigative errors or unintended mistakes. For example, ownership structure can be complex – an honest misunderstanding may occur rather than intentional deceit. Thoroughly reviewing the application can reveal truthfulness.

Failing to Maintain Adequate Stock

SNAP retailers must stock sufficient quantities of staple foods like meat, dairy, and produce to qualify as a grocery store rather than a specialty retailer. Stores found stocking too many non-food items and inadequate real food may be expelled from SNAP. However, what constitutes “adequate” stock is subjective and enforcement varies.

To fight back, lawyers can conduct extensive photographic documentation of stock levels to show the store meets requirements. Vague rules give discretion to investigators, so thorough evidence of compliance is key.

Purchasing Excessive Amounts of Stock

SNAP retailers cannot purchase excessive food stock far beyond what they could sell before it spoils. This indicates attempts to improperly obtain SNAP funds without running a legitimate store. However, what constitutes “excessive” is vague and often based on the investigator’s opinion.

By analyzing inventory records and sales figures, SNAP lawyers can often prove the disputed stock purchases were reasonable and intended to meet customer demand. Vague rules give retailers wiggle room if the right evidence is presented.

Fighting SNAP Violations

Given the severe penalties for SNAP violations, having an experienced lawyer is critical. They understand program rules and where there may be weaknesses in the prosecution’s case. They can identify and raise doubts through detailed analysis of the evidence and regulations. And if no viable defense exists, they can negotiate alternate settlements like reduced disqualification periods or fines rather than permanent expulsion from SNAP.

SNAP lawyers have successfully defended hundreds of retailers accused of violations. While the government takes SNAP integrity seriously, skillful lawyering can often achieve favorable outcomes short of the “death penalty” of permanent disqualification.

If your store is accused of SNAP violations, don’t delay in contacting a lawyer. You have only 10 days to respond to charges, so you need expert advice fast. A knowledgeable legal defense gives retailers their best chance at preserving their business and livelihood in the face of allegations.

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