Never published but still written… theses articles were not reviewed by a lawyer and should not be considered legal advice.
EBT- What is it? And how do I get it?
You’ve heard people talking about SNAP and EBT, but what are they? SNAP stands for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and provides monetary food benefits for low-income people. The benefits are distributed on an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) transaction card that is similar to a debit card and replaced traditional food stamps in the late 1990s. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Services (FNS) authorizes stores to accept SNAP, and each individual state manages its own EBT system.
Farmers markets have the opportunity to supply SNAP participants with nutrient-rich foods like strawberries, zucchinis, sourdough bread, and homemade cheeses. SNAP participants can also put their benefits toward seeds or plants that can be used to grow foods at home.
The program not only helps the participants, but also the vendors and farmers make a profit in the process. Why not have your market become an EBT retailer?
While on your journey to accepting EBT, you may experience a few hiccups along the way. Some helpful tips can help smooth these bumps.
The first step is to fill out an application. The process can be done online but, there are a few snags to avoid. To make sure everything is filled out accurately, hiring an attorney is worth considering. If you make an error in this process, it could cost you later.
After submission, cross your fingers that you get approved. But denial can occur for reasons like having a family member who was suspended in the past, being labeled an “ineligible firm,” or lacking “business integrity and reputation.” If you are denied, hiring an attorney may help you appeal the USDA’s decision.
If your application does get approved, the next step involves proper implementation and compliance. A helpful step is to have an attorney draft written guidelines for the other vendors and farmers to sign. Also, it is your responsibility to make sure everyone receives proper training.
Even after these assurances, the USDA could send you a violation letter. Penalties can range anywhere from an expensive fine to a permanent end to your EBT acceptance and criminal charges. You only have 10 days to respond, but an attorney who specializes in this area could be the difference between a letter that gets overlooked and a compelling argument the USDA cannot deny.
You’ve been to other markets that use SNAP. You’ve watched people able to get fresh fruits and vegetables thanks to the program. And you’ve seen vendors turn a profit as a result. It’s a win-win situation. Maybe you should apply to accept EBT at your market. Why can’t you help feed those who are less fortunate while also making money?
It took a bit, but you finished the application. You researched the procedure, set up an account, clicked accept a few times for all that legal jargon, gathered the required documents, and filled out every line carefully. Looking back, maybe you should have had some professional help run you through the process just to make sure everything was in order. But all of that work was for nothing because guess what… you were denied.
There are many reasons why the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) may not approve your application to accept EBT at your market. But sometimes it’s the USDA’s mistake not yours. Maybe your crazy uncle was suspended a few years ago and now just because you’re related, you are taking some of the fall. Perhaps your market was deemed as having a lack of “business integrity and reputation.” Or possibly your market was labeled an “ineligible firm” by mistake. Ouch and what does that even mean?
If any of the above happened to you, there is something you can do. Appeal. But hurry, you only have a few days.
Following the EBT Rules: Make it a snap
SNAP is great for both the recipients and the vendors. But at times it may feel like a whirlwind of rules and regulations, how will you keep yourself safe?
Once your application to accept EBT at you market is approved, you still need to take a few steps for proper implementation.
You must design some form of tokens or paper scrip to be used at the market. Careful, you don’t want people to make any counterfeit versions. All farmers and vendors need to be trained in the procedure and rules to redeem these benefits. Make sure everyone knows exactly what can and cannot be purchased with EBT. The market will need someone to organize and take care of the accounting. There needs to be a method in place for reimbursing the vendors. And someone needs to be responsible for storing the supplies and bringing them to each market.
We are humans; we make mistakes. So what if something slips through the cracks? Is everyone at the market properly trained? As a market owner, it is your responsibility to make sure everyone follows the rules. What if one person makes an error?
Luckily, there are some things you can to do to make your life a little easier and ensure your market is protected. Save yourself from a possible fine or worse, a permanent end to your ability to accept SNAP, with some helpful hints.
The first thing you should do is have an attorney draft a set of written guidelines. These guidelines should be signed by each vendor or farmer at your market. The second step is to train these vendors and farmers. Knowledge is power, right? Mistake are made when people do not know what to do. And remember, you are responsible for them. Finally, make sure you stay organized and keep good records. You may be able to correct problems before the USDA discovers them.
Be smart. Be preemptive.
The USDA or U got Shut Down, Ah!
You just got back from a successful day running your market. The weather was sunny and cool. There was a nice crowd. Vendors buzzed with excitement over the fruitful business day. You heard patrons chat about coming back and bringing their friends. And everyone seemed to leave in a cheery mood. When you check your mail, there is a letter from the United States Department of Agriculture or the USDA. Hmm… what could it be?
You tear open the envelope and pull out the pages only to find what you feared, trouble. The use of EBT at your market has been suspended for 6 months. But why?
The USDA can cite you with a number of possible violations when it comes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP. Maybe it was something you did unknowingly, maybe it was another person’s fault, or maybe it was just a mistake on their part.
Six months is not even the worst punishment. Depending on the situation, the USDA could shut down your EBT use for good or even slap you with criminal charges. They could also hit you with a steep monetary fine up to $11,000 for each illegal transaction with an added fee three times the amount of the transaction’s value on top.
Regardless of the violation or punishment, what should you do? Think fast, and procrastinators beware. You only have 10 days from the time you receive the letter to respond. That means 10 days to read thoroughly through the violation letter, understand exactly what happened, decide to challenge the charges or try to lessen the punishment, create a response for each violation, gather evidence if necessary, and write up that response in a professional manner. Sound a tad overwhelming?
It is okay. Ask for help. An attorney who specializes in SNAP Violation Letters will be able to handle your situation with ease. And that is not even the beginning. After you respond to them, they will respond to you, you may need to respond to them again, and they will respond to you again. Needless to say, help from a profession could save you a lot of time and headache.