A lot of retailers get a trafficking determination from the USDA without even realizing that they committed trafficking or did anything wrong in the first place. A lot of retailers engage in the practice of extending credit to shoppers they know or long standing customers. In those cases, a SNAP recipient with no benefits available at the time will shop at the retailer, and then the retailer will charge the EBT card when the benefits are issued for the next cycle. Although this practice seems harmless, its not permitted under the regulations.
This practice is widespread among small shops all over poor communities. In these cases, the shopper is an EBT recipient who relies on food stamps to feed their families. This predicament is especially problematic however, for the retailer. In particular, highly populated urban neighborhoods have multiple small groceries competing for customers. The EBT shopper in need of credit puts pressure on the retailer to extend credit, or they will take their business to another competing store. Many of these small stores rely on EBT to operate and the threat of losing customers has significant consequences for them.
The USDA considers such extensions of credit as trafficking. For one, there is no way to account for the products that were purchased on credit, or to even determine if they are EBT eligible items. For another, the the SNAP benefits must be used in real time, at the time that the items are purchased. The store owner in most cases does not gain anything except the loyalty of the customer and the transaction amounts. There is an opportunity for the retailer to extend credit for a price, meaning, the shopper gets $10 worth of goods for $15 in EBT, which is a clear case of trafficking. Although the custom among store owners is to extend credit without an additional surcharge, the USDA considers all cases of credit extension as trafficking.
Depending on the store size, location and the demographic of the customer, this practice can we universally found across entire neighborhoods. A retailer who gets charged with trafficking often feels blindsided knowing that the practice is widespread in the whole neighborhood. Although each case is different and must be reviewed on a case by case basis, in general the USDA treats these matters harshly to discourage the practice.
Page 9 of the USDA Retailer Training Guide states: Credit Accounts SNAP customers must pay for their purchases at the time of sale. You may not accept SNAP benefits as payments on credit accounts. You may not hold your customers’ SNAP EBT cards or card account information at your store for future use.