On October 30, 2020, a SNAP, known previously as the “food stamp program”, retailer in the greater Washington D.C. area requested an administrative review of the USDA – FNS Retailer Operations Division’s determination to permanently disqualify it from participation in SNAP. Depending on their geographic location and community typically served, such a decision can often be a death sentence for grocers, convenience stores, and the like. The Retailer Operations Division disqualified this specific store based on allegations that it was trafficking SNAP benefits. As its basis for disqualification, the Retailer Operations Division relied on an investigation conducted in March 2020, during which four (4) undercover compliance visits were made to the retailer. In response to the disqualification determination, the store responded with a compelling argument that there was insufficient evidence to prove that a single instance of trafficking occurred during the investigation. Further delegitimizing the investigation’s findings was the fact that the undercover compliance visits were conducted using largely improper means.
Along with its unsubstantiated evidence argument, the store also emphasized to the Retailer Operations Division its importance to a significantly impoverished community in the Washington D.C. area as a SNAP authorized retailer. This specific ward has very few institutions that have the ability to accept SNAP benefits, and hardly any that provide healthy food options rather than solely prepackaged “junk” foods. This problem is only magnified when involved is a community historically exhibiting alarming rates of obesity and diabetes due to a lack of sufficient healthy food options for its residents. As one of the very few stores with both its variety of healthy food options and status as a SNAP authorized retailer, this store is vital to its community. To amplify its importance to the Retailer Operations Division, the store submitted four (4) letters of support from different non-profit organizations located in the Washington D.C. area that each described its great impact in the area.
What was the final verdict?
The USDA-FNS ultimately found that there was insufficient evidence to corroborate the trafficking allegations to result in permanent disqualification from the SNAP program made by the Retailer Operations Division and reversed the decision, reinstating the store its status as an authorized SNAP retailer.
Reversals of decisions rendered by federal agencies such as the USDA-FNS are extraordinarily rare. However, our office is well-equipped and has the experience necessary to handle such challenges. When involved in such important sectors maintained by large federal agencies, it is prudent to have in place proper policies and procedures to ensure that there is at all times compliance in your establishment with the requisite rules and regulations. Our office can also assist in formulating these policies and procedures to ensure there can be no question of your establishment’s diligence in complying with all agency expectations.