The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) benefits to households. These EBT benefits are supposed to be used to purchase eligible food items. Formerly called Food Stamps, these benefits are designed to cover purchases of meats, dairy products, fruits, vegetables and grains. However, SNAP participants frequently attempt to use these benefits for other purposes.
If a SNAP retailer accepts SNAP benefits for something other than eligible food, then a SNAP violation has occurred. Different types of violations have different types of SNAP disqualifications. There are two basic types of disqualifications: (1) term disqualifications; and (2) permanent disqualifications. All of the rules for disqualifications can be found in the USDA's regulations.
Permanent SNAP Disqualification
A permanent SNAP disqualification is the most severe action that the USDA can take. This disqualification type is reserved for stores that have been found guilty of trafficking in SNAP benefits. In the case of a permanent SNAP disqualification, the word "permanent" means forever. Once you are disqualified, your disqualification will last for the rest of your life. These types of cases almost always require professional representation to win.
Three to Five Year SNAP Disqualification
This type of SNAP disqualification is reserved for SNAP violations involving the sale of major-ineligible items. Such items include alcohol, gasoline, car products, clothes, and other obvious items that are in no way related to food. This type of disqualification is also used for "reciprocal WIC disqualifications." In these cases, a state WIC office has disqualified your store, and the USDA "reciprocates" by disqualifying your store from SNAP.
Six Month SNAP Disqualification
The six (6) month SNAP disqualification is the lightest disqualification penalty that a SNAP violating retailer can receive. This sanction is reserved for SNAP retailers who have sold minor-ineligible items on EBT. Typically, these items include food related products that aren't food. For example, plastic cups, plastic forks, paper plates, plastic baggies and other items will result in a six month SNAP disqualification if the retailer is caught. Though the punishment is for a set six months, from a practical standpoint, it is much closer to nine (9) months. It takes roughly 60 - 90 days for a EBT business application to be granted. The application cannot be filed until ten (10) days before the end of the disqualification.
SNAP Violation Charge Letters from the USDA
If the USDA is planning to issue a SNAP disqualification, they have to first send out a Charge Letter. This letter is delivered by UPS and contains the specific charges that the USDA believes fit the proposed disqualification. Trafficking Charge Letters have either lists of transactions attached to them, or specific descriptions of transactions that have occurred. Three to Five year SNAP disqualification Charge Letters often have specific transaction descriptions, or a general statement that the store was disqualified from WIC.
Six-month SNAP disqualification letters always have transaction descriptions attached. These descriptions are affidavits from one or more under cover SNAP investigators, usually outlining the specific events in a transaction. We recommend that you contact our offices to learn about what defenses you may have to this type of disqualification.