Oh SNAP! Water dumping as a food stamp scam

EUGENE, Ore. -- Last week, KVAL News reporter Ty Steele saw two men dumping out case after case of bottled water on the ground before returning those bottles for the five-cent deposits. He filmed the duo's actions and his conversation with them on his phone.

In the video, Steele asks the two men if they are dumping out perfectly good water at a bottle exchange in west Eugene last week.

"That is perfectly good water," answered the man taking off the caps, who did not want to be identified.

The other man returning the bottles at the machine added, "Cash money! Cash money!"

"We bought it off a card in the store," said the first man. "You can always turn it in for food stamps."

The Department of Human Services in Eugene is the agency that regulates food stamps for the area. Food stamps are issued onto the Oregon Trail Cards as a part of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program cards also called SNAP.

A DHS administrator commented on the video, giving a name to what the men were doing.

"It's called water dumping," said program manager Richard Whitwer.

When asked if water dumping was fraud, Whitwer said, "Yes ... well, it's not fraud today."

Currently under United States Department of Agriculture guidelines, water dumping in Oregon is not technically fraud. However, the agency proposed a new rule in June to target the issue.

"It is going to expand to the water dumping issue," said Whitwer, "and that'll become part of the official trafficking definition."

Whitwer said SNAP program trafficking is defined as the selling or trading of food stamp benefits for cash. That would give the agency the authority to enforce the practice of water dumping and use evidence in fraud investigations.

Whitwer said approximately one in five people who live in Lane County are currently receiving SNAP program benefits. In the last few years, SNAP in Lane County has seen an 80 percent increase in people receiving benefits.

He added that the fraud rate is estimated at around one percent.