We represent many clients who own, operate, or manage convenience stores, gas stations, and other retail business operations. Many of these retail stores sell products to people who receive government assistance. Store owners who have the privilege of accepting EBT cards for payment must strictly adhere to federal regulations. The best approach is a systematic plan and procedure to prevent any violation. You should maintain a written policy and procedures to handle training, and specifically state the punishment to an employee for violation of the rules. You should review the publications from the USDA online to protect your business. Proper planning prevents poor performance (PPPPP)!
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) oversees the handling of violations of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) it claims occurred by a store accepting EBT, WIC, or Food Stamp products. The USDA will issue a written notice called a “CHARGE LETTER,” or a USDA SNAP Violation Letter, which is the document that the department uses to place the offending store on notice of the charges levied against that store. Usually, attached to the charge letter should be evidence the USDA compiled, along with a report of why they believe the evidence supports a SNAP violation. This “Charging Letter” is designed to provide the store the opportunity to respond to the USDA’s allegations in accordance with their rules. The problem is that the rules are not clear to most store owners. You must be careful in responding. Keep in mind you have constitutional rights to remain silent. Depending on the circumstances, what you say, even though you think your actions were proper, can form the basis for violations and possible criminal charges.
There is a set timeline which a store must respond to and defend the specific allegations referenced in the Charge Letter. The time limit is ten (10) days from the date the store received the letter. If you fail to timely respond to the letter, the USDA will process the charges without your defense, and the governing agency will render its opinion against you without hearing your defense or mitigating factors.
Your response and defenses should either challenge the USDA’s findings by providing an explanation, or you can demand a Civil Money Penalty in lieu of a disqualification if you believe you qualify. If you seek a Civil Money Penalty instead of disqualification, the Food & Nutrition Services committee will consider the following listed below. Be careful as the USDA has strict requirement for each element. The elements to qualify are as follows:
Has the store developed an effective compliance policy, which is in writing and in effect at the time the alleged violation occurred?
Can the store prove the compliance policy was in existence and in effect prior to the occurrence of the alleged violations?
Does the store have an instituted and effective training program to train the store’s employees on the acceptance of EBT, WIC, and Food Stamp payments?
Was the store’s ownership aware of, involved in, or benefiting from the violations? Or, was the management aware of or involved in the violations?
Any business who faces a violation should seriously consider contacting an attorney immediately so you do not say something you might regret, hurt your case, or cause a disqualification. You might make it harder for an attorney to fix a problem if you don’t understand the law and respond properly.
Our office handles a wide variety of issues related to convenience stores, liquor stores, gas stations, and SNAP violations. We offer a consultation to answer any questions you may have about the program or the process. Our office also works with, and consults with, other attorneys around the country to stay on top of the law.
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