The Department of Human Services (DHS) may decide that something you did violated the rules of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and that you did it on purpose. This is called an "intentional program violation" (IPV). DHS will decide this if you were overpaid in SNAP benefits because:
- You lied or did not tell the whole truth to DHS;
- You did not give DHS all of the facts about your case;
- You used food stamps in a way that is not allowed under food stamp rules, like selling food stamps for cash.
For example, if DHS thinks that you did not tell them about a change in how much money you make on purpose, this is an IPV. If you are charged with an IPV, you will have to pay DHS back for the extra food stamps you were given. Even after you pay DHS back, you could also be in trouble for lying, and you might not be able to get food stamps for as long as 10 years.
What punishments can I face for an IPV?
DHS will take you off of the food stamp program as a penalty. Only the person who actually did the IPV will stop getting food stamps. The rest of the food stamp household will still get food stamps.
How long the suspension of your benefits last will depend on how many times you have intentionally violated the food stamps program:
- 1st IPV: 12 months
- 2nd IPV: 24 months
- 3rd IPV: you will never be allowed to get food stamps again
Sometimes there are bigger penalties, even if this is your first IPV. For example:
- Trading food stamps for a controlled substance (drugs or alcohol): You will not be allowed to get food stamps for 24 months
- Trading food stamps for guns, ammunition, or explosives: You will never be allowed to get food stamps again
- Selling food stamps in the amount of $500 or more: You will never be allowed to get food stamps again
- Getting more than one food stamp allotment at a time: You will not be allowed to get food stamps for 10 years
How will I know if I am charged with an IPV?
If you are charged with an IPV, you will get 2 notices from DHS. One notice will tell you about the overpayment. The other notice will be called a Notification of Suspected Intentional Food Stamp Program Violation.
You should talk to a lawyer before signing this because it can be hard to understand. This notice will come with many other papers, including a Waiver of Right to Administrative Disqualification Hearing, Food Stamp Disqualification Rights, and The Charge and Summary of Evidence.
This Notice of Suspected Intentional Food Stamp Program Violation will come with many other papers, including, the Charge and Summary of Evidence. The Notice will tell you about the IPV hearing process. At an IPV disqualification hearing, DHS must prove that you violated the program rules on purpose. You will also have the opportunity to testify why DHS is wrong and that you didn't commit an IPV.
One of the papers that comes with the Notice of Suspected Intentional Food Stamp Program Violation is called the “Waiver of Right to Administrative Disqualification Hearing, Food Stamp Disqualification Rights.” It will tell you that you can give up your right to a disqualification hearing by signing it and returning it within 10 days. This is called a "waiver." Signing the waiver would mean that you admit to the IPV. Signing it would also mean that you give up your right to a hearing.
Caution: Do not sign the waiver. At a minimum, talk to a lawyer before signing the waiver. If you sign the waiver, you are agreeing that DHS can impose the penalty for an IPV without holding a hearing. It is very important not to sign the waiver without fully understanding how it will affect you. Even if you agree that you did the IPV, you can just decide to not go to the hearing instead of signing the waiver. If you sign the waiver, you will be disqualified right away. You could even be admitting to a crime. If you are charged with a crime, DHS can use the waiver you signed as a confession from you.
What should be in the notices that I get?
The notices must tell you:
- The charges against you
- What evidence DHS has against you and your household
The notices should also warn you that if you do not go to the hearing, the decision will be based only on information from DHS. This means that if you do not go, then no information you have about the IPV will be given to the hearing officer. You should also be given a list of your rights, a description of the penalty that you could be facing, and a statement that this hearing does not stop the state or county you live in from also bringing criminal charges against you.
There are some factors that DHS should consider in deciding whether to proceed with an IPV. They include whether the overpayment occurred over less than 3 months in a row, whether the overpayment amount was less than $100, and whether you did not understand or were unable to report your household circumstances because of a language barrier, a reading or comprehension error caused by illiteracy or mental impairment, or a documented medical or personal crisis. Such a crisis could be an eviction, hospitalization, or violent crime against you in the 2 weeks before the reported false or misleading information.
Will I get another letter telling me about the hearing?
Yes, you should. The letter of the hearing must be mailed to you by certified mail, return receipt requested, or by some other method that shows you got the letter. The notice of the disqualification hearing must be sent to you at least 30 days before the hearing.
You can ask for the hearing date to be moved to 2 days later. You can also ask for a continuance at the hearing if it is your first time asking for a continuance. A continuance means that you are asking DHS to change the hearing to a later date.
If you cannot go to the hearing, you can postpone it for up to 30 days if you inform DHS in writing at least 10 days ahead of time. If you don't go to a hearing and don't request a postponement, the hearing will be held without you.
If you miss the hearing, you have 10 days after the date of the hearing to present a good reason for not attending. DHS says good reasons include death in the family, illness, or emergencies.
If you receive a SNAP IPV disqualification hearing decision, and you never received a notice to appear for the hearing, you have 30 days from the date of the decision to contact DHS at (800) 435-0774 and request that the decision be set aside and the hearing rescheduled. If DHS has no proof that you received the notice of the original hearing, it should re-schedule a new hearing. If you fail to appear for the rescheduled hearing, the original decision will stand.
What are my rights at the hearing?
You should still get food stamps until the decision after the hearing is made unless your case has already been canceled for another reason. At the hearing, DHS will try to prove that you have broken the program rules and should get an IPV. You have the right to:
- Have a lawyer with you
- Present evidence and witnesses
- See the evidence against you in your file
- Cross-exam the witnesses against you at the hearing
DHS will tell you that you have the right to remain silent concerning the charge and that anything said or signed by you relating to the charge can be used against you in a court of law. In other words, you have the right not to answer any questions.
How will I know what the decision from the hearing is?
The hearing officer will decide whether there is clear and convincing evidence that you intentionally violated the program rules. The decision must be based on the evidence shown at the hearing. DHS must explain its reasons for the decision and what evidence supports that decision. If DHS decides that the overpayment was an IPV, they must also tell you the date that the disqualification will start. The disqualification applies only to the person who committed the violation, not the whole family.
In some cases, DHS may also file criminal charges against you. If you receive a notice of an IPV, you should contact a lawyer.
Does filing bankruptcy stop DHS from trying to collect an overpayment from an IPV?
No. If DHS shows that the overpayment was because of an IPV, then it cannot be forgiven in bankruptcy.