I got a note from the U.S. Department of Agriculture explaining the bottled water food stamp fraud that I found so confusing yesterday. According to spokesperson Aaron Lavallee:

The problem with water dumping is not people returning 1 lt bottles or cans for $.05 – it is people buying 5 gallon water cooler jugs and getting a $10 deposit. States like Iowa, Oregon, and Maine have larger deposits on larger containers.

That makes a lot more sense, since people committing fraud in some states can get far larger percentage of their allotment back in cash.

Still, Lavallee admits that only one cent of every SNAP dollar goes to fraud or abuse—-or 1 percent of the program. That number has remained constant despite the substantial increase in usage since the bottom dropped out of the economy. So why the crackdown on abuse when Lavallee says “the vast majority of people on SNAP are playing by the rules” and the amount of money being lost is such a small percentage? He writes:

[…] Even though it is down to 1% we are talking about a $75 billion dollar program. And the media loves to run stories like the one right now in the state of Washington about the family with the lakeside mansion getting cash welfare and food stamps. Or the youtube videos, or the lottery winner in Michigan or presidential candidates making claims that millionaires are on food stamps. The problem is these stories do in fact play on the public’s fear of abuse in the program and ultimately erodes their confidence in the program. The program can’t continue without their support so we need to be clear that we are doing everything we can to protect their investment in this program.

One other thing worth noting is that according to the USDA’s most recent report, stores that were sites of most of the retail abuse tended to be smaller and in more affluent areas—-not poor neighborhoods.

Photo by Michael Keith Manges via Flickr/Creative Commons Attribution Generic 2.0 License