HomeWhat to Do if You’ve Been Accused of SNAP Fraud or Trafficking

What to Do if You’ve Been Accused of SNAP Fraud or Trafficking

What to Do if You’ve Been Accused of SNAP Fraud or Trafficking

Being accused of SNAP fraud or trafficking can be scary. You may feel anxious, angry, or confused. But stay calm – this article will walk you through what to do next.

First, take a deep breath. Panicking won’t help. Let’s break down the situation step-by-step so you understand what’s happening.

What is SNAP Fraud and Trafficking?

SNAP stands for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps. It provides food assistance to low-income individuals and families.

SNAP fraud is when someone lies on their application to get benefits they don’t qualify for or to get more benefits than they’re eligible for. SNAP trafficking is when someone trades their SNAP benefits for cash or other ineligible items.

Both are illegal. If the government thinks you committed SNAP fraud or trafficking, they may send you a letter accusing you and saying they plan to disqualify you from the program.

What Should I Do After Getting a Disqualification Letter?

First, don’t panic. You have options. The letter should explain why you are being accused. Make sure you understand the allegations against you. If it doesn’t make sense, call the number on the letter to clarify.

Next, appeal the decision if you disagree. You have 90 days to request a fair hearing appealing the disqualification. The letter will explain how to do this. Submit the request in writing following the instructions.

An administrative law judge will hear your appeal and decide if the disqualification was proper. You can present evidence and question witnesses. Administrative hearings allow you to tell your side of the story.

Should I Get a Lawyer?

You can have a lawyer represent you at the hearing, but it’s not required. If you can’t afford a lawyer, research legal aid organizations in your area that may provide free representation.

A lawyer can help by:

  • Reviewing evidence and paperwork
  • Identifying defenses and legal arguments
  • Questioning witnesses at the hearing
  • Negotiating a settlement to avoid disqualification

If you choose to represent yourself, the judge will explain court procedures so you can effectively present your case.

What Are Possible Defenses?

There are many possible defenses depending on your specific situation. Common defenses include:

  • Misidentification – You are accused of something you didn’t do.
  • Duress – You were forced or coerced into committing fraud.
  • No intent – It was an honest mistake or misunderstanding.
  • Authorized use – Someone else was allowed to use your benefits properly.
  • Disability – A physical or mental condition prevented your compliance.

An experienced lawyer can advise if any of these defenses apply to your case.

What Happens If I Lose My Appeal?

If you lose, you will be disqualified from SNAP for the period stated in the letter, often 1 year or permanently. Your benefits will stop right away, even if you were receiving them pending your hearing.

You may also have to repay any overpaid benefits. The judge will explain repayment procedures. Failure to repay may result in legal action to collect the debt.

A disqualification may also impact your eligibility for other programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).

Are There Other Consequences?

Possibly. If the judge upholds your disqualification, your case may be referred for criminal prosecution. SNAP fraud and trafficking over $100 are federal crimes. If convicted, penalties can include:

  • Fines up to $250,000
  • Imprisonment for up to 20 years
  • Permanent disqualification from SNAP

Even if not criminally prosecuted, SNAP disqualifications remain on your record permanently and can impact future eligibility.

What If I Can’t Afford Food?

If losing SNAP benefits will leave you without groceries, immediately contact local food pantries, soup kitchens, and shelters for emergency food assistance. Nonprofits like Feeding America have networks to help. Religious organizations and social services agencies also offer meals and groceries.

Food banks can help you access nutritional food. Seek help before you are desperate – organizations can better assist if given time to prepare.

How Do I Prevent This in the Future?

If your disqualification was an honest mistake, be more careful in reporting income and following program rules going forward. Ask your caseworker if you have questions.

But if you were involved in intentional fraud or trafficking, stop immediately. Get social services support like SNAP-Ed nutrition education if needed. The penalties only get worse if repeated.

Ultimately, SNAP provides important food assistance to those in need. Jeopardizing that harms the most vulnerable. Learn from this experience and make better choices moving forward.

What If I’m Innocent?

If you are truly innocent, keep fighting. File an appeal and present your evidence. Look into legal aid for representation. Don’t let an unfair disqualification go unchallenged.

Mistakes happen. Bureaucracy can be impersonal. But the truth matters. With perseverance and patience, justice can prevail. You deserve to be heard.

Stay hopeful through this difficult process. Know that many share this struggle. Connect with community organizations for emotional and practical support. And remember – this too shall pass.

Your integrity is more important than any government program. You know the truth in your heart. Ultimately, that can never be taken away no matter the outcome.

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