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If you operate a retail grocery store, you may be part of the EBT system. This is part of the so-called “food stamp” program through which certain individuals are able to purchase specified food options using their EBT cards.
As part of the EBT system, you may have received notification that your store is in violation of the SNAP program. SNAP stands for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The violation notice is sent to you from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, or USDA.
If your grocery store has been cited for violation or violations of the SNAP program, you need to understand your legal rights. You need to understand the basics of the law related to a SNAP violation and what you can and must do to best protect your legal interests.
Types of SNAP Violations
There are certain types of SNAP violations that occur most often. Although there are other types of SNAP violations, SNAP violation notices most frequently allege that your grocery store violated the law by:
In some instances, a merchant who receives a SNAP violation notice will be notified of multiple violations, rather than just one. In addition, a SNAP violation letter oftentimes includes allegations that certain violations were repeated multiple times.
Initial Response to SNAP Violation Letter
The law and associated regulations for SNAP violations set forth specific time frames within which a store owner must respond to a violation notice. Upon receipt of a USDA SNAP violation notice, the grocery store has 10 days to submit a response to the allegations contained in the notification.
The failure to submit a response to a SNAP violation letter within the 10-day time period will result in the USDA determining that the allegations contained in the violation notice are true and correct. You may be prevented from ever taking action to set aside that determination by the agency.
The response to the violation notice must set forth bona fide legal defenses to the accusations being made by the USDA regarding a store’s involvement with SNAP. The importance of this response cannot be understated.
The reality is that the principal of a grocery store typically does not have the experience necessary to frame properly a response to a USDA SNAP violation notice. Therefore, a merchant typically best protects legal rights and interests by engaging the services of a skilled, experienced SNAP violation defense attorney immediately upon receipt of a notification of noncompliance from the USDA.
Administrative Review by USDA
The USDA will review the response letter submitted by the merchant. At this juncture, the agency will either agree with the contentions made by the store, uphold the original determination regarding a violation, or modify the original violation notice in some way.
This decision is submitted to the store. Once again, the store has 10 days in which to respond to the determination of the USDA after its review of the merchant’s initial response.
Judicial Review in Federal Court
If the grocery store fails to prevail in the administrative review phase, the merchant is able to seek what legally is known as a judicial review in the U.S. District Court. This represents what can legitimately described as a special type of civil action brought by the aggrieved agency.
The burden of proof is on the grocery store to prove that the USDA erred in concluding that a SNAP violation or violations have occurred. The court will render a decision regarding the matter. In theory, a merchant could appeal an adverse decision of the District Court to the U.S. Court of Appeals.
Penalty for Violation
Generally speaking, there are two types of penalties that can be imposed when a determination is made that a merchant violated the terms of SNAP. First, the store can be suspended on a temporary basis from participating in SNAP. Second, a merchant can be removed permanently from participating in SNAP.
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