Defending Grocery Stores Against WIC Enforcement Actions
The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) is a federal program administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), that provides cash grants to state agencies that are responsible for the administration of the program.
When administering WIC, state WIC agencies have strictly interpreted the rules and regulations on enforcement. A vendor can violate the program through the intentional and unintentional actions of its agents and employees, with or without the knowledge of management. Agencies charged with enforcement have a broad range of rigid sanctions available to them.
State WIC Agency Enforcement
Since state WIC agencies are charged with enforcing this program, the agencies are empowered to conduct investigations on vendors to ensure compliance. Often, the agencies become aware of vendor violations by conducting compliance buys where a covert investigator will pose as a participant and attempt to purchase unauthorized food items. Vendors can also be found to violate WIC when the state WIC agency conducts an inventory audit. Further violations can result from compliance issues arising out of a vendor’s use of the WIC Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) system. Our WIC lawyers are well-versed in the various types of violations and resulting sanctions, and counsel our clients nationwide on such matters.
Once the state WIC agency has determined there has been a vendor violation, the agency will send the vendor a notification letter setting forth the grounds for the violation and the resulting sanction. If you have received a notification letter, it is imperative that you seek knowledgeable and effective counsel to protect your grocery’s interests. Immediate representation is necessary because the WIC program is supplementary to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and often disqualification from one will result in disqualification from the other. Would your grocery be able to remain in business if it were to lose participation in both SNAP and WIC?
Before the state WIC agency can impose any sanction, the vendor is entitled to an administrative hearing to review the agency’s findings and whatever action taken by the agency based on those findings. However, such hearings are often only available to vendors who, within a short period of time, usually specified in the notification letter, submit a written request for an administrative hearing. Examples of agency actions that require an administrative hearing are vendor disqualification and the imposition of a civil money penalty in lieu of disqualification. The hearing is trial-like in nature and is governed by applicable state law.
Our WIC lawyers have a proven track record in successfully advocating for clients facing an adverse action by a state WIC agency in administrative hearings. With each client, our attorneys tailor their approach to meet the client’s needs, while utilizing past effective strategies. At Strause Law Group in Louisville and Lexington, Kentucky, we understand the interconnected relationship between SNAP and WIC, and counsel our clients with the goal of obtaining an appropriate resolution of their matters.
If your grocery has received a WIC notification letter, you should seek legal counsel immediately. Early representation is important in effectively challenging the state WIC agency’s determination. Contact us online or call 502-498-8268 or 859-428-7029 to discuss your company’s legal concerns.
Kentucky Grocers Association
Fall 2015 Vol. 5, Issue 2, WIC, Randall Strause