New rules target ‘water dumping’

John Clarke Russ/Bangor Daily News

Bottled water packaging is wedged into a Dumpster behind the Shaw's supermarket on Main Street in Bangor in 2010. A pair of men were spotted there after purchasing several cases of bottled water with food assistance money and then emptying the bottles in this holding dock area behind the supermarket so they could redeem the empty bottles for deposit money.

Food stamp recipients who trade or sell their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits for money or use them to purchase beverages just so they can dump the liquid and return the empties for cash now risk losing their benefits.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has taken a hard stand on “water dumping” and the selling or trading of benefits and announced Wednesday that it has updated the definition of trafficking — a disqualifying action — to include both as stealing of benefits.

“I recall several years ago Bangor police responding to a downtown store where a person bought a whole case [of bottled water] and just stepped outside the door and dumped all the water out for the purpose of getting that 5 cents,” USDA Under Secretary Kevin Concannon said Wednesday during a phone interview. “To me, that was such a flagrant violation of the program.”

The young couple was caught on video dumping the water in front of Shaw’s grocery store and told police that they didn’t think there was anything wrong with what they were doing. The bottled water they bought with their SNAP card cost around $6 and the duo got $2.40 back in cash from the redeemed bottles.

The woman who took the video on her cellphone called the Bangor Daily News and said she was outraged that people on welfare were dumping public money down the drain.

“That just drives them crazy,” Concannon said, referring to residents who pay taxes to support the federal welfare program responding to obvious abuse. “Americans across the country want to help but they don’t want [the benefits] abused.”

If a person is caught selling or trading their SNAP benefits, they are put on a progressive discipline plan, and if their welfare benefits are taken away, they are gone for life, the USDA under secretary said.

“Initially, they are taken out of the program for a couple of months,” Concannon said. “If they violate the rules again, they are again taken out of the program for a couple of months. The third time — they are taken off forever.”

The names of those removed from the program will be put on a nationwide banned list, he said.

“It’s a very serious violation,” Concannon said.

The water dumping rule only affects about a dozen states in the country that have bottle return laws, including Maine, where empty bottles and cans are worth 5 cents and glass milk quart bottles fetch $2, he said. Michigan, where returnables are worth 10 cents each, and other states also saw abuses, said Concannon, who spent 22 years in Maine state government.

USDA’s effort to ensure the integrity of SNAP is not only focused on recipients. The agency also is seeking comment on a new a proposal to immediately suspend retailers who are suspected of trafficking in SNAP benefits. A store that provides cash or nonqualifying products in exchange for benefits are examples of trafficking, Concannon said.

“Currently, when a retailer is suspected of trafficking, USDA must first conduct an investigation before suspending the retailer,” a USDA press release states. “During this time, retailers may be able to conduct substantial fraudulent SNAP activity and ultimately make large profits from trafficked benefits. This proposal would authorize USDA to immediately suspend the payment of redeemed SNAP benefits in flagrant trafficking situations, pending action to disqualify the retailer.”

The USDA’s compliance analysts and investigators reviewed more than 15,000 stores in 2012 and investigated more than 5,000 for violations. They ended up permanently disqualifying 1,387 stores for trafficking in SNAP benefits and imposed sanctions on 692 others.

SNAP is designed to feed the country’s needy and those who abuse the rules for their own benefit are the focus of new rules and the proposed rule changes, Concannon said.

“The intent of the program is for it to be used for food for the households that qualify for the program,” he said. “SNAP serves about 47 million Americans each month and almost half of them children.”

The USDA announcement is part of the Obama administration’s Campaign to Cut Waste, which is designed to fight fraud, abuse and misuse in federal programs.

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Comments

David Lingard Jr's picture

Dumping.....

These people should be ashamed jeopardizing the snap program like this. I know times are hard in all but please think about it they are ruining the help that others that need it are getting. Shame shame

Ann Power's picture

organic milk

They sell organic milk here I am, in glass bottles that have a $2.00 bottle deposit on each bottle, they go in buy three bottles go outside dumb the milk come back in and have 6 bucks cash......Only in America

Mark Elliott's picture

15,000 store investigated and

15,000 store investigated and 2079 found guilty is a conviction rate of 13.86%

How many stores in the US are accepting SNAP? ......That's a lot of money!

Mark Elliott's picture

It is nice to see we are

It is nice to see we are finally buckling down...as CONSERVATIVES have been saying we needed to do for decades.......

Zack Lenhert's picture

Conservatives don't have a

Conservatives don't have a monopoly on advocating against fraud and abuse. Only in their mind...

ANTHONY NAZAR's picture

Cheating

While I don't like the idea of people cheating this way, before conservatives get all righteous, remember the bank bailouts where taxpayer funds were used to give the Great Kahumas in the corner offices humungeous raises. iirc, most Republicans just shrugged it off and snickered about "sharp businessmen."

Mark Elliott's picture

Not exactly true

Not exactly true Tony.....just because a few rino gop made public statements that lead you to believe that, doesn't mean we all agreed! The TRUE conservatives would rather there had been no bailout at all OR at the very least, given the money directly to the people and jailed the bankers.....like Iceland did. If you're going to "follow" what conservatives are saying, don't pay any attention to what the GOP in Washington are saying...because most of them are not conservatives. Remember, ANYONE can register as a republican........but conservatism comes from within.

Jonathan Albrecht's picture

Well?

Too bad the conservatives are only conservative after the fact. But that doesn't protect us.
"The TRUE conservatives would rather there had been no bailout at all ...." Which of course is the perfect policy to crash the US economy (it did crash the Icelandic economy which is just a mite smaller than the US economy) which would have lead to a worldwide depression on the order of the Great Depression - 25% of the workforce unemployed, millions homeless, and people starving in the street. Good solid defend personal responsibility conservative solution.
Who among the Tea Party is asking that bankers be jailed? If some one is, they must be using mime. Knows one has heard them or seem them. It's Elizabeth Warren and progressives on capital hill raking regulators over the coals asking "when did you last prosecute a regulated banker". No conservatives have come to her defense. Rhino - Republican who still makes decision based on the National interests at least sometimes. Conservative - republican who does not.

Mark Elliott's picture

Well what John?? Why am i not

Well what John?? Why am i not responding? Well, its like this, today is thursday and its only 1114 am....
Being the conservative i am, i am out WORKING to pay for the bailouts........

Jonathan Albrecht's picture

Keep at it

We'll need 10 maybe more years to pay for the Bush-Paulsen bank bailout and then there is the $3 trillion the FED gave the banks, and the trillions in mortgage securities the banks are now carrying off the books. Haven't the auto companies paid back their bailout funds. No, I think we still have a bunch of GM stock. But we will make a profit on the auto bailout.

TIMOTHY OLEHOWSKI's picture

So when?

So when are you "true" conservatives going to form your own party?

Mark Elliott's picture

Conservatives already have a

Conservatives already have a party, it is the Republican party.........when you have a bit of disfunction in your family, you dont walk away and abandon them............you fix it. Watch and learn over the next few years.

KATHY WILLIAMSON's picture

Good luck! The powers-that-be

Good luck! The powers-that-be seem to be easily distracted.

TIMOTHY OLEHOWSKI's picture

I'll be watching

I'll be watching and laughing as the Republicans eat their own...

Steve  Dosh's picture

What do you think of this story?

Mainers, 13.02.20 11 am iah
It's a sign of the times • Salvation in a can ?
Personally , i'd worry more a bit about bath salts
h t h ? Dr. Dosh

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