Outline of Procedure:
For USB operating in conjunction with State programs, the QSSB authorized to collect, remit, and enforce the program must exhaust all efforts to collect outstanding assessments including any applicable late payment charges from the non-compliant entity before involving USB.
At a minimum, the QSSB is required to:
Remitting a case to USB
- Monitor compliance on a monthly basis to identify delinquent accounts, and ensure that they are contacted promptly.
- Contact person by phone at least three times requesting payment. Document each call to begin building a case file.
- If feasible, make at least one visit to the non-compliant entity and offer checkoff information, as well as request payment.
- Send at least 3 letters requesting payment, explaining the checkoff and the responsibilities of the producer, handler, etc…, and indicating the level of further action that may pursue if payment is refused; i.e., referral to USB, referral to USDA for further legal action.
- Build the case before referring it to USB. This includes documents that prove the person in question is in fact not in compliance, such as:
- Settlement Sheets
- Supporting Accounting Records
- Audit Records
- A final call must be placed to the person notifying them that the case will be referred to USB and, if necessary, subsequently USDA for collection if payment is not made by a date determined by the QSSB.
- The case must be presented in a well organized and accurate manner. The case must be thorough and easy to follow. Each document included in the case should be labeled as an exhibit and referenced in detail in the audit or case history/timeline.
- If the case is worthy of litigation, a complete audit must be performed. The audit must cover the entire period in question, including a review of each day’s transaction, along with a copy of each document reviewed.
- Each document should be considered an exhibit and accompanied by a brief explanation of the exhibit.
- To assist QSSBs in gathering information for an audit, an administrative subpoena may be requested through USB.
Where a QSSB is available, it is USB’s responsibility to ensure that the QSSB has provided them with detailed and accurate information in order to forward the case to USDA for further action.
Prior to submitting a case to USDA, USB is expected to:
- Exhaust all of its efforts in collecting any outstanding debt through letters, e-mails, telephone calls, site visits, and/or audits.
- Make three phone calls and personally talk to the person. Keep a record of these conversations with the date, time, and person talked too. Follow-up with additional calls if necessary.
- Try vigorously to establish a payment plan and document this attempt in the case file. Review the history of checkoff with them. Remind the person of the late fee accrual rates and possible civil penalties that may be assessed if they continue not paying. The earlier a compliance case can be settled, the better and more likely the person is to remain in compliance in the future.
- Send three letters, by certified mail (or another form of mail that will allow for tracking of receipt. For example, UPS or FedEx) requesting payment be made to USB, each at least one month apart.
- The Board must retain compliance cases a sufficient time for a payment or response to be received before referring to USDA.
- An audit will be required to forward a compliance case on to USDA for litigation. In order to obtain all records, an administrative subpoena may be requested. The USB must submit a letter to USDA explaining why an audit is preferred, why the business is suspected of being in non-compliance, and any action USB or QSSB (if applicable) has taken to resolve the case. This requires that at least three phone calls and three letters from USB and preferably a visit by the QSSB or USB, if within reason, have been made.
- Immediate action should be taken once a person has been deemed non-compliant. Do not let the case go on for an extended period of time before pursuing the case. Follow-up often to ensure the entity knows the case is being actively pursued.
Once USB determines that a case should be submitted to USDA, it should submit a case file that includes the following:
- Complete case file with the relevant documents, such as the Settlement Sheets, Supporting Accounting Records, and Audit Records
- Name, address, phone number, social security number or tax ID number, a timeline of action taken on case (number of phone calls and letters sent, with dates and outcome included)
- List of possible witnesses in the event of litigation
- Amount of assessments, late fees, and civil penalties that are being sought. USDA cannot pursue enforcement actions based on estimated delinquent assessments and penalties.