How to Avoid Receiving Charge Letters from USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service: Do’s and Don’ts for SNAP Retailers

USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) administers the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) pursuant to a delegation from Congress and the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. FNS authorizes more than 250,000 retail food stores, large and small, across the country and ensures that SNAP retailers adhere to the requirements of the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008 and FNS’s SNAP regulations.

FNS conducts more than 10,000 investigations of SNAP retailers annually to determine compliance with its regulations and sanctions more than 2,000 firms. The penalties range from warnings to civil money penalties (CMP) to permanent disqualification from SNAP. The agency disqualifies most retailers it charges with program violations and reverses under 1% of cases on administrative review according to FNS SNAP Retailer Data for FY20. As a result, SNAP retailers charged with program violations face a difficult road to keep their licenses, so it is critical for authorized stores to take steps to reduce the likelihood that they get receive charge letters.

These steps include:

  • Training of employees regarding SNAP regulations and procedures:
    • FNS requires SNAP retailers to properly train managers and employees who interact with SNAP beneficiaries
    • To be eligible for a CMP, retailers must meet numerous criteria, including having a written and dated SNAP compliance policy and SNAP training program, as well as maintaining a written record of initial and annual training of its employees
    • Retailers should prepare and disseminate written policies that prohibit employees from purchasing items from customers; they might be undercover FNS investigators offering to sell Red Bull and other eligible food items. Stores have been permanently disqualified from SNAP even when employees have purchased items from undercover investigators with their own funds

  • Purchasing a sophisticated point-of-sale (POS) system that generates and stores itemized receipts:
    • FNS requires SNAP retailers to keep receipts for at least one year. Retailers that do not have sophisticated POS systems that generate itemized receipts face a considerably more difficult road to defeat a charge letter that accuses it of engaging in trafficking in SNAP benefits.

  • Saving purchase invoices for eligible food items:
    • FNS requires SNAP retailers to keep purchase invoices for at least one year. Retailers who do not keep purchase invoices may have difficulty proving it does enough business to support the level of SNAP redemptions without such invoices

SNAP retailers that follow these do’s and don’ts stand a far better chance of keeping their food stamp licenses if they are charged with SNAP violations by FNS. SNAP retailers should also consider installing a proper surveillance system with audio and video storage capabilities. This can reduce shrinkage, provide visual reviews of employees processing EBT payments, and provide the ability to review a FNS undercover SNAP retailer investigation.


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